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Big Sky State Games holds national anthem contest, but how hard is it to sing?

Photo by Kay Erickson
Dr. Darin Small, MSU-Billings Voice Professor

Big Sky State Games officials are encouraging Montana singers of all ages to enter their annual National Anthem Contest.

The winner will perform the National Anthem a capella at the State Games Opening Ceremony in mid-July before a large audience, which is not always an easy task.

Most trained singers should be able to handle the octave and a fifth range of The Star-Spangled Banner by finding a stable starting position, one where all the notes are comfortably in the singer’s range.

But sometimes singers get caught up in nerves or the excitement of the event said MSU-Billings Voice Professor Darin Small.

“You choose a slightly too high starting position that has large implications for where it’s going to go later in the song when you get ‘…the land of the free…’ it might extend outside of their range,” Small said.

“ On the other side of that,” he added, ”people choose too low of a starting position and can’t reach the bottom of the bottom either. So we get that very beginning of ’Oh, say’ and they just completely scrap the bottom of the barrel. So it’s best to plan that ahead of time and know where your typical starting place is. Give yourself a starting pitch and off we go.”

Another trap: The melody uses borrowed chords from another key.

“And so we have ‘oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light.’ That’s a borrowed pitch from another key,” Small said.

“ And these little… these little moments in this particular song destabilize the key the original key that the song is in. And it stays truthfully in that key the entire time. But these little borrowed notes from other keys cause people to meander into other keys.”

Then there’s the venue. There can be a sound delay through the sound system and he says it’s a little like signing against yourself.

“I believe the catalyst for a lot of the National Anthem fails that have existed across time is the venue, actually. And the delay. Because it is quite jarring to hear words that have happened some time ago and have to progress forward.,” added Small.

Lastly. Review the lyrics. The delay of the sound system can be jarring for a singer so a cheat sheet can be helpful.

“It’s not a bad idea to review and know those words within your heart of heart, soul of souls, right, and be able to rely on that practice,” Small said.

Those singers interested in contest, can go to for more information. The deadline to apply is April 30.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.