Sometimes, opportunities come from unexpected places. Yesterday we saw the melding of classically trained voices with the rough and tumble world of professional football, and what an experience it was!
About a month ago, The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay was approached by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a question. Would we be willing to perform the National Anthem on October 30th at Raymond James Stadium? It would be at 1 PM on a Sunday afternoon, just before the kickoff when the Bucs played the Oakland Raiders.
This request put a lot of wheels in motion, ably handled by our Managing Director, Kara Dwyer. The first task would be to approach the Chorale and determine the interest level as to whether we could put together an ensemble of singers available on that Sunday. During rehearsal, Kara asked if there was interest. There were enough hands raised that we decided to proceed.
Next, we needed more details on the commitment from the Buccaneers. We found out that the task would consume a good part of that Sunday with a rehearsal and sound check on Sunday morning, followed by lunch courtesy of the Buccaneers, then performing at 1 PM on the field. We were also offered free tickets to any singers who wanted to stay for the game. Finally, we would be provided free parking in the employee parking lot and shuttle service to and from Raymond James Stadium. It was an excellent opportunity….a chance to sing before thousands and thousands of fans!
On Sunday, we had to be at the stadium at 9:45 AM, so we had to plan on being there with enough time to get from the parking lot to the stadium. Even at that time of the morning, the area around Raymond James Stadium becomes a very busy place, with traffic cones and police everywhere. Upon arriving at Raymond James Stadium, we were met by our escorts from the Buccaneers organization who would shepherd us to and from the field.
At 10:15 AM, we stood at the fifty-yard line for a sound check and rehearsal. Raymond James Stadium had recently upgraded their sound system, but Kara and Kevin decided to bring choral microphones from USF to ensure that our sound quality was optimized. We lined up and sang the arrangement arranged by Tenor William Renfroe. We sang a cappella, with only a b-flat from the pitch pipe by Alto Laura Smith-Weyl to get us started. Wow… the sound was amazing! After some microphone adjustments, we ran it a couple more times. The audio engineer who designed the sound system said it was the best choir he had ever heard.
We now had some time to get changed and enjoy our lunches, but a slight change in the schedule pushed the timeline forward a bit, as we had a photo opportunity at the pirate ship in the stadium that required us to be there in our concert dress by 11:30. We lined up along the railings on the ship and offered up our best smiles for the camera.
The next task was to get lined up to be out on the field by 12:45. The pre-game festivities included introducing the players and a demonstration by the cheerleaders got the fans noisily to their feet and ready for the game to start.
We then moved onto the field. Facing the players and behind them, thousands of fans, we prepared to do our duty. When we were introduced, a hush came over the crowd, Kevin gave us the downbeat and we began, singing The Star-Spangled Banner confidently from memory, our faces lifted towards the crowd. Behind us a military color guard stood at attention as a huge American flag was unfurled across the field just behind them. As we sang “and the rockets’ red glare”, rockets sped skyward, erupting loud booms as they exploded above us. As we reached the song’s conclusion, a KC-135 Strato-Tanker from MacDill Air Force Base flew over the stadium, an airborne salute to those who put their lives on the line to keep us free. Our finale was punctuated by thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd.
So much happened in so short a time with so many people involved that it is a bit difficult to absorb. However, I do believe that the music we offered made a difference to people who were watching and listening. Our voices joined as one, uniting all of us in our common love for our nation. Melody joined with harmony to create a sound that celebrated both our common experience and the differences that we offer. As we walked off the field, we received affirmation from people who thanked us for our musical contribution.
It left me feeling proud to be an American and thankful for the opportunity to participate in such a meaningful endeavor as a member of this Chorale.
by Brian Hathaway
The Master Chorale Beat