By Brenda Owen
Whether it’s sung by a professional soloist in a stadium or an enthusiastic amateur in the shower, the soaring notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” never fail to stir the emotions.
When it comes to hitting the high notes, however, some singers can’t make the stretch.
“It’s kind of difficult to sing because it goes from very low to very high,” said Beverly Clement, music director at First United Methodist in Tupelo. “So it requires voices with a fairly large range and most people have more of a medium range. This makes either the lower notes too low for them or the higher ones too high, and at some point, their voice just cannot find those notes.”
One voice that can hit the high notes is that of Larry Montgomery, director of city court in Tupelo, and a sought-after soloist known for his soul-stirring accapella renditions of the national anthem.
“Folks mostly remember ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ because there’s not a national baseball game played where the anthem is not played,” Montgomery said.
Consequently, Montgomery joked, many Americans think the first verse of the national anthem ends with the words, “Play ball.”
The power of the anthem lives on, though, he said.
“It carries the same personal feeling whether it is sung or whether it is played by a symphony orchestra or just one trumpet,” Montgomery said. “Every time I sing it it is new and fresh again. As far knowing if you do it right or not, it’s not the applause. It’s not the people telling you, ‘You did a great job.’ If I can’t make the short hair on the back of my neck stand up, I have done a good job as far as I’m concerned.”
Montgomery said his most memorable performance of the anthem was at a Veteran’s Day memorial service at a Tupelo school. It was pouring rain and he wondered if anyone would show up for the event. As he arrived at the football field, there, huddled under umbrellas, was a small group of elderly soldiers.
One of them told Montgomery, “I have fought under this flag in worse weather than this, and a little rain is not going to stop me from paying my respects to it now.”
With tears in his eyes, Montgomery launched into “The Star-Spangled Banner” with renewed vigor, adding the last verse as a special tribute to the veterans.
Tupelo vocal instructor Gail Harris said, “This is a song that should be sung with dignity and honor, not in a flippant manner, because of what it represents.”
Dr. Suzy White Williams, a voice and piano instructor in Tupelo, agreed.
“There are many artists who have sung their own arrangements of the national anthem,” she said. “But I tend to favor the traditional version. It’s the most familiar and probably the most powerful.”
Clement said she also prefers the original arrangement of the song.
“Different people want to do it and add their own style but I think sometimes the style is carried too far,” she said. “The original music becomes distorted. I prefer to hear the band play it and people sing along with the band. That’s the most thrilling to me, because I think it’s one of the pieces that I like the accompaniment with the vocalist. I really like everybody singing it so that it becomes our song and everybody participates.”
She added that even if those around her are not singing, if there is not a soloist, she always sings along with the band at ball games.
“Quietly,” she admitted with a laugh. “But I just can’t resist.”