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Listening to the anthem, getting chills

3/7/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

On the Mark — By Craig Marks

Jay Nye, of Richfield, brought with him sons Max, at left, and Jake to the Akron Aeros’ national anthem auditions March 2.
Photo: Craig Marks
You can have your Polar Bears, gallivanting in the frigid waters of the Portage Lakes. But for true courage against the elements, I’ll take the Arctic songbirds who make late-winter treks to Canal Park.

It’s become an annual March event for the Akron Aeros to hold national anthem auditions while the team prepares for the season in Goodyear, Ariz. On March 2, nearly 90 renditions of the “Star-Spangled Banner” were heard, some sang by solo artists and others by small groups. What the performers had in common was the ability to belt out a particularly tough song while shivering their vocal timbres.

Jennifer and Gary Young, of Copley, were the first to audition. Like many who were at Canal Park, the Youngs were repeaters, having first auditioned in 2009.

“It’s kind of a nice tradition,” said Jennifer Young.

Handling the judging duties were Amy Petrongelli and Merissa Coleman, two members of The University of Akron teaching staff. They scored the performers on tone, volume, vocal technique and tempo, as well as the overall feeling of the anthem.

What makes a well-sung anthem?

“I think it takes good diction,” said Petrongelli, an instructor of voice. “And making sure you have proper breath support and a good vocal tone.”

And how does the cold temperature factor in?

“If you’re not prepared for it, it can be very difficult,” said Coleman, a graduate teaching assistant in choral conducting. “The voice is part of your body, so it adapts and adjusts to what your body is feeling at that time. So if you’re not prepared for the cold, it can be challenging.”

(Judging in the cold is no doubt challenging as well. While the performers waited for their turns inside the Aeros’ warm office building, Petrongelli and Coleman bravely remained outside. For their work, they should be given the honor of throwing out a first pitch at an Aeros game, provided they’ve regained feeling in their fingers.)

Jay Nye, of Richfield, offered a booming rendition, making the most of his late-discovered talent.

“I started singing at church and had other opportunities to sing,” said Nye, who works in the commercial furniture industry. “I just offered to sing the national anthem one time, and the next thing I know, I was singing it all the time.”

Nye has also auditioned for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

“I think he’s pretty amazing,” said his son, Jake, 15. “He’s the motivation for me to start singing in school.”

Kristen Sellers, 12, of Ravenna, offered a version with a touch of country.

“I’ve been singing since I was 2,” she said. “I think it would be a great opportunity to show my voice to everybody.”

For Jerome Childers, of Akron, singing the national anthem would be nothing new but exciting nonetheless. In his youth, Childers, 27, was signed to a music contract and sang the anthem at Madison Square Garden before a New York Knicks game.

“It would be a great honor to sing for the Aeros,” he said. “It would be awesome.”

Childers and the other performers will learn in a week or two if they will be chosen for one of the available dates. The Aeros’ home opener, which is already spoken for, anthem-wise, is April 4.

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