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Auditioning anthem singers hits right note at Canal Park

3/27/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

Judging the performers at the Akron RubberDucks national anthem auditions March 22 were, from left, Brian Bailey, associate professor of voice at Cleveland State University; Jay White, director of choirs at Kent State University; and Leanne Stofsick and Christine Stewart, both teachers and choir directors at Cuyahoga Falls High School.
Ilona Kitchen, of Canton, below, and Amanda Hall, of Streetsboro, above, both auditioned to sing the national anthem before an Akron RubberDucks game March 22.
Photos: Craig Marks
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Canal Park concourse may not be most singers’ idea of a perfect audition hall. That’s especially true on a chilly Saturday morning when groundskeepers with leaf blowers are padding down the infield and construction workers are putting up a right-field restaurant.

However, on March 22, some powerful voices cut through the distractions. The Akron RubberDucks were holding auditions for the 10 available spots to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before one of the home games.

Successfully blocking out the clatter was eighth-grader Michaela Shuman, of Wintersville, who led off the auditions with a stirring rendition. Her reasons for trying to get a spot were both patriotic and personal.

“It would mean a lot because of the point of the song, freedom,” said Shuman, whose brother is in the U.S. Marine Corps.

One by one, the 60 singers were ushered onto the first-base side of the concourse, where they performed in front of a four-judge panel.

“With the construction noise and the ambient sounds, it’s very challenging to keep your focus, but they’re doing an excellent job,” said judge Christine Stewart, a choir director at Cuyahoga Falls High School.

The performance of Libby DiLauro, 15, of North Canton, was interrupted when a few seconds of a rock song came blasting out of the ballpark speakers. But she kept her composure and began the song again.

DiLauro sang the anthem for the team last year — back when it was known as the Akron Aeros — and said she is not intimidated by the idea of performing in front of thousands of fans.

“I’ve been doing this my whole life, so it’s easy for me to remember that, if you mess up, they’ll understand,” she said.

For Andy Hawes, auditioning at Canal Park was nothing new to him. He has sung the national anthem many times at Canal Park since it opened in 1997.

“It’s an incredible song, a song which a lot of people don’t know about,” said Hawes, who sings with the Fabulous Voices Band. “It all started in a bar. Francis Scott Key wrote lyrics to an English drinking song to make it our national anthem. It’s got three big components that get people pumped up and moving, but if you hear the song, think of somebody grabbing a big mug and swinging it.”

With the morning temperatures hovering around 40 degrees F, a mug filled with hot cocoa might have hit the spot. But the singers, young and old, braved the conditions.

Ilona Kitchen, 9, of Canton, saved the best for last in her audition with a show-stopping sustained final note.

“It’s my favorite song, and sometimes I feel like I just want to scream it out,” said Kitchen, whose father, Jim, performs with the band Greased Lightning.

The singers auditioning will learn in a week or so if they were selected. The first home game for the team now known as the RubberDucks is April 10 against the Bowie Baysox.

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