A hallmark of athletic events is the singing of the national anthem before the game begins. For major events, like the Super Bowl or the World Series, famous singers or groups are often invited to sing. Last Wednesday, the Octet, one of the College’s a cappella groups, got a taste of what that must feel like when it sang the anthem at Yankee Stadium.
While it was the first time singing at the stadium for this particular line-up of Octet members, the group has performed there before – back in 1979. Michael Battey ’80, then-president of the Octet, wrote a letter to then-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner ’52, asking if the group could perform. The Yankees’ management said yes, and the rest is history. A recording even survives of the group’s 1979 performance. This year’s group didn’t have to write a letter – it was actually suggested that it call the wife of a member of the class of 1952, Emily Kraft, about singing the anthem. After her recommendation to Yankee leadership, the Octet was invited and was thrilled to accept the invitation.
One of the most different aspects of this performance from the group’s other annual performances was the environment in which they were singing. Whereas Goodrich or Dodd living room are spaces where sound is confined and people are packed in, a baseball stadium is vast and outdoors; as sound carries differently, microphones were essential to the performance.
According to Mack Radin ’19, co-president of the group, part of the preparation was getting used to stadium feedback. “There was a two-second delay between the microphone and the speakers, so we could hear our past selves singing while we sang,” he said. “We prepared for this by recording ourselves and playing the recording on a loud speaker, right in front of us and a few seconds behind us, while we practiced.”
They were also not in this alone: Brad Wells, a current artist in residence in the music department, the director of choral and vocal activities and a lecturer in the music department, helped them to “tweak and perfect our sound,” Radin said. With the help of Wells, the Octet was on its way to an experience unlike anything its members had had before.
The group’s hard work and extra effort paid off in the performance. “No one booed!” Radin said. A spectator behind home plate even yelled, “You guys were one of the best national anthems I’ve ever heard!” Most exciting, however, was the response from Yankees’ management. “The most exciting reaction was from Debbie Tymon, Yankees vice president of marketing, who graciously invited us back next year,” Radin said.
This was the group’s first outing of the year, and the first with its new members who joined this fall. The new members “actually seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing,” despite it being their first performance, Radin said. “I guess they had nothing to compare it to.”
Additionally, members of the group were also able to appreciate the chance to sing in the stadium where many of them had grown up going to games. “Walking up from the dugout onto the field was an experience I’ll never forget. It meant even more, I know, to our members who grew up in New York City,” Radin said. “More than one member told me that this performance was fulfilling a true childhood dream.”
It was truly a unique experience for the Octet, but one that the group hopes to experience again. The faces and the people in the group may rotate year to year, but it sounds like this is one tradition that will hopefully remain a constant.