It was a familiar song, the first verse known by almost every human being throughout the world. Having forgotten the words once before, however, I banished any feeling of naturalness I might have been able to sing it with.
Clearing my throat, I began to sing. "Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light..." I stared up to the sky instead of returning the intense and hopeful gazes of my fellow band members. If I were to have looked upon the face of any member, there would have been, clear as day, that expression of nervous anticipation shadowed only by the visors of the ridiculous hats we were forced to wear.
Mister Nagy had never been intent on us learning the Star Spangled Banner. We had always had the luxury of the sheet music right in front of us. Performing this song in front of a crowd was no walk in the park, I knew, and I had some experience in it. Immediately I offered my expertise when the fearful complaints met my ears. Much to his consternation, Mister Nagy could do nothing but concede to our demands.
I handed off my clarinet to another instrumentalist and sidestepped from the ranks. Marching forward, as if to my death, I removed my hat in a display of respect. It was the conclusion of the Memorial Day Parade, after all, and I wasn't about to disappoint a busload of elderly veterans.
The first three notes were crucial. If I didn't hit them, I wouldn't hit any note in the rest of the song. The trick was to start it low enough so that I was audible, yet my voice would not crack when I reached the higher notes. So as elderly men finished speeches had cared nothing about, I sang to myself. I stood off to the side as one man finally said, "Please welcome Sasha Casper of the Millbury High School Marching Band singing the National Anthem." At that moment, I wondered where my blindfold was.
"And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our flag was still there." I did mess up once or twice throughout the song, as I expected I would. Enunciating the final phrase, I finally looked down to see complete and total relief on the faces of the Millbury High School Marching Band. I knew I had done well.
I had been put on the spot for a matter of minutes, if that, and had saved an entire band from complete and total humiliation. But I learned one thing from the whole ordeal. This summer most definitely would not be spent idle: We had a song to learn and learn it we would.