The Makings of A Great National Anthems Singer

Ah the topic of National Anthems prior to sports events. Such a detail but also such a (short) topic of conversation prior to every game. Every sports’ team has different criterias when looking for someone to sign the anthems prior to their home games… and it shows. Some can sing, others not so much. Some are nice to look at but can’t sing. Some are God awful and others, outstanding. The common denominator in all of them is that not two people will have the same assessment of most anthem singing performance. It’s a matter of taste, really.

Because we’re in Canada and hockey is this country’s most popular sport, let’s stick to the NHL. Every singer will have their own personality which will show in their delivery, as they do their own unique voice. But for some odd reasons that escape me, aside perhaps from the words, it seems like there’s a thousand different versions of “O Canada” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”. There was this one exception, when late Kate Smith sang “God Bless America” prior to Philadelphia Flyers’ games, even on the big screen after her passing. That was sentimental, a bit like Roger Doucet was in Montreal for years.

Let’s forget the ever lasting debate whether or not National Anthems should or should not be sang prior to sports events, shall we? That’s a whole different topic. Instead, let’s take a deeper look at what the common denominators are amongst the best National Anthem singers. While there will never be an unanimous consensus, what are the main qualities necessary for a singer to have the support of most people after performing at a hockey game?

Tips to be a good National Anthem singer

  • Remember the lyrics

No but is there anything worse than listening to an Anthem singer who forgets the lyrics? It’s a rather simple concept isn’t it? Nerves can play a role for sure but if you’re not cut out for it, don’t put yourself through the misery and the embarrassment. At most, you have two songs to remember at a NHL game…

  • Remember the melody

Ouch! That’s painful to listen to and to watch, when a singer sings totally out of melody. This is music 101 folks and you’re a singer. When someone is out of melody, you’re thinking: “how much effort did you put into this”, right? Learn the damned melody!

  • Have a good voice

I never thought that we’d have to tell singers that they need to have a good voice. That’s the bare minimum, no matter what kind of voice you have. Some like opera-type sang Anthems, others prefer more modern voices. Some prefer a male voice, others might like a female singer instead. As long as they can sing. I personally like a deep man voice but others will like something else, and that’s okay.

  • Up the tempo

This is one of my pet peeves when listening to a National Anthem performance. This is a hockey game (or any sports event for that matter). You’re not there to put people to sleep or sing a ballad to your loved one! Put some enthusiasm into it. Have some tempo, a bit faster pace to it! Get people pumped, not sleepy.

  • Stick to the song

Ah those who want to be different. Listen up. You’re not signing in front of Simon Cowell or Blake Shelton here. This isn’t American Idol or The Voice! You are not asked to “make it your own”, as they claim in the music industry. It’s not your retake of a pop song so stick to the the darn song! A little twist here or there is fine, but don’t overdo it. Think that at a hockey game, you have a crowd signing with you and they don’t know your weird twists and turns.

  • Stay on your feet

There have been some dandy slips of National Anthem singers over the years. After all, the game is played on ice, and while they put a carpet on it to help, don’t race and beware that it can slip under your feet. How embarrassing is it to fall in front of a crowd of 18-20,000 people live, plus the ones watching on TV, not counting the video being posted on Youtube? Ask Mark Donnelly, long time singer at the Canucks’ games. Prior to a BCHL Penticton Vees (which I attended), he tried to be original (which is fine) by skating on the ice around the rink while singing the National Anthem and this happened… and he didn’t miss a beat:

  • Be original and cater to your home team

Like him or hate him, one of the best examples of being original is René Rancourt, who sang the National Anthems in Boston, prior to the Bruins’ home games. That enthusiasm, the fist pumps… it irked some visitors’ fans but you’re not there to cater to them. Wearing the home team’s jersey or colours is never a bad thing.

René Rancourt

Here are a few examples of NHL National Anthem singers that I personally like, in no particular order:

Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal unite in 2014

Better version of Mark Donnelly, getting the Vancouver crowd signing

Mark Donnelly

Habs former singers

Whatever happened to Charles Prévost-Linton?

Charles Prévost-Linton

Quebec icon Ginette Reno

Ginette Reno

And for the nostalgic like me, the one I like best all-time, Mr. Roger Doucet.

Roger Doucet, Montreal Forum – Notice the pre-constitution lyrics

To sum it up, respect tradition, remember your surrounding and purpose, and stay calm but assertive in your delivery. The best Anthem singers all have that in common. Go Habs Go!

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