Sarasota’s Jessie Ochsendorf likes to focus on an object when she’s standing in front of a large crowd preparing to sing the national anthem.
So what better object to focus on than the red and white stripes of an American flag?
Ochsendorf uses the flag as her mode of concentration as she starts singing. Beginning the national anthem strong and hitting the right pitch is important so she can be confident throughout the rest of the song. Confidence is important, said the singer, who is 11.
“I get nervous every time I sing it, but I feel honored they picked me to sing it and not some other adult who could probably sing it better than I can,” said Ochsendorf.
The first two times Ochsendorf sang the national anthem at the Sarasota Polo Club, she sang accompanied by a piano recording. In her final performance, Ochsendorf decided to show the ultimate in national anthem courage — performing it acapella.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” is a song everyone in the U.S. has heard, but our national anthem is rarely performed the same way. Whether it's the key, tempo, style, or sometimes the notes themselves, each singer's interpretation turns it into a song as unique as we are.
Three local singers, who are students and a teacher at the Music Compound, share their own approaches to the national anthem.
“Many different artists are singing it in many different ways,” said Lakewood Ranch’s Sabine Kvenberg, a teacher at Music Compound. “You have to find the right way that works for you and your voice.”
Lakewood Ranch’s Jasleen Kaur, who is 17, said being able to put her own spin on a song that is so well known is scary.
“You don’t want people to be like, ‘Oh, she didn’t sing it the right way,’” Kaur said. “You just have to know that any song you sing you have to add your own little twist to it. Nobody wants to sing it exactly how it’s written.”
Kvenberg said the national anthem actually is quite challenging to sing because of its wide range.
“The modern pop songs have a small range so a lot of people can sing them,” Kvenberg said. But the “Star-Spangled Banner” has notes that span an octave and a half, making it difficult for even seasoned singers.
At times, singers like Kaur and Ochsendorf admit they have trouble reaching the high note that comes with the word “free” in the song.
The key to a great rendition, the singers said, it just that — finding the right key to start on to be able to achieve that high note, and then identifying the areas of the song where they can showcase their singing abilities.
Kvenberg, who is 62, looks for moments where she can show off the power of her voice. “The ramparts red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” is her sweet spot.
Ochsendorf agreed. That line in particular is her favorite because it allows her to project as the melody builds.
“The music gives you guidance,” Kvenberg said. “The melody is so important. For me, words are important too, but the melody is something that touches you on a different level. With the national anthem and how it is written, it’s just so beautiful.”
In contrast, Kaur said she takes it slow and her voice is often softer. She emphasizes lyrics with a lot of emotion because of the deep meaning behind the song.
Kvenberg’s favorite lyric is the last line of the song “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
“Living in a country like the United States, sometimes we take it for granted, the freedom we have,” she said. “And also the bravery from a lot of brave souls who fought for freedom. It reminds us how lucky we are, and we should be eternally grateful for that freedom.”
The same lyrics are Kaur’s favorite because they give her an opportunity to play with the melody and sing at different notes. For example, she’ll sing “free” at a higher note before bringing it back down for “and the home of the” leaving “brave” as a standout moment that she makes last longer than other lyrics.
Each of the singers said she is honored to be able to sing the national anthem at an event.
“It feels special because it also represents our country,” Kvenberg said. “When I sing a song, I am 100% engaged in it. I put my whole self into a song. In that moment, when I perform, the song becomes part of me, and I become part of the song.”