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Akron's Canal Park Holds a Different Type of Tryout

Opera singers, barbershop quartets and children’s choirs were at Canal Park on Saturday. They were all trying out for a spot with the Akron RubberDucks this summer.  

Akron’s Cody Miller was among about 200 hopefuls at the ballpark trying out for 20 slots to perform “The Star Spangled Banner.” Although Miller counts jazz among his influences, he tried not to improvise too much.

“I really didn’t want to do anything special. I feel like when you become really flashy, you take away from the song. Then you’re making it about you. You’re not making it about the song.”

That was key for the judges from the University of Akron’s music department, including Laurie Lashbrook.

“I think it’s nice to have a variety – be it an ensemble or be it an instrument – it just helps. I think you have to have something that the audience also would appreciate.”

A little variety
The members of barbershop quartet Keyed Up are already part of the larger Akron Derbytown Chorus, which is booked for one of the RubberDucks’ other 50 home games this season. So Jim Bishop and his quartet will already be performing at least once this year. As for this audition, he feels it went great.

“The sound under there was spectacular with that microphone.”

Instead of auditioning on the field – where the National Anthem will actually be performed – a mic was set up in front of one of the concession stands. That provided a bit of relief from the cold, gray weather.

One man who stayed almost till the end despite the weather was Stanley Cline from Wooster. He definitely stood out: he was decked out in an American flag suit-and-tie, topped by a green Statue of Liberty crown and torch, and even used green makeup on his face and hands.

“If anyone asks me I just tell them I just support our troops. They fought and died for us.”  As for his outfit, he feels that it "might be worth 10 points going in before I even open my mouth.”

Baseball in the cold
The cold had gotten to Cline by the time he sang, and it even made things tough for a sax and clarinet duo, since woodwind instruments are notoriously difficult to keep warm. Their rehearsal had some squeaks, but they wrapped their instruments in blankets until the audition, which went well.

So what’s the secret to successfully performing the National Anthem? Judges Laurie Lashbrook and Frank Ward say there are a number of factors.

“If you have a poor opening, then you lose us at the beginning. But if you have a great beginning, and you don’t quite have the ending. Hmmmm. It really is the full package.”

“It really is about the words and the melody and sometimes they just sing it. And I don’t think they thought about the words.”

The ultimate decision will be left to the RubberDucks, and team spokesman Adam Lieberman says they plan to notify people this week.

“We have a handful of dates that aren’t filled by groups or other proven anthem singers and why not turn it open to the fans? That’s part of our connection to the city and more the Minor League thing whereas the Indians – that’s everyone’s dream. And maybe someone here becomes the Akron version of Rocco Scotti.”

Scotti was the opera singer who belted out “The Star Spangled Banner” for decades before Cleveland Indians games at Municipal Stadium.

The RubberDucks’ home opener is Friday, April 13 against the Trenton Thunder.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.