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Singing Our National Anthem

September 18, 2019


NOTE:  Last evening–September 17, 2019–my grand-niece Emmilyn Alice (“Emmy”) and her fellow fourth-graders, along with the three other classes of fourth-graders of Emmy’s elementary school, sang our national anthem before the Colorado Rockies baseball game.  I am thrilled that she and the other students had this opportunity.  Later last night, by means of a video played for me over the phone by my sister, I (from about one thousand miles away) was very happily able to listen to the energetic performance by the four fourth-grade classes.  What a treat!


Although I most often write memoirs, poetry, or essays, I have written only several short stories.  Thinking of Emmy’s outstanding musical experience at a major league baseball stadium, I recalled the short story which I wrote in September of 2014 and which appeared in the 2015 spring/summer issue of the online publication Magnets and Ladders.  When I wrote this short story, I never imagined that a relative of mine would actually be one of the performers singing the national anthem at a major league baseball stadium.  Thus, five days after the 205th anniversary of the writing of the lyrics for our national anthem, on this day after U.S. Constitution Day and Emmy’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I am sharing with you the following 907-word short story about a fictional singing of our national anthem.  While you will notice that proper names have a historical or Indiana flavor, I want to let you know that at the time of the writing of this short story, Willow, my current Leader Dog, was not yet my guide dog:  Zoe, my third Leader Dog, was then still an important part of my life.



Hold That Note–Longer, Longer


short story by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Other students at Keyfauver High School were running laps around the track or swimming laps in the Olympic-sized pool, but Scottie was running through arpeggios.  Perhaps, the early morning hour caused her mind to drift while she was warming up her voice.  The KHS senior was thinking of the origin of her nickname.  In the second grade, she had grown weary of being called “Sam,” short for “Samantha.”  So, on a piece of paper, she doodled her initials and her last name:  S-C-Ott.  Foregoing her middle name “Crescent,” she saw before her the name “Scott”; immediately, she decided to establish her nickname as “Scottie.”  Eleven years later, the nickname persisted:  she liked the name.  As Scottie warmed up her vocal cords, she suddenly thought of the connection between her nickname and the writer of the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the anthem which she had been practicing for months to sing at the opening of the baseball game–not the high school game, but a major league, broadcasted game.


From the adjacent office, Miss Francis entered the music room and commented enthusiastically: “Beautiful, beautiful.  Your voice, as usual, is in great form this morning.  The forecast is in our favor, and I am so looking forward to your performance this afternoon.  What a historical day–in more than one way!”


“Yes, yes, Ms. Francis, I know:  September 13, the 200th anniversary of the writing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,'” Scottie responded with her broad smile.


“Save your voice, dear.  Do not speak too much this morning.  Remember:  no milk products, no soda–just bottled water.  Did you bring a healthy snack for around eleven?”


Scottie assured her music teacher and vocal coach that all was in perfect motion for the big event.  Then, Miss Francis proclaimed that the time had come for one final rehearsal before first-period students entered.  With the music room doors still closed, Scottie was singing the national anthem flawlessly when on the final note of the final measure, she heard her vocal coach’s typical mantra:  “Hold that note–longer, longer.”  Strongly and purely, Samantha Crescent Ott did.


After a moment or two of silence, Miss Francis wiped a couple of tears from her eyes–happy, thankful tears.  “Marvelous.  Are your parents meeting us here or at the stadium?”


“They have a big gig with their Baby-Boomer band tonight, so they are not coming.  Just you and I, Ms. Francis.  I will meet you at 11:30, at the back music door.  My car–The Candy Apple Red Zoomer–and I will be waiting for you.  Don’t be late!”


Having given Scottie private lessons for over three years, Miss Francis had met her prize student’s parents on many occasions; the teacher of forty-one years was taken aback by the news that Mr. and Mrs. Ott would not attend their daughter’s performance.  Miss Francis was surprised that Scottie was not at all upset by her parents’ lack of support on this one special occasion, but the veteran teacher knew a “together” student when she worked with one.


With his usual dreamy, but future politician voice, the day’s public address announcer began:  “This is John Stafford Smith, senior class president, with the morning announcements for September 13, 2014.  At 1:20 this afternoon, over this very same PA system, you will hear a very special rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’–on the 200th anniversary of the writing of the lyrics of the U. S. national anthem.  Yes, Keyfauver students, you will be listening to the opening of this afternoon’s baseball game via WFSK.”


A few hours later, Scottie and Miss Francis were waiting for the cue to take the place behind the microphone at Vermillion Field.  When someone gave them the five-minute warning, Scottie suddenly changed her demeanor.  “Ms. Francis, I just can’t do it.  I am too nervous, too upset.  I can’t.  You will have to take my place.  You are such a musical historian:  you should be the one to sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ on the 200th anniversary.  You should do it–you have to do it.”


“Scottie, this is your one chance in a lifetime.  You can do it.  Make the butterflies work for you–not against you.  I know you:  I know you can sing the anthem with flair.”


“No, this is your one chance in a lifetime.  I already told Mac Henry to introduce your name–not mine.  I will walk up to the microphone with you and Star.  Ms. Francis, for once, the spotlight will be on you and your voice.”


Having begun his radio career at age 16–forty-seven years earlier–Mac Henry rigorously and brightly announced, “On this 200th anniversary of our national anthem, we are proud to have at the microphone Ms. Willa Francis and her Leader Dog Star; Ms. Francis, who has been teaching music for forty-one years, will now sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.'”


Scottie lightly patted her teacher’s right arm and then stepped away.  Keeping in mind all the advice Miss Francis had ever given to all her student performers through the many semesters, she sang.  As the music teacher reached the final note of the final measure of the anthem, Scottie was ever so slightly whispering to her mentor, “Hold that note–longer, longer.”  Willa Francis did.  From Keyfauver High School to Vermillion Field, she heard the applause, the applause–and loved the moment.  She had waited a very long time to hold that “brave” note as long as she could.


* * *


With thanks and compliments to Emmy, the other fourth-graders, and their music teacher–

Happy September singing!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow


September 18, 2019, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Alice, this is one of my favorite stories. What’s more, as you may remember, my late husband was a Colorado Rockies fan. I’m sorry he didn’t have an opportunity to hear your niece sing the national anthem for one of their games. Now, I always think of this story whenever I sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

    • Abbie–How nice to hear that this story is one of your favorites!

      Thanks–Alice and Willow

  2. Dear Alice,
    Thank you so much for recognizing Emmy and the unique opportunity she experienced in singing the National Anthem at the Colorado Rockies baseball game! I was impressed by the children’s enthusiastic and sincere performance—standing tall with their right hands over their hearts and wearing the royal blue Colorado Rockies t-shirts. Like Miss Francis in your touching story, I also had tears in my eyes and felt very proud of my precious granddaughter.
    Love to you and Willow,

    • Mary–The timing did seem perfect for combining the nonfiction story with the fictional story.

      Thanks–Alice and Willow

  3. joanmyles permalink

    Very nice! I love the twist at the end, and he emphasis on the word “Brave” as Ms Francis finishes singing with her faithful canine beside her. Thank you for sharing this, and for the history attached. Blessings to you Alice and to the darling little singer who inspired your reprinting of this. *wmiling heart**willows in mist*

  4. Katherine Binole permalink

    Alice, what a special experience for Emmy! I’m sure everyone was very proud of her as am I.
    I loved your short, heartwarming story. The ending brought tears to my eyes.
    Love, Aunt Kathy

    • Good afternoon, Aunt Kathy–Thanks very much for reading this post and sharing your comments.  Last evening, I was able to hear all three children–Emmy, Tyson, and even Trey–sing the national anthem together without missing a word.  As one might imagine, with their being siblings, their voices blended together very well.  Quite remarkable for children of ages 9, 7, and 5 to sing so well”The Star-Spangled Banner”!  Of course, their grandmother had recorded the trio and shared the music over the phone with me.

      Happy autumn!

      Alice and Willow

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