News & Politics

DC Musical-Theater Fixture Nova Y. Payton on Singing the National Anthem at a Nats Game

“The first three notes can set the whole tone of how the song is going to go for you.”

Photograph by Patrick McDermott for Washington Nationals Baseball Club.

“It’s interesting because you know the national anthem, but it’s a different adrenaline rush when it’s for something like [a Nationals game]. For a stadium that’s so full, you don’t want to flub the words. You’ve seen so many people who were terrible on YouTube, and I was like, ‘I’m not trying to have my video up as somebody who messed up the lyrics or could not hit the right notes.’

“People underestimate it. The national anthem is not an easy song, especially because you have to sing it a cappella. The first three notes can set the whole tone of how the song is going to go for you. I kept going over and over in my head what the correct pitch was for me.

“Once I walked out, it was noisy. I remember doing my sound check earlier, and they gave me these earplugs because there’s a massive delay when you’re singing. The earplugs are supposed to help you not pay attention to the delay you’re hearing.

“As a performer, you have an alter ego. You zone in on what the task is at hand, and you find a way to channel all of that in a focus point. I’ve learned how to blur people out. I try not to focus on how big or how small the crowd is.

“The thing that was really, really good is you’re set in place. They walk you out to your mark and to your spot, and then you have all this time for them to introduce you. As you’re doing that, you’re breathing and settling yourself and all those things you need to do so you can do the job. It feels like all the time in the world, and it’s probably two minutes. It’s just enough time to get myself centered. I remember saying to myself, ‘Stop thinking so hard. You’re thinking too much.’ I didn’t want to get stuck in the moment. You have to be like, ‘Nope, I’m just going to do it, and if I mess up, I’m sorry.’

“People start applauding before the song is over. It’s like surround sound. When I walked off, I realized how much tension I was holding. I had to shake my hands. I had to adjust my body because it was so much tension I was holding. You just want to be right. You just want to get it right.”

This article appears in the October 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

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