Rebeckah Perry sings the national anthem like it’s her job, because, well, it is.
At least, it’s one of her jobs. She’s quick to tell you that her primary job is being a mom to her two young daughters. She also gives a lot of music lessons, and she just finished running her annual one-week preschool musical theater camp.
Rebeckah’s life is full of jobs, but on the brink of our nation’s birthday on July 4th, it seems appropriate to focus on the Star Spangled Banner and one young mom from Aroostook County who sings it in ballparks all over the country.
In 2009 Rebeckah entered a contest, including a written essay and a singing audition, to earn the privilege of singing the national anthem at the annual Maine Games competition. She won. That event got her the chance to sing at a Sea Dogs game in Portland. Next came the invitation, in 2010, to sing for a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
Back in Presque Isle, growing up, Rebeckah sang all the time “for the love of it.” She never had private lessons or fancy equipment. What she did have, she said, was a high school music teacher — Jay Nelson — who always gave his best and encouraged kids to give their best in return. He taught them to prepare meticulously.
“Life is full of nos,” said Rebeckah, but what she loves about the County is the lessons in perseverance: “We never lose our try.”
That attitude guided Rebeckah’s preparations to sing the national anthem in front of 40,000 people at Fenway Park.
“I tried singing it with the TV or the radio turned way up, or I’d go for a run then try to sing out of breath.”
I wondered if she had help. Did people give her tips on how to prepare? She laughed.
“Nope. I was completely making it up!”
One thing she did not anticipate was being blinded by all the flash photography. Nonetheless, she did well, and word spread. Now Rebeckah sings all over the country for professional sporting events about 10-20 times a year. Since she is a particular fan of baseball, she tries to book mostly baseball games.
“It’s a great way to see the country. You see people in their element in distinct ways. They eat different foods, call different chants, and wear different clothing styles in every region.”
One of the best parts, she says, is getting to be an insider in the parks.
“It’s pretty cool to be able to meet the players and managers, hang out with them in the dugout, crack jokes, spit sunflower seeds … ”
Admittedly, Rebeckah said, the life of touring and performing can be hard, especially since she has a family at home — her husband Michael and two daughters, ages 5 and 2. But she and Michael share a dedication both to family and to honoring each other’s individual dreams. They moved from Presque Isle to the Bangor area for Michael’s PhD studies, and they work together to make Rebeckah’s singing career possible.
“The main sacrifice is time,” said Rebeckah, “Family comes first, and that might mean that reaching other goals takes a little longer. I’ve always wanted to be a mom, but I’m other things too. I think that’s good for my daughters to see.”
Rebeckah traces all the positive values that guide her back to her roots in Aroostook County. The same goes for her determination not to get caught up in the glamour of professional performing. When I met her at a session of her preschool musical theater camp last week, she appeared thoroughly at home in her old clothes, reading books or playing musical chairs with a bunch of 3 to 6 year olds. Watching her made me think of something she’d said to me in our interview. She is careful not to see the limelight of performing as the answer to inner fulfillment, she said.
“I don’t do it to be happy, I’m just happy to do it.”
From what I could see, the same applies to making faces and goofing around with little children. Rebeckah Perry has a knock-your-socks-off kind of singing voice, but I suspect that her success goes beyond talent to the realm of attitude. So I asked her about that essay — the one that helped her win that first Maine Games national anthem sing, when they asked what the anthem means to you.
“What does it mean to you?” I asked.
“Well, a lot of things. Mainly, though, I wrote about it as a singer. The song does not belong to me; it’s for everyone in the room, and all their own stories.”
That’s a pretty nice birthday gift to the USA, a tribute to everyone in the ballpark and all their stories, given by someone with a pretty good story of her own.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.