As a fan standing on bleachers, starting "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the right key and hitting the notes -- especially the "free" note in the last line ("O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave") -- is no big deal.
But for the person leading the crowd with a microphone in hand, aiming to nail note after note while singing a cappella, it's nerve-racking.
Lauren Lowrey, Daybreak news anchor for WISH-TV (Channel 8), can tell you just how stressful singing the National Anthem in front of a large audience can be. Lowrey says she has sung the patriotic hymn before half a dozen Pacers and Fever games. Or it may be more -- or less, actually.
"The reason why I don't know is because I get so nervous, I try to forget," she says with a laugh. "I just imagine all the things that could go wrong, and I'm not just someone down the street. If I mess up the song, I embarrass not just myself, I embarrass the station. I could become a YouTube sensation in no time. And that terrifies me!"
Lowrey was a theater major at Florida State University until her last year of college. She took one class through the school of communication and quickly fell in love, changing her major and career plans. When she was asked to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch at an Indianapolis Indians games, and later "The Star-Spangled Banner," she eagerly accepted.
"I just love to sing," she says. "And I feel like those are the only opportunities I have to sing in front of people, and I love that. I mean, that's a part of me. When you're used to expressing yourself through song or through music, you never lose that. You always want to express yourself that way because it's a part of you."
But being eager didn't mean Lowrey wasn't apprehensive.
"It takes guts," she says, again with laughter.
It does. Look at Christina Aguilera, who botched "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the 2011 Super Bowl. Or Roseanne, whose horrible 1990 rendition at a San Diego Padres game earned her a lifetime's worth of enmity. Or Steven Tyler, who's blown it a couple of times -- including at the 2001 Indianapolis 500.
Henry Leck, founder and artistic director of the Indianapolis Children's Choir, knows why the famous song gets botched so easily.
"The National Anthem is mainly very difficult because it requires a very wide range," he says. "Most singers have to start on their very lowest note and then can hardly reach the highest note. The words are not hard, but even as Christina Aguilera demonstrated, they can easily get turned around."
"You have to have a really strong range, and that's why it's hard," Lowrey agrees. "The high points in the song where everybody is really, really listening, you have to be right on. It's really easy to go flat on those notes and really embarrass yourself. The other reason why it's hard is because you can forget the words, and it's our National Anthem!"
Sasha Koller, a Butler University freshman marketing major who performs with the a cappella group Freshly Brewed, says the best way to approach the anthem is to keep it simple.
"Don't add all the runs and the vibrato, because it's not a showy song," Koller says. "It's a song that talks about our nation. You don't need to show it off. It shows off itself."
Koller, along with the rest of her musical group, sang the anthem at a Butler University men's basketball game earlier this year. She says her heart skipped a few beats before stepping on the court.
- Rosanne Barr's tone-deaf performance of the National Anthem tops most worst-ever lists. We're confident Lowrey couldn't be that off-key if she tried.
"It's a little nerve-racking knowing that all those people are going to be looking at you and listening and paying attention to what you're saying for like, what, a minute?" Koller says.
She describes singing the National Anthem at an event as an honor and a "grand gesture." When you get the opportunity, you must take it. "It's this big moment for you."
And finally, if ever you are given the opportunity to sing and decide to do it, Lowrey has a few words of advice:
"The whole key to singing the National Anthem, if you're singing it a cappella like I do, is starting in the correct key," she says. "That's the whole thing. If you start it in the wrong key, you're screwed."