ANS 2020 graduate and salutatorian, Elinor Ketelhohn, was chosen by the US Embassy in Nicaragua to sing the national anthem for their virtual July Fourth celebration. This was Elinor’s first experience being filmed while singing the well-known and challenging song, “The Star Spangled Banner”. Elinor considers this as one of her most meaningful experiences, especially since it happened on her last day in Nicaragua as she departed to prepare to enter her US university.
DAYS TO PREPARE
The initial request for audition candidates was sent to English and journalism teacher, Lisa Lippay who reached out to music teacher John Spiro. He recommended Elinor and worked with her on reference versions and technical support. They didn’t have much time. Within ten days after the initial request, Elinor was notified that she was selected, and her recording session was also her last day in Nicaragua. In the early morning, on her way to the airport, Elinor was recorded. She tells us that this was an experience which she will never forget.
MESSAGE OF PATRIOTISM
Through her interpretation, Elinor hopes to convey American patriotism which she feels is particularly important due to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the political turmoil. She shares that the US “is divided because of police brutality and abuse of human rights, so it is important to be reminded that the United States stands for the protection of all peoples and their human rights, and for freedom and liberty, and this anthem embodies this message.”
To prepare, Elinor repeatedly recorded to hear flaws and areas of potential growth; Mr. Spiro then, “dissected the song, second by second” and this helped her improve. She decided on Whitney Houston’s interpretation in A-flat. Elinor views Houston’s version as, “incredibly inspirational because not only is she enormously talented, but she evokes great emotion when she sings.” There definitely was more responsibility and stress in performing, especially since Elinor feels, “nowhere near as talented as [Houton] is, so there is a little bit of stress and pressure, yet I was able to overcome this anxiety because of the great guidance of Mr. Spiro.
There were three cameras recording Elinor, and this, “was nerve wracking and a completely different experience than being on stage.” She had to be aware of body movements to convey feelings which was “rewarding to learn how to have more control over my body language because I realized I had to be in the moment; I had to feel the song.”
WHAT COULD GO WRONG
Overall, she learned to always be prepared and she shares “I don’t think you can ever be too prepared.” She explains that she failed to predict that there was no backing track. It was just her vocal performance, without instrumental music in the background. She didn’t consider this possibility and was at first alarmed since she was accustomed to using a backing track to remind her of what key to be on. “I think the anthem is particularly difficult to sing because there’s a lot of highs and lows, so I had relied on the music and realized I should have also practiced without an instrumental to be even more prepared.”
THE OPPORTUNITY COUNTS
Of course she was nervous and because of this, she doubts that she delivered her best vocal performance; however, she’s not upset at herself. She feels, “okay with that because I am happy about the fact that I had that chance, so I’m not going to be hung up on technical errors that I may have made in my vocal performance.” Her dad was able to accompany her and was also very supportive.
EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
Elinor feels this is one of the most meaningful experiences of her life. She vividly recalls reflecting before her performance on, “an absolutely stunning view, with birds chirping because it was early in the morning…and I was surrounded by a very kind staff and honestly, I’m just going to remember the feeling of being there.”
Her other takeaway is that she feels grateful for her teachers at ANS. “They provided me with this opportunity and it is a memory that will last my entire life.” She felt reminded to show more gratitude and be more optimistic. “It is easy to become drained of energy in quarantine during a pandemic and be pessimistic, but then opportunities like this one arise and remind you that there is so much to live for and so much to be happy about.”
MR. SPIRO AND THE MUSIC PROGRAM
She thanks Mr. Spiro and the music program that he leads. “It has given students with an interest in the performing arts countless opportunities to showcase their skills and showcase what they love doing.”
AN END OF A CHAPTER
Elinor’s last day in Nicaragua was very meaningful for her. She shares “I feel that it is a pretty strong way to end the chapter of my adolescence and it was an honor to have the chance to represent ANS in the production of this event. So I am very grateful, blessed, and happy.”
TO VIEW THE PERFORMANCE
To see Elinor’s performance and the celebration, go to the Embassy’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/embusanic/ , note this event will be celebrated on Friday, July 3rd at 4:00 pm Managua time.