By Victor Ferreira
Andrea Bartlett stood in a green room at the Mattamy Athletic Centre practising her key when eight burly men in black suits and earpieces walked in. Prime Minister Stephen Harper followed them.
Bartlett, a third-year human resource management student, became the first person to sing the Canadian national anthem at the Mattamy Athletic Centre’s opening ceremony on Aug. 13, 2012.
She just didn’t know she’d been doing it in front of a star-studded audience.
“I wasn’t told about who would be there,” Bartlett says. “If I wasn’t nervous enough, it became a lot worse when (Harper) walked in.”
On the ice, she’s moments away from beginning her performance when she forgets everything. She can’t remember which key to sing in and the words have all become scrambled.
“There’s a total blank and all of a sudden it just happens,” Bartlett says.
Before she realizes it, she’s already near the end of the anthem and belts out the final eight bars.
Bartlett’s rendition of O Canada was so well-received that she’s been doing it ever since.
This is the first year that live performers have been consistently used before games at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Bartlett rotates with other individual singers and groups of elementary school children. Before Bartlett, who is also the executive vice-president of the Ryerson Commerce Society, an audio recording of the anthem’s instrumental was used instead.
Stephanie White, associate director of athletics, says having live singers adds to the atmosphere of the games.
“For people that play in a lot of amateur sports, they throw a CD or an MP3 of the anthem on,” White says. “It’s not live. It’s not special. When you have someone live, the passion to which they sing adds to the event.”
Bartlett had performed the anthem at a graduation gala for business students and at a students versus faculty game in Kerr Hall Gym before the inaugural ceremonies at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. When White was looking for a singer, Bartlett was already well-known by school officials.
Singers were sporadically used last year for important events like playoff games and exhibition matches against NCAA opponents. White says this year the Rams have moved to differentiate themselves from other OUA schools and have focused on game-day presentation.
“(The singing of the anthem) is one little piece of making our events and game days a little more special.”
But hearing the national anthem live isn’t only special for the fans, it’s special for the players as well. Bartlett says she can always hear the hockey players singing, banging their sticks, and whistling near the end of her performance.
For men’s basketball player Yannick Walcott, the anthem is calming and allows him the time to readjust before stepping on the court.
“It brings us back to our centre,” Walcott says. “It’s right after our warm-ups where we get excited for the game. During the anthem, we relax and do mental preparation.”
If Bartlett has her way, the men’s basketball team may not have her to calm them down before games next year.
“My course load is lightening up in a bit so I’m going to send a tape to the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 12, 2014.