Caroline Bruton sings during the auditions last week. She and three others – Fred Child, Katie Friend and Teri Miller – were selected to sing the anthem at events next week in Vale.

VALE – The duty seemed too important to turn down when Holly Stepleton called not long ago.

Stepleton, part of the squad at Stepleton Electric, was recruiting judges to pick who would sing the national anthem to open each night of the Vale 4th of July Rodeo.

I hesitated. Look, I’m no musical wonder. I played trumpet through middle school and wisely put it away. My boys always begged me not to sing as we traveled the state while they were growing up. They got sick of me imitating Willie Nelson or Lee Marvin.

Still, I wondered, how challenging could it be to pick the best singers of the national anthem? As civic duties go, it seemed to be an easy way to earn “do gooder” points.

The audition was last week, held in the rather stark confines of the conference room at the Vale Library. I sat down with two other judges at a folding table.

And then my heart skipped a beat as Stepleton handed out scoring sheets. I’d never seen one. This judging wasn’t going to be a simple thumbs up, thumbs down. No. We were expected to evaluate elements such as pitch and projection. We were to rate on a scale of 1 to 10.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to evaluate pitch since I wasn’t exactly clear on what that was.

Days earlier, I sought advice from friends. To a person, they urged I select someone delivering a traditional rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” I get that. The gyrations and manipulations by singers at events such as the Super Bowl always seem to be far more about who can be more outrageous with the song than respectful.

That wasn’t a worry in Vale last week. We had four contestants. One at a time, they stepped to the center of the room, gathered themselves and plunged into the song. One singer used taped music as support. The others sang solo with no music.

Each one treated the song with respect. 

As judges, our job was to pick three singers, and one alternate. But it seemed odd to leave one singer out of four without a job next week. Stepleton solved the challenge in a moment – arranging to have one singer belt out the national anthem at the Grand Marshal’s Banquet next week.

That duty falls to Katie Friend, a 15-year-old Vale High School student who lives out in Harper. This was her second year competing. She sings around the family farm for practice. 

“I’m normally singing out loud, singing to the animals,” Friend said. She said she doesn’t come from a string of family performers.

“We don’t really have any other singers in our family,” she said.

She’ll sing to honor the veterans in her family, including her great-grandfather, who was a POW during Navy service in World War II.

She said she was a “nervous wreck” while auditioning, but she’s ready for her true performance next week.

“I’m going to sing out my heart for the crowd,” Friend said.

And I’m betting many in that crowd won’t have any trouble sticking with her or even joining her in those 80 words that make up our national anthem.

Go get ’em, Katie.

Les Zaitz: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

Above: Fred Child. Below: Teri Miller and Katie Friend.