Erin Paxton, a rising senior at Severna Park High School, had never attended the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's annual Fourth of July concert and fireworks show. But for this year's celebration, she was the center of attention.
Paxton, 17, was chosen to sing the national anthem on July 4, opening the BSO's Star-Spangled Spectacular at Oregon Ridge Park.
The Severna Park native, who is active in musical theater in Anne Arundel and Howard counties, competed against more than 20 other vocalists to win one of two slots to sing the anthem at the BSO's dual shows. Sola Fadiran, 16, of Glenwood captured the other slot and was scheduled to sing at the BSO's presentation Wednesday.
For Paxton, the Fourth of July performance wasn't her first time singing before a crowd. She's active in the Honors Vocal Ensemble at Severna Park High, and previously belted out "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a Bowie Baysox game and for a county basketball tournament.
She may be a familiar face for some community theater fans. In addition to performing with Severna Park High theater productions — including "Les Miserables" and Rock 'N' Roll Revival XXIV this past year — she's a member of the Howard County-based Young Columbians acting troupe, and has also performed in local shows, including "Grease" with the Children's Theatre of Annapolis and "Camelot" last month with 2nd Star Productions in Bowie.
For the BSO show, she showed up at an audition where hopefuls were called in one by one to perform before a panel of BSO judges. When the tryouts were done, organizers approached her immediately.
"I was surprised it happened that fast, and pleasantly surprised that I won," she said.
This is the sixth year the BSO has held the contest for youths ages 8 to 18, according to Laura Farmer, BSO public relations manager.
"The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is always interested in engaging our community," Farmer said of the contest. "We always open Oregon Ridge concerts with the national anthem and have a singer join us. It is even better to give talented youngsters in our community the stage."
In the days leading up to the BSO performance, Paxton acknowledged being "a little nervous" about performing at Oregon Ridge, which is packed every year for the concert and fireworks show. She had moral support — her parents, siblings and grandparents were scheduled to attend the concert with her — but Paxton said the days leading up to the show were filled with rehearsals to make the moment count.
"The national anthem isn't easy to sing. It's such a special song that's so important to everyone," she said.
Performing it on the Fourth of July, she said, heightened the song's significance.
"There's so much riding on it," she said. "The national anthem can't be average. It has to be wonderful."
The Star-Spangled Spectacular at Oregon Ridge draws tens of thousands of people for an evening of music and fireworks in the wooded enclaves of the Cockeysville park.