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The City Urban Perspectives

Newby's Anthem United Seattle Soccer Fans

O Say, Can You Hear?

By Hannah Notess (

What's that you hear under the roar of thousands of soccer fans? It's a recording of the Seattle Pacific University Gospel Choir over the loudspeakers singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Century Link Field.

And that's Stephen Newby, SPU associate professor of music and director of University Ministries and the Center for Worship, singing on the field with his baton, leading fans in the national anthem at nearly every Seattle Sounders FC home game.

Though Major League Soccer may not have as high a profile as baseball or football in the United States, you wouldn't know it in Seattle. Sounders games sell out consistently, with an average of nearly 39,000 fans at each game. That's a huge crowd of singers for Newby to lead. So he wrote a special arrangement, adapting the song for a crowd rather than a soloist.

"It helps get the audience involved in singing," he says. "Soccer in Seattle is amazing because it's about community. People want to go out and celebrate something positive."

Newby has performed in stadiums before — he toured with Promise Keepers, the Christian men's conference, for 10 years. Yet even singing before a completely secular event, he feels a sense of the sacred.

"For people who don't believe in God, I hope that they get a sense that God is there," he says. "People are so unified. Here, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, all ethnicities, people with all different mindsets — all come together in one accord. I can't help but think that this is a snapshot of the kingdom of God."

After singing the anthem, Newby watches games from the press box with his family. Meanwhile, singing carries on throughout the stadium, as fans chant and cheer for their team.

"The environment at Sounders matches is pretty hard to beat," says Maggie Montgomery '96. She's been working as a gameday assistant to Frank MacDonald, a former SPU sports information director who is now the communications director for the Sounders.

"Even in the press box, you can still feel the atmosphere from the stands," she adds.

And Newby has become a part of making that atmosphere happen. "The organization — they see me as a part of the team, a part of the tradition," he says. "And I embrace that." He's embraced it to such an extent that he even keeps a mint-condition bobblehead figure of retired star goalkeeper Kasey Keller in his SPU office.

Though he leads the national anthem before every game, Newby says he still feels nervous each time he steps up to sing. "I never take it for granted," he says.