By his own estimation, singer Wayne Messmer has sung the national anthem “well over 5,000 times.” What started more than 40 years ago, with the Chicago Sting, now has included performances with the Chicago Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, Wolves and a 39-year career that continues with the Chicago Cubs.
“Sometimes, I feel a little bit guilty about making a career singing a song I learned back in first grade, but then I guess I was paid more attention than everyone else,” Messmer quips.
Messmer will bring his trio with him Thursday when he performs jazz, Broadway, pops and holiday tunes to a sold out audience at Hey Nonny’s in Arlington Heights. It’s one of several gigs he has — this week alone.
But in reflecting on the many twists and turns in his career, he thinks back to his sophomore year at Kelly High School in Chicago, when he when he needed to sign up for an elective. On a whim, he chose band.
Messmer was not exactly a newcomer to music. He had grown up in a musical household on Chicago’s South side, and he played the accordion with ease. But in picking up his first band instrument, he found himself filling a spot that the director needed: playing the French horn.
Traditionally a difficult instrument to learn, Messmer mastered the French horn fairly quickly and by senior year, he was first chair. But he had his sights on another goal: to lead the band as drum major.
“I’ve always been driven that way, if there’s a challenge out there I’m driven to accomplish it,” Messmer says.
Messmer would eventually land at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, where he participated in band — ultimately as its drum major — and in its collegiate chorus, where he found his voice.
He credits Dr. David Nott, a music professor and former director of choral activities, with teaching him the proper technique, from breathing correctly to supporting notes and vocal placement. Ironically, Messmer drew on some of the breathing techniques he had learned with the French horn.
Fast forward some 20 years, to a horrific crime where Messmer was shot in the neck after leaving a restaurant on Taylor Street in Chicago. He ultimately would make a full recovery and live to sing again, but he credits all the breathing exercises he learned from Dr. Nott with helping him regain his voice.
Yes, a somewhat whimsical decision to join the band in high school, turned out to give Messmer a love of music, and by extension, singing. In leading the band as drum major, he learned to conduct and infuse his band members with confidence. He still draws on all of those today, no matter how many times he takes the field, hosts a radio program or performs on stage. Strike up the band!