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Sydney Gabbard says she has a passion for music, calling it “my first and last love.”

That passion led the soprano to UT where she is a first-year graduate student in music with a concentration in opera. It also put her on the national stage Monday when she was invited to sing at a rally for President Barack Obama at Eden Park Seasongood Pavilion in Cincinnati.

Gabbard sang the national anthem before a crowd of about 3,000 people. Watch her performance on YouTube.

“It was incredible,” she said, noting that the crowd included family and a few friends.

Gabbard lived in Cincinnati and worked at a coffee shop there prior to coming to Knoxville. While there, she studied voice and operatic techniques with master instructor Alison Accord.

“I felt very privileged to be singing in front of the community I support and where I’ve lived,” she said.

She was chosen from a pool of about 20 people after a former colleague recommended her to the head of the president’s Columbus, Ohio, office.

Gabbard, who received her undergraduate degree in music from Willamette University in Oregon, has sung for several renowned opera singers including Gabriel Lechner and Barbara Bonney.

At one time, she added, “I sang in a bar for one of my all-time favorite folk-singers, Richard Buckner. It was a spontaneous request and very memorable.”

Now back in Knoxville, Gabbard is preparing for upcoming performances. This November, she will play the role of Musetta in the UT Opera Theatre’s production of La Boheme. In the spring, she will perform the role of Lucia in Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia.