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September 11, 2014

Happy 200th Anniversary, Star-Spangled Banner!

Mark Clague
By Mark Clague

Jerry Blackstone and students in rehearsal
Photo: Conductor Jerry Blackstone and University of Michigan students rehearse “The Star-Spangled Banner” in advance of their concert at Hatcher Library.

September 14, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the U.S. national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s amazing to me that the date is here! My own fascination with the anthem grew out of my teaching of an almost annual course on American music. The first class in this course always focused on the question of what an explicitly “American” music might be and why (if at all) national identity might be important. In hopes of forging a connection with my students and getting a great discussion going, I began using the U.S. Anthem as a vehicle to consider the question of national identity in music. All of my students have some relationship to the song, whether they grew up singing it in school or even if they are an international student visiting the University to study who is struck by the unusual prominence of the song in American life.

I often play Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock Anthem as part of this session, but wanted to showcase a recording of the original song Key used as a melodic vehicle for his lyric—“The Anacreontic Song”—as well as of the first version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in full 1814 style. It surprised me that I couldn’t find either. So, since this is the University of Michigan and we had ready access to a great recording venue and incredibly talented student musicians, we made our own! My colleague Jerry Blackstone, who conducts the UMS Choral Union among his duties directing choral music at the University as a whole, signed on as a collaborator and took the project to a new artistic level.

Our recordings are now published as part of a two-CD set titled Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  It has been featured by the Smithsonian, The New York Times, C-Span, Encyclopedia Britannica and others and its related videos have been viewed over 55,000 times on Youtube. Just today the Library of Congress released its video of the July 3, 2014 recital by Thomas Hampson that features our music. It was a lifetime thrill to be joined by University of Michigan alumni singers and to be able to present my research with Hampson at the Library’s Coolidge auditorium. Pretty good for a class project!

Jump to 6:12 for Mark Clague and Thomas Hampson:

As I continued to do research, I found the story of America’s Anthem to be ever more fascinating. Its bicentennial offered the further opportunity to share my love of the song and its story more widely. For me, the story of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is the story of American democracy in action. It’s also about the vitality of music in our lives. The anthem is more than a song; it’s a sounding board that helps us figure out who we are and who we want to be.

University of Michigan Events & Live stream

You can learn more about the song through a whole series of campus events at the University of Michigan this fall, beginning this weekend with #Anthem200 celebrations as part of the Michigan Marching Band halftime show and a 1-hour grand opening recital at the Hatcher Graduate Library on Sunday, September 14 at 4 pm. (It’s just before you head to Hill Auditorium to hear Itzhak Perlman at 6 pm). Attend the events in person, or watch online via live stream.

I truly hope you’ll be able to visit the U-M Library exhibit which features items from U-M’s incredible collections, especially the William L. Clements Library which preserves (and thus we will display) one of only a dozen surviving copies of that original 1814 sheet music edition that started our whole project.

Other Star-Spangled Banner Resources
Complete listing of events at the University of Michigan
U-M American Music Institute
StarSpangledMusic.Org

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Clague researches all forms of music-making in the United States, with recent projects focusing on the United States national anthem (“The Star-Spangled Banner”); American orchestras as institutions (especially in early Chicago and San Francisco); the Atlanta School of composers; Sacred Harp music and performance; critical editing; and the music of George and Ira Gershwin. His interests center on questions of how music forges and shapes social relationships: the art of sound as simultaneously a transcendent emotional expression and an everyday tool for living. Professor Clague is an associate professor of musicology with tenure at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan who also enjoys affiliate appointments in American Culture, African and Afro-American Studies, Non-Profit Management, and Entrepreneurship. He serves as director of research for the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and as co-director of its American Music Institute. He further serves as faculty advisor to student organizations including Arts Enterprise@U.Michigan, the Ypsilanti Youth Symphony Mentors, Mu Phi Epsilon, and the Interdisciplinary Music Forum. Read more at smtd.umich.edu
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