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creative:impact - O say can you hear?

Mark Clague with his book, "O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner"
Mark Clague
Mark Clague with his book, "O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner"

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Mark Clague
The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance
Mark Clague

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 a 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.

Before joining Michigan’s faculty, Professor Clague served as executive editor for Music of the United States of America, a series of scholarly editions of American music published by A-R Editions for the American Musicological Society. He also held editorial positions for the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago, where he helped complete the International Dictionary of Black Composers under the direction of Dr. Samuel Floyd. His dissertation for the University of Chicago – “Chicago Counterpoint: The Auditorium Theater Building and the Civic Imagination” – was completed under the direction of Professors Philip Bohlman and Richard Crawford and won the 2003 H. Wiley Housewright Dissertation Prize of the Society for American Music.

His first book is an annotated edition of The Memoirs of Alton Augustus Adams, Sr.: First Black Bandmaster of the United States Navy (University of California Press, 2008). He is currently completing a book for the University of Illinois Press titled “Music for the People”: Chicago’s Auditorium Building and the Institutional Revolution of Gilded Age Culture, along with a manuscript entitled “O Say Can You Hear: A Cultural Biography of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.'” His writings on teaching music history and arts entrepreneurship appear in the journals College Music Symposium and Music History Pedagogy as well as the books Teaching Music in Higher Education and Disciplining the Arts: Teaching Entrepreneurship in Context.

Professor Clague’s research appears in the journals American Music (on the film Fantasia and critical editing), Black Music Research (on bandmaster Alton Adams), Michigan Quarterly Review (on Motown), Opera Quarterly (on Chicago’s Auditorium Building), and the book American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century (on early orchestra organization models) as well as in the International Dictionary of Black Composers, The Encyclopedia of Chicago, and African American National Biography. In addition to being a contributor, Professor Clague also served as project editor and cities and institutions editor for the New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Second Edition (Oxford).

Professor Clague has lectured throughout the United States and China and has presented papers at national meetings of the American Musicological Society, American Studies Association, Brevard Conference on Music Entrepreneurship, Center for Black Music Research, Centro de Estudos de Sociologia e Estética Musical (Lisbon, Portugal), College Band Directors National Association, College Music Society, Experience Music, Feminism and Music Theory, Institute of Musical Research (London, U.K.), Michigan Music Educators Conference, Music and the Moving Image, National Association of Schools of Music, Society for Ethnomusicology, and the Society for American Music. He has spoken as a guest at universities, including Bowling Green, Columbia College Chicago, CUNY Graduate Center, Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University, Northwestern, Peabody Conservatory, University of Chicago, and the University of Southern California.

His awards include the University of Michigan’s Albert A. Stanley Medal, a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, the University of Chicago’s Wayne C. Booth Teaching Prize, the 2003 Wiley Housewright Dissertation Prize of the Society for American Music, a 2004 and 2006 Teaching with Technology Fellowship, an 2007 UROP Advisor Award, 2009 Advisor of the Year from the University of Michigan Leadership Awards, a 2013-14 Humanities Institute Faculty Fellowship, a 2013 Sight and Sound subvention for his recorded history of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and a 2013 NEH grant for $200,000 to host a month-long K-12 teacher institute titled “Banner Moments: The National Anthem in American Life.”

Professor Clague was board president of the Great Lakes Performing Artists Associates and continues to serve on the board of directors of the Star Spangled Music Foundation and the University Musical Society, where he chairs the education committee. He is also a member-at-large of the board of the Society of American Music, where he chairs the outreach council. He is on the advisory board of the Sphinx Organization.

Before joining the Michigan faculty, Professor Clague was principal bassoonist with the Chicago Civic and Rockford Symphonies and played periodically with the Grant Park and Chicago Symphony Orchestras. In March 2003, he performed André Jolivet’s Concerto pour basson, orchestra a cordes et piano (1954) as the Concerto Competition Winner of the University of Michigan Campus Symphony Orchestra. He has given pre-concert talks for the Ann Arbor, Berlin, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago Symphonies as well as the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, the Detroit Chamber Winds, and the University Musical Society. He has written and edited program notes for the Detroit Symphony as well as the Sphinx Virtuosi and served as centennial historian and American Orchestra Forum host for the San Francisco Symphony.

Professor Clague is most proud of the many talented students with whom he has worked. His doctoral advisees have earned jobs at schools including DePaul University, Roosevelt University, the University of Iowa, Oberlin, Bowling Green State University, and at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Students he mentored through Arts Enterprise @ UM have worked at Google, the Colburn School, the Ann Arbor Symphony, Seattle Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the University Musical Society.

Clague's Publications:

  • 2019

    “Harmonizing Music and Money: Gershwin’s Economic Strategies from “Swanee” to An American in Paris, Gershwin Companion, Cambridge University Press

  • 2019

    American Music Goes to School in Atlanta: A Point of View and a Case in Point, Rethinking American Music, University of Illinois Press

  • 2014

    “This Is America”: Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner Journey as Psychedelic Citizenship, Journal of the Society for American Music

  • 2012

    Building the American Orchestra: the Nineteenth-Century Roots of Twenty-First Century Musical Institutions, American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century, Univ. of Chicago Press

  • 2010

    What Went On?: The (Pre-)History of Motown’s Politics at 45 rpm, Michigan Quarterly Review

  • 2008

    The Memoirs of Alton Augustus Adams, Sr.: First Black Bandmaster of the United States Navy , Univ. of California Press

  • 2008

    The Industrial Evolution of the Arts: Chicago’s Auditorium Theater Building (1889–) as Cultural Machine, Opera Quarterly

  • 2005

    Portraits in Beams and Barlines: Critical Music Editing and the Art of Notation, American Music

  • 2004

    Playing in ’Toon: Imagineering and the Social Harmonics of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, American Music


Mark Clague Bio

Mark Clague on Facebook (includes info on book events)

Mark Clague on Twitter

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Mark Clague on LinkedIn

"O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of the Star-Spangled Banner"


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. Thanks for tuning in on Tuesdays to meet creative guests rooted in Washtenaw County and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs, and services impact and add to our local quality of life, place, and economy. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. We are going to welcome back one of our favorite creative:impact guests today, and that's Mark Clague, professor of musicology and entrepreneur and leadership at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. Mark, welcome back to the show.

Mark Clague: Thanks so much. It's great to be here.

Deb Polich: Yeah, I'm so happy you're here. The last time we chatted was after President Biden's inauguration, and that was more than a year ago. And we talked then about the Star Spangled Banner. You mentioned that you were writing a book about our national anthem. And here it is, the day it's being released. How excited are you to have "O Say Can You See?"--Ah, I said it wrong!--"O Say Can You Hear?" hit the bookstores?

Mark Clague: I've been sort of pinching myself. I just can't believe it's here. I've been working on this book--I'm saying ten years, but it's really closer to maybe almost double that because I've been teaching American music at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance for, like, 22 years now. And I always start off the first class with Jimi Hendrix playing The Star-Spangled Banner. It's just an example of sort of the meaning and impact that a performer can have on sort of expressing what it means to be American.

Deb Polich: And, of course, it's being released today, which is June 14th, and that's Flag Day. Was it just by chance, or was it planned?

Mark Clague: It was planned, and it was really people like you and, you know, the talks we've had on creative:impact before that made me realize that, you know, this time of year leading up to the 4th of July is the time that we have a moment sort of that we take stock of what it means to be American, what patriotism means to us, what our relationship is to, you know, the world around us. And I think my hope for the book really is to give a more dynamic impression of what the song is and can be. I think we think of it as a kind of unchanging icon. And when you look at it in history, actually, that song has changed a lot. I mean, we sing it differently than Francis Scott Key would have sung it, for example. And so, I think it gives us a more expansive and dynamic version--a vision, really--of what the country is and what patriotism means and what citizenship means.

Deb Polich: So, you said we sing it differently than they would have back in 1812, I think, right? Isn't that when that was around that time?

Mark Clague: 1814 was when it was written. So, the War of 1812.

Deb Polich: Okay. So, how do we sing it differently?

Mark Clague: Well, originally, it's a party song. I mean, it's a song of victory, an unexpected victory, right? So, it's up-tempo, sort of this rolling three/four oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light. So much quicker, much more of a celebration of sort of military success, you know, whereas today it's become, I think, a sacred hymn to the nation. We sing it slower. You know, we pull it back in terms of tempo. It has more of a kind of, you know, a lot of people say Whitney Houston's version of the 1991 Super Bowl was the greatest version ever. But her version actually is musically quite experimental. It's in four/four time rather than three/four time. She actually adds a beat to every single bar, which is, from a musical standpoint, really radical. But from an emotional standpoint, it feels true and right to us because it sounds more like a church hymn than it does like a waltz, which the original has a more waltzy three feel. But the Whitney Houston version, which I highly recommend people check out on recordings or on YouTube, but it just sounds right because it basically is saying that the kind of devotion, this kind of sort of sacred commitment to the country is what that song is today. And I think it was the Civil War that made the song sacred. I mean, it was that sacrifice that kept the Union together that changes it from a song of victory in 1814 to a sacred hymn to the nation that we have today.

Deb Polich: So, Mark, the book, "O Say Can You Hear" reads like a biography, not of a person, of course, but of a song. Was that your intention?

"O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of The Star-Spangled Banner" by Mark Clague
Mark Clague
"O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of The Star-Spangled Banner" by Mark Clague

Mark Clague: It was. I mean, I thought of the song as a kind of character, as a witness to history, as something that had or someone almost as this living, breathing tradition that had really traced the whole of American history. And part of the reason the book took me so long as it's really a whole history of America, and I think we can see the entire history of the country sort of resonate and echo through the performances of the song, not only from 1814 to the present, but even before that, because the tune on the music was written in 1773 in London, England. And so, our whole sort of revolutionary period, then the Second War of Independence, which is what we sometimes call the War of 1812, up to the Civil War, World War One, you know, the sort of civil rights movement, all of this stuff, the women's suffrage movement, all of this stuff is sort of encapsulated in echoes in alternate lyrics that are sung to The Star-Spangled Banner. And this was a huge surprise for me. I found over 575 lyrics that have been sung to the tune we know as The Star-Spangled Banner in American history.

Deb Polich: And are any of those particularly profound or funny or interesting?

Mark Clague: There are lots of them. I mean, there are some that are sort of, you know, goes to the sublime to the ridiculous. I mean, there are some that are advertising jingles for an ice rink. You know, there's one...maybe one of my favorite is actually a husband writing an anniversary gift to his wife, sort of in lyric prose and singing it to her. But maybe the most profound version actually is a local version that was written in the state of Michigan in 1844 by an abolitionist minister in Battle Creek. And it's called "O Say, Do You Hear?" So, it's almost like my title of my book. But it's actually an anti-slavery version. So, Edwin Atley was a minister and also a conductor on the Underground Railroad in Michigan, and he wrote a text basically talking about the fact that we talk about the land of the free, you know, in a country where, you know, millions of people are not free at all.

Deb Polich: And still to this day.

Mark Clague: Yeah, and it's true. We're seeing the echoes of that now. So, I do think that the song still has a lot to tell us about life today. And we need to sort of, in a sense, keep writing new versions, new possibilities for our anthem and for our country.

Deb Polich: So, we have to wrap this up. But I want to say that you have a few book readings coming up. We'll have that information on the WEMU website, and we'll encourage people to look at and buy and read "O Say Can You Hear?" to hear many of these stories. Mark, thanks for doing this work, and it's such a pleasure to have you as one of our members of our community.

Mark Clague: Thank you so much, Deb. And thanks for all you do with creative:impact.

Deb Polich: Thank you. That's Star Spangled Banner scholar and musicologist Mark Clague, whose new book "O Say Can You Hear" hits the newsstands today. Find out more about Mark's book and local book readings at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Please join me next Tuesday to meet another creative Washtenaw guest and this, your community NPR radio station, 89 one WEMU and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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