“Anthems are not made. They become, through an unpredictable process of community construction” (p. 83). This statement encapsulates both the overarching theme of Mark Clague’s book and the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Calling the book a “cultural biography” ascribes a living quality to the “Banner,” and that notion is appropriate. Describing the anthem not as a static musical object but rather as an organism that evolves, changes, and enacts upon the society of which it is a part gives it agency. Clague’s story of the “Banner” is less about what it is and more about what it does, has done, and continues to do. The anthem as presented here is not one, single thing but an amalgamation of musical and cultural ideas, practices, decisions, and criticisms. The anthem is not made as one would make some other song, but is rather formed and shaped by the many sources of...
O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” by Mark Clague
IMANI DANIELLE MOSLEY is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Florida. Her research focuses on Benjamin Britten, opera, and modernism in postwar Britain. Her current research addresses sacred sonic culture, acoustics, and ritual in the English churches central to Britten’s sacred music. She has published articles in the New York Times on British royal ceremonial music and also specializes in reception history, masculinities studies, digital humanities, sound studies, and race, protest music, and trauma.
Imani Danielle Mosley; O Say Can You Hear? A Cultural Biography of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” by Mark Clague. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 August 2023; 76 (2): 503–506. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2023.76.2.503
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