NEW “Historical” SATB Banner Arrangement—Guest Post: Ross W. Duffin of Quire Cleveland

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DuffinBannerSheetMusic“Historical” SATB Arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Arranged 2012 by Ross W. Duffin
Note: credit “Arranged by Ross W. Duffin” and please email with performance information.

In researching a program of historical American choral music for Quire Cleveland, I decided to find an early choral version of the national anthem. In this, I was inspired by a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of American History for a look at the Banner itself. The display also included a manuscript copy of Francis Scott Key’s 1814 lyrics, and I was struck by a few wording differences from the version we all sing. Further investigation found that Key made several manuscript copies for friends and, unintentionally perhaps, sometimes made slight changes from what he originally wrote. The original version is thought to be the one held at the Maryland Historical Society, so those were the lyrics I decided to use — and to use all four of the original verses, rather than just the one which is sung today: a task made easier by the original performance indication, “Con spirito!” Three verses were still being sung at the National Peace Festival in Boston, in June 1869, so perhaps the establishment of the piece as the national anthem in 1931 caused the use of other verses to be discontinued. I know one person here in Cleveland, OH, who can recite all four of Key’s verses by heart, but this is probably due more to an avid second grade teacher than to ever hearing them sung!

I also discovered that there are no arrangements of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for SATB chorus until much, much later in its history. There were accompanied solo versions published in Philadelphia and Baltimore within a few months of Key’s writing of the lyrics, setting them to the tune of “The Anacreontic Song” by Englishman John Stafford Smith. I decided to use those two early piano-vocal arrangements, combined with 1779 and 1799 versions of the Anacreontick Song, to create a new “original” choral version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The result is this arrangement for SATB chorus (with a small number of divisi passages). The goal was a version that might have been heard in 1815, if a choir had wanted to sing the complete piece a cappella. So this is not a historical version in the sense that it has survived from early manuscript or printed copies, but it is based on the early musical resources and created to fit the forces of a modern mixed choir. Choral directors and others are welcome to download my edition for use as they please, with appropriate program credit, i.e., “Arranged by Ross W. Duffin.” A message logging each use to would also be greatly appreciated. I hope that choirs today enjoy singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a manner that brings us a little closer to the song that moved Americans in those early years after Francis Scott Key’s momentous inspiration.

DuffinProfessor Ross W. Duffin was known for many years as the lively, informative host and producer of Micrologus: Exploring the World of Early Music, on National Public Radio from 1981–98. A native of London, Canada, he received the Bachelor’s degree from the University of Western Ontario, then attended Stanford University for his Master’s and Doctorate. He is now Fynette H. Kulas Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve University.

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Poets & Patriots Live! Now on Youtube

Our Poets & Patriots Live! recording release recital is now archived and available on our starspangledmusic Youtube channel.

This lecture recital offers an artistic journey through the history of the United States national anthem from its roots in an English club song through a brand-new arrangement by Boston-based composer Michael Gandolfi. Each song is introduced by Professor Mark Clague of the American Music Institute at the University of Michigan. You can click above to watch the whole show or select from one of 12 segments that showcase individual songs.

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Happy Presidents’ Day—Poets & Patriots Live at 8pm EST

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 9.43.24 AMTo celebrate “George Washington’s Birthday” (aka. Presidents’ Day), the University of Michigan’s American Music Institute with the Star Spangled Music Foundation presents Poets & Patriots Live! a lecture recital at U-Michigan’s North Campus “Stamps Auditorium” (1226 Murfin Ave. / Ann Arbor 48109) at 8:00 p.m. EST to tell the story of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (Click here for listing.) If you can’t attend in person, listen live online at

You can pick up a copy of the CD and meet many of the artists involved with the project, including Prof. Scott Piper, pianist Jeannette Fang, soprano Leann Schuering, bass Jean Bernard Cerin, alto Kate Nadolny, collaborative pianist Michael Sherman and others. The recital will include the premiere of a new piano-vocal arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by composer Michael Gandolfi from his patriotic cantata Chesapeake: Summer of 1814.

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Francis Scott Key & George Washington’s Birthday (aka. Presidents Day?)

Public Law 90-363 (June 28, 1968)

NOTE: In celebration of George Washington’s Birthday, the Star Spangled Music Foundation will present Poets & Patriots in recital at Stamps Auditorium on the University of Michigan’s north campus at 8:00 p.m. Click here for more information.

The wandering apostrophe in the name of Presidents’ Day / President’s Day / Presidents Day has a logical explanation—it turns out that not one of these variants is the actual, official name of the federal holiday. While “Presidents’ Day” is the spelling preferred by most authorities, these names are more advertising copy than law. First approved in 1879, the federal celebration of George Washington’s birthday was held initially on Washington’s actual birthday of February 22 (New Style Julian Calendar) and was first celebrated officially in 1880.  Public Law 90-363 signed into law by Lyndon Johnson by on June 28, 1968 (see image) shifted the celebration to the third Monday in February beginning in 1971. Yet despite proposals to rename the day as “Presidents’ Day,” this law left the holiday’s name as it was — “Washington’s Birthday” — and this remains the most recent word on the subject.

As with Key’s anthem, Congressional action to celebrate Washington’s birthday was less an act of creativity than recognition of a community practice, one begun during Washington’s lifetime. Among the earliest American lyrics written to the tune that would be used by Key for his anthem was created by Susanna Rowson to celebrate George Washington’s birthday in 1798.

Rowson’s lyric marked the still living former President’s 66th birthday. (He would die the next year at age 67.) It was patriotic songs like these and others featured in our Poets & Patriots recording project that shifted the symbolic resonance of the English convivial tune from British sociality to American patriotism. The melody was thus transformed into an “American” tune and an appropriate—and in many ways Francis Scott Key’s only—choice to animate “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In 1813 (more than a year before Key penned his most famous lyric) the Washington Society of Alexandria invited Francis Scott Key to address its members on the occasion of George Washington’s birthday. These were dark days for America as early success in the War of 1812 had turned into a stalemate and the British fleet’s superior troops and firepower were expected in the Chesapeake Bay region all too soon.  Key, inspired by the purpose of the Society “professing and cherishing [Washington's] principles,” chose Washington’s influential 1796 Farewell Address as his subject. Remembered today primarily for its admonition against the divisive influences of party and faction, Key amplified all of Washington’s oration as “maxims of political wisdom, which I trust will never be forgotten”—but found one passage in particular that he characterized as “the bounden duty of every citizen, the indispensable obligation upon the conscience of a patriot:”

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. —In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens.—The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, out to respect and to cherish them.—A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. (Key’s quotation, excerpted, from George Washington’s Farewell Address.)

Key goes on to define his own sense of Patriotism. It is an obligation to one’s community. Guided by the knowledge of “the nature and condition of man” provided by religion, the Patriot is called to a life of service—”an impulse of filial affection is awakened within him, that binds him unalienably to the land of his birth.”<1>

Key, who was against the War of 1812, suggests here that Americans of his day are falling short of their divine responsibility to community. Thus, the loss of prosperity, “present distress” and the “still more awful anticipation of approaching calamity” [i.e., the arrival of the British fleet] are a form of “common punishment.” We should thus take as sincere Key’s jubilation in the fourth verse of his famous lyric, after the British have been repulsed, when he proclaims:

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”

Note: other selections from our Poets & Patriots recording project celebrate Washington. Although written for John Adams, Paine’s text to “Adams and Liberty” arguably offers more praise to the nation’s first chief executive. Among the most interesting early musical variants of the Anacreontic melody is “When Death’s Gloomy Angel Was Bending His Bow,” that mourns Washington’s death. Click here to preview these tracks on iTunes.

<1> The complete text of Key’s oration is reprinted in Edward S. Delaplaine’s Francis Scott Key: Life and Times (1937), pp. 105–115. See our books resources page for more info.

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Poets & Patriots Recital—Live Stream & CD Release on Feb. 17


Pianist Jeannette Fang, a piano competition gold medalist, will perform Cull’s “SSB” with Brilliant Variations and Blind Tom’s remarkable “Battle of Manassas”

Join us on Monday, February 17 at 8:00 p.m. to celebrate the release of our landmark recording project—Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The recital will be streamed live via uStream (click here) and anyone near the University of Michigan’s campus can see the show live at Stamps Auditorium on Michigan’s North Campus (more info).

Some of the star talents in our project, including internationally renowned operatic tenor Scott Piper and pianist Jeannette Fang, gold medal winner in the top division of the Seattle International Piano Competition, along with Jean Bernard Cerin, Kate Nadolny, and Leann Scheuring, will perform their contributions to the project live, while musicologist Mark Clague narrates the history of the song and how it moved from a London club anthem to the official national song of the United States of America.

The Poets & Patriots recording project traces the history of the Anacreontic melody from 1775/76 in London to Francis Scott Key’s truce ship in the Cheasapeake Bay and then from Key’s song celebrating a vital, if unexpected, victory over the British “In Defence of Fort McHenry” through the song’s transformation as the official national anthem of the United States of America. The program will feature the world premiere of a unique piano-vocal setting of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Atlanta School composer Michael Gandolfi, from the conclusion of his tone poem Chesapeake: Summer of 1814.

Poets & Patriots will be available from iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and other online retailers. You can download the free CD booklet. K-12 teachers can receive a unique bonus track, combining our recordings of the melody’s source tune and Francis Scott Key’s first sheet music imprint by joining our Star Spangled Teachers Network (click here).

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An Inspiring Anthem from Resounding Joy

SSMF Executive Director Susan Key recently had the opportunity to speak with Rebecca Vaudreuil, a student in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and national military liaison to the music therapy organization Resounding Joy, about a very special rendition of the Banner…

On August 10, 2013, Rebecca and United States Marine Corps Sgt, Retired, Benjamin Tourtelot, performed the United States National Anthem at the Mixed Martial Arts  (MMA) World Series of Fighting (WSOF) National Championship.  Mr. Tourtelot was asked to perform the Star Spangled Banner to honor himself and the men and women who serve their country to preserve freedom.

Check out the full story at

We are delighted to welcome Resounding Joy as a partner in the nationwide Star-Spangled Music Day celebration next September 12!

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Year 200 Guest Post—On Teaching “The Star-Spangled Banner” in American Studies and Music Courses by Will Fulton

For Music in the U.S.: A Cultural Perspective, an interdisciplinary course that is cross-listed in American Studies and Music, I scheduled the opening unit on “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  In beginning the course with the “Banner,” my aim was to examine changing performance practices of the anthem, and to explore ways that different performances of this one piece of music have served as a catalyst for discourse and debate. My goal was to encourage students to consider how performance contexts shape notions of meaning, specifically in the case of the national anthem.

While the plan had originally been to discuss past performances of the “Banner,” in the spring of 2013, scheduling the unit first ended up being a stroke of luck.  During the dates in which I taught this unit, televised performances of the anthem occurred that were the focus of considerable national discussion. The class dates began directly after Beyoncé’s infamous “lip-syncing” during the inauguration on January 20, 2013, her follow-up a cappella press conference performance on January 31, and ended after Alicia Keys’s tender Super Bowl XLVII rendition on February 3rd.  As these three performances were the subject of much discussion in the media (some reporters even nicknamed the inauguration scandal “Lip-sync Gate”), they highlighted the ways in which the “Banner” proves to be a continued subject of controversy, regarding how the work should be performed.  Due to the Star Spangled Music Foundation’s new recording of the original 1814 Theodore Carr arrangement, we were able to explore changes in style and arrangement spanning two centuries!

In order to frame the class discussion, I introduced the “Music-Culture Model” of Mark Slobin and Jeff Todd Titon[1].  Slobin and Titon’s model centers on the affect of the music, which is brought into being by a musical performance that is situated in the community, carrying and recognizing the traditions and norms of the performance.  The time and space in which the performances take place are described by Slobin and Titon as memory and history: “The community is situated in history and borne by memory” such that any given musical act is understood in relation to past musical practice by the community through collective memory and historical precedence.[2]

Examining performances of the “Banner” in this context, I asked students to write an essay exploring notions of “traditional” performance, meaning performances that were perceived by the audience/community at a given time as upholding expectations of how the anthem should properly be performed.  I then asked them to compare these to versions that were “non-traditional,” or that denied or challenged performance norms based on memory and historical precedence. Students were then asked to address ways in which the concept of a “traditional” performance is shaped by historical context.

I offered the following versions and performances for them to discuss:

  • The original 1814 arrangement (historically informed performance, 2012): link
  • Igor Stravinsky, 1941 arrangement: link
  • Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, 1969: link
  • Whitney Houston, 1991 Super Bowl performance: link
  • Various artists, “Nuestro Himno (Our Anthem),” 2006: link
  • Beyoncé, 2013 Inauguration performance: link

During the classes, we discussed ways that historical factors shaped these versions and/or their reception: the War of 1812 for the writing of Francis Scott Key’s poem; the Boston Police’s concern regarding Stravinsky’s harmonization; Hendrix’s performance taking place during the Vietnam War; Houston’s during the Gulf War; “Nuestro Himno” and immigration reform protests. In addition to these versions, students were free to comment on other performances of the anthem as well (in class, we watched performances by Marvin Gaye: link, José Feliciano: link, and Carrie Underwood: link). Within the assigned essay, students were asked to describe the instrumentation, timbre, tempo, and dynamics of each performance.

Writing about Houston’s version at the 1991 Super Bowl, student Olivia R. states:

“[Houston’s performance had a] huge impact on Americans and this version became a new standard way of performing the song. Houston’s dynamic started out soft. When she got to the lyric, “And the rocket’s red glare,” her dynamics changed to loud and powerful. She also made this lyric, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” her own. Whitney took the word ‘free’ and put an outstanding twist on it by raising her pitch. I believe that this also became a standard in the way singers perform the song thereafter.”

Student Adam A. compared the affect of Hendrix’s version to the Carr arrangement:

“While the original version was meant to foster unity and rally troops, Jimi’s version showed the national turmoil of the late 1960s. Some say it represented the chaos of the Vietnam War. Jimi plays the melody of the first verse interwoven with several sections of musical bedlam. It is played with a standard rock drum set and Jimi’s guitar and effect pedals. His highly unorthodox rendition was regarded as an insult to the U.S. by many, but others have taken it to have a different meaning, one that simply represents the radically changing state that the nation was in. The section at the end and the addition of “Taps” seem to suggest that it was not meant to simply be seditious.”

Regarding the original 1814 arrangement, student Robert M. described how the version did not match his expectations of how the work is now performed:

“The Carr version contains a piano, six male lead vocalists, six backing women vocalists and a conductor. There is no improvising… This version, although contemporary at the time of its conception, feels very rigid and almost abrasive if compared to some of the contemporary versions we hear today.”

Student Alex C. offered a comparison of Carr’s arrangement with the Houston performance:

“Despite the fact that Houston’s version is both performed at a slower tempo than that of the original 1814 version, and takes certain vocal liberties when it comes to inflection and the placement of vibrato on certain notes, it has become the standard that those performing the national anthem, particularly at sporting events, are held to.”

In the conclusion of the essay, students were asked to comment as to whether musicians should be free to interpret the “Banner” as they wish, particularly in the cases of Hendrix’s version and “Nuestro Himno.” Assigned reading included the introduction to Charles Hiroshi Garrett’s Struggling to Define a Nation, which discusses the controversy surrounding “Nuestro Himno,” as well as a viewing of Hendrix’s 1970 interview on The Dick Cavett Show in which he talks about his performance of the “Banner”(link).

While some students supported the right of performers to reinterpret the national anthem, many others, including Rabbia M., disagreed:

“The national anthem is an official national song, therefore any modification would indicate disrespect toward the country. Furthermore, if we constantly sing and play the national anthem in different language and musical style, the anthem will without a doubt loose its value, importance, and purpose as source of pride for the country. This is why I believe that some things are just meant to be the way they are and the national anthem of United States of America is certainly one of them.”

Discussion of the “Banner” drew strong opinions from students, both in class, and in their papers. In a course with units on rock & roll, hip hop, and jazz, a number of students remarked that the unit on “The Star-Spangled Banner” was one of their favorites. Learning the history of the work (they were all shocked to learn that there were so many verses!), and then comparing performances and arrangements over the last two centuries engaged them, and gave them the opportunity to think critically about the anthem’s role in U.S. culture. While not every course takes place during “Banner” performances as widely discussed as Beyoncé’s at the 2013 inauguration, in more recent classes, I have encouraged students to find and discuss contemporary performances. In doing so, I hope to stress that each performance of the “Banner” is part of the ongoing history of the anthem, and one that each of them – as audience, performer, or critic – is part of.


[1] See Mark Slobin and Jeff Todd Titon, “The Music Culture as a World of Music” in Jeff Titon, ed., The Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World’s Peoples (New York: Schirmer, 2002).

[2] Slobin and Titon, 5.

Fulton-portrait-headshotWill Fulton is a scholar of American music, and an instructor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College. The focus of his research is on popular music and recording technology.  He has contributed articles to American Music Review and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd Edition, and has presented papers at conferences for the Society of American Music, American Musicological Society, International Musicological Society, and the American Studies Association.

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A Banner Year Is Here!

Print2014 begins the eight and a half month run up to the 200th birthday of the U.S national anthem—”The Star Spangled Banner”! The Star Spangled Music Foundation and its partners have developed an exciting year of exhibits, performances, publications and educational initiatives. Many of our events will be webcast and available to viewers across the nation. Highlights include:

Monday, Feb. 17—Poets & Patriots CD Release Recital and Party
University of Michigan Stamps Auditorium at 8 p.m. (free) (webcast)

April 2014—Publication of the SSMF Star Spangled Songbook with scores and commentary on two hundred years of Anacreontic parodies and Star-Spangled variants.

June 30–July 25—Banner Moments NEH K-12 Teacher Institute
Click here for application information

Thursday, July 3—Thomas Hampson Recital at the Library of Congress
Coolidge Auditorium

Exhibits from July through November at:

  • Grammy Museum (Los Angeles), Opening Sept. 2014
  •  Newseum (Washington, D.C.)
  • New York Philharmonic Archives
  • University of Michigan Hatcher Library, Opening Summer 2014
  • University of Michigan Music Library, Opening Summer 2014

Friday, September 12—Star Spangled Music Day
Celebrated with the American Choral Directors Association & America Sings
A National Day of Patriotic Song at K-12 schools across the nation, click here for info.

September 13—Spangled Spectacular Halftime Show by Michigan Marching Band

September 14—Poets & Patriots Concert at Harlan Hatcher Library

More Information to follow…



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Year 199 Guest Post—Sheryl Kaskowitz on “Songs as History”

What can we learn from a song?

This is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as the 75th anniversary of the radio premiere of “God Bless America” (click here) was approaching. I’ve noticed press about a few other diamond anniversaries that put the song’s debut in historical context, recapturing significant moments from the fall of 1938:

  • October 30, 1938: Orson Welles’ radio drama “The War of the Worlds” is broadcast;
  • November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht, the Nazi’s coordinated attacks on Jews in Germany and its territories;
  • November 10, 1938: “God Bless America” premieres;
  • November 11, 1938: Armistice Day is commemorated as an official legal holiday, dedicated to “the cause of world peace.”

Each of these events from 1938 sheds light on a particular aspect of our history. “War of the Worlds” reflected (and exploited) the public unease in the face of growing violence in Europe and lingering economic Depression at home. The horror of Kristallnacht would signal a turning point for a growing American condemnation of Nazi Germany, but an Armistice Day holiday centered on peace reflects the lack of enthusiasm for U.S. involvement in the escalating conflict in Europe.

So what is a song’s radio premiere doing on this list? Seen in context, we can understand why “God Bless America” was so popular during this period—it had the power to calm an anxious public and served as a simple, direct expression of patriotism in the face of looming war. It was the perfect song for that particular moment, as its composer Irving Berlin noted:

I believe its great appeal is the fact that it comes at a time when people feel very keenly about their patriotism and want to express it. This song seems to say what we all feel. Personally, I make no great claims for the merit of the song itself. But, because of the circumstances and of its timeliness, I sincerely believe that those thirty-two bars of words and music are the most important I have ever written. Certainly they are closest to my heart. (“Story of ‘God Bless America,’” New York Herald Tribune, 27 October 1940.)

Understanding the history of songs can deepen our understanding of history writ large, providing students with another lens into American culture at specific moments.

But songs do more than this—they travel with us into the present, their meanings shifting over time. In his book Music as Social Life, Tom Turino calls this process “semantic snowballing”: as a song is sung again and again in different contexts over time, new associations are added while older ones are retained so that a song becomes more than just its words and melody—it becomes a powerful symbol of all of these accumulated associations. I trace this phenomenon in my book about “God Bless America,” but we can see it with a multitude of other songs. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, singing “The Star Spangled Banner”—with its reference to a siege on American forces during the War of 1812—took on an added significance, as one observer described in 1942:

Never has it been played and sung more often in so brief a period, never has it been heard by more people at once. . . . It opens every public gathering; the opera and the football game, the play, the fight and the dance, the banquet and the town meeting. Easily forgotten in days of peace . . . it now becomes, all of a sudden, a tremendously precious and important thing. (L.H. Robbins, “And the Song Is Still Here,” The New York Times, 4 January 1942.)

Students may have their own associations and memories of a particular song, allowing them to connect their personal experiences with the history of another era. Songs can be powerful tools for making history come alive in the classroom.

Sheryl Kaskowitz is the author of God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song, published by Oxford University Press (2012).

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Indiegogo Success! K-12 Campaign Breaks through Goal!

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 12.42.50 AMTHANK YOU TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS!!! Our “TeachSSB200!” Indiegogo campaign has been a huge success with $13,497 raised from 144 supporters, totaling 115% of our goal. These funds allow the Star Spangled Music Foundation to publish both our 2-CD Poets & Patriots set of recordings as well as a Star Spangled Songbook including the vocal-choral scores we created to make these three dozen recordings. The CDs and sheet music will provide instructional materials for K-12 students across the nation and allow others to perform these forgotten or hard-to-find versions of the United States national anthem — “The Star-Spangled Banner” — plus its historical precursors and political derivatives.

SSMF executive director Susan Key summed up the results saying, “What’s so gratifying is the broad range of support for this effort. We had donors from across the country, from all walks of life, giving donations from $2 to $1500. This supports our goal of using this important anniversary to highlight the power of music to bring us together.”

The campaign has also helped us make new connections. Two donors directed that their perks be sent to elementary schools named after Francis Scott Key, which gave us the idea for a stretch goal to provide free materials to all K-12 schools in the U.S. named after our national lyricist if we beat our initial goal by $1500. And we did! We’ll report the results in a future post on those contacts.

SSMF board president and the manager of our Indiegogo campaign Mark Clague has posted a summary of his experience and take-aways from the successful campaign on his blog (click here to read the full account). He concludes that crowdfunding is not only a powerful tool for raising money, but that it benefits a project in other ways, from marketing and friend-raising to improving the quality of the project itself by forcing those seeking funds to articulate their pitch more effectively as well as inviting comments from supporters.

Thanks to all who made our campaign a success. We couldn’t have done it without you!


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