Two hundred years ago today, the “dawn’s early light” broke over Fort McHenry and illuminated a flag symbolizing resilience and courage. Two hundred years later, the song written by Francis Scott Key in praise of the fort’s defenders still waves over the nation, celebrating the commitment of American citizens to the day-to-day requirements of democracy.
Today at 4:00 p.m. (Eastern time), the American Music Institute at the University of Michigan presents “Poets & Patriots: The 200th Birthday of “The Star-Spangled Banner”—a recital of tuneful precedents, political parodies, and musical arrangements that tell the story of Francis Scott Key’s in American life. Featuring a superstar cast of singers from U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the recital will be led by maestro Jerry Blackstone and narrated by musicologist Mark Clague. The recital will be streamed live on the Internet here, and will be archived there and eventually released in a polished video production on our Youtube channel.
The recital marks the gala opening of the U-M Library exhibit “Banner Moments: The National Anthem in American Life,” curated by Clague and librarian Jamie Vander Broek and designed by Stamps School of Art & Design student Grace Rother. The exhibit covers three rooms and features an original copy of the first sheet music imprint of “The Star-Spangled Banner” arranged by Thomas Carr. It is the most valuable sheet of printed sheet music in history—only about a dozen copies survive.
The concert will feature the first-ever SATB arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” music (but with a temperance text) as well as a rare performance of other music by the anthem’s composer—John Stafford Smith. His award winning Glee of 1775 “Blest Pair of Sirens” will be presented. Also performed is an all-but unknown French translation and setting from the World War One era “L’Étandard Étoilé.”
The recital will end with a group performance of Key’s song around the U-M’s Diag flagpole followed by a singing of “Happy Birthday” to Key’s lyric and cupcakes provided by the U-M Library. Hope to see you there!