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No Longer Stain

Anthony Cheung
3 min 30 sec

no longer stain is a reference to a line in the original “America the Beautiful” poem by Katharine Lee Bates, inspired by a hike to the summit of Pikes Peak, Colorado, in 1893. In that version, Bates’ vision for America is hopeful and reverential but also critical, aiming for a dream of nationhood through communal spirituality. After several revisions, the text that we know today revels in the inherent goodness of the country and is more patriotic, leaving out lines like “Till selfish gain no longer stain, The banner of the free!” That earlier concern over wealth disparity and unchecked power becomes a call for “all success [to] be nobleness, And every gain divine!”

My variation for Min Kwon’s America/Beautiful project reflects some of those ambiguities, written in the months and weeks leading up to the tumult of the November 2020 presidential election, in the midst of a global pandemic that has been politicized and terribly mismanaged, and in the aftermath of a national reckoning on racial injustice that continues to reverberate. Traces of Samuel A. Ward’s melody anchor floating and resonant layers. Through irregular accents, the detached melody is stitched together among displaced intervals that bring on new layers, and new complexities. A rising, imitated line (“For amber waves of grain”) contrasts the obsessive opening with something more hopeful, coming full circle at the end. A high, singing line points upward, resisting against the music’s otherwise irregularly obsessive pulse. And the climactic moment (“America! America!”) rings forth with a conviction intensified by the ambivalence of its accompaniment.

Anthony Cheung

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