Wherein I’d like to thank the guy who wrote the song that made my baby graduate with me.
Graduation season: when Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches (specifically March No. 1 in D Major) rings out across the United States amidst squealing feedback from tinny football and basketball stadium speakers. How did this particular march—as opposed to, say, Hermann Ludwig Blankenburg’s The Gladiator’s Farewell (to which the graduates could turn, face their families and cry, “We who are about to graduate salute you…and don’t change your Netflix password!”)—become the standard for American graduation ceremonies?
Farewell the Shrill Trump (No, Not That One)
The Pomp and Circumstance Marches (of which there are five beyond the first high school hit parade) get their name from act 3, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Othello, where Othello laments leaving behind his simple soldier’s life with the “Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!” The piece was such a hit with the soon-to-be British king Edward VII in 1901 that Elgar included it in the Coronation Ode for Edward in 1902.
Many high school and college graduates will tell you it’s only fitting that music intended for a monarch should be played to honor them as well. The process began when the popularity of the work led to it being played as the recessional music when Elgar was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yale in 1905. Then, Miles Hoffman says, “After Yale used the tune, Princeton used it, the University of Chicago and Columbia…Then eventually…everybody started using it. It just became the thing that you had to graduate to.”
Dip Da Dip Da Dip Dip Da Dip Da Dip
As my intro and caption above demonstrate, I like the idea of graduates singing Barry Mann’s sixty year-old classic as they gallumph down the aisle. For those who find this lacking in the gravity appropriate for the occasion, however, you could also substitute Miles Hoffman’s suggestion: The March to the Scaffold by Hector Berlioz. “Perfect if the graduates know that they will be unemployed,” he says.
Photo: Commencement Ceremony at Cornell University on June 23, 1920 (Source).