When Classical 91.5 listener Bruce Leslie attended a university graduation ceremony in London, he expected to hear Edward Elgar’s first “Pomp and Circumstance” march. But he didn’t. When he asked people about its omission, they looked at him incredulously and said that music had no connection with graduation in the U.K.
So Bruce, being an historian, began researching and discovered that the Elgar march was first played at a graduation at Yale in 1905 when the composer was receiving an honorary degree. Several in the audience from other universities (such as Princeton) were so taken by it and the tradition began to spread in the United States.
Why this particular march? It combines feelings of triumph and nostalgia, exultation and wistfulness. It captures the bittersweet feelings graduates and their families feel as they end one chapter and begin another.
But for musicians like Bob Knipe of the Genesee Symphony in Batavia, New York, playing it over and over during a graduation is pure tedium. “As a brass player," Bob writes, "I'd prefer almost anything to Pomp & Circumstance.”
So what are alternatives for your next graduation ceremony? Here are five suggestions:
1. Jupiter from The Planets by Gustav Holst. Let’s brush off the melancholy and embrace the joy!
2. Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland. Classical 91.5 listener Mark Oserling observes, "it would signal the start of new life and an opportunity to flourish." Plus, since it's four times longer than the Elgar march, it wouldn’t have to be played again and again.
3. The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein What could be more American and wildy optimistic than film music about righteous cowboys seeking justice for the downtrodden and oppressed?
4. Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness. The title says it all; it's the perfect metaphor for life's journey.
5. What’s your suggestion? ____________________________
Here's the original. One more time.