John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

On graduation processionals

I was listening to my Twitter pal @puxxled's classical music radio show Musica della sera this afternoon, and happened to hear Sir Edward Elgar's familiar Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D, a.k.a. the graduation march. But not my graduation march! Not my college graduation march, anyway.* At my college commencement, the graduating seniors processed to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Procession of the Nobles" from his opera Mlada.

If you're a news junkie, you may recognize it as the theme to the PBS political roundtable Inside Washington, or to Agronsky & Co. if you're an old news junkie.

Why "Procession of the Nobles" instead of Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1? You'd have to ask the band director to know for sure, but I can think of four good reasons:

  1. Playing Pomp and Circumstance is boring. Because it's so commonly used as a graduation march, most student musicians have played it a million billion times. OK, three to six times, but given how many times you have to repeat the Trio — that is, the part you hear in your head when you think of Pomp and Circumstance — during the procession, it feels like a million billion. Which means …
  2. Playing Pomp and Circumstance for the million billionth time has no educational value. Bear in mind, a high school or college band director is an educator first and foremost, and part of the job of a music educator is to expose his or her students to the repertoire. There are tons of great processional marches, so why make your students play the same one every year? Because it's traditional, right? But …
  3. Tradition for the sake of tradition is for the birds. My philosophy is that if your main reason for doing something is that it's traditional, you should probably stop doing it. Especially when it comes to something like what processional is used at a graduation ceremony, because …
  4. Who cares?

Well, some people cared, actually. Some of the graduating seniors in my class complained that Pomp and Circumstance wouldn't be played at commencement. The administration, to its credit, did not give in to the complainers, and we processed to "Procession of the Nobles." I, for one, was very pleased, because of all the reasons listed above, especially the one about having played the Trio a million billion times, and also because I'm generally in favor of not giving in to people who are complaining about stupid things. But in the end, those people did get a taste of what they wanted; the Dean acknowledged the controversy by humming a few bars of Pomp and Circumstance during his remarks. A fair compromise, I think.

— — —

* I don't remember what my high school graduation march was.

Tags: cornell college, halcyon days of yore, music: classical, social media: twitter

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