About a week ago, over dinner, my S.O. brought up the topic of “the graduation song”… What’s it actually called? Why do schools cross the United States use the same song over and over, from Elementary to University? and Isn’t time to find a different song to play? (Memories of high school band kids looking bored flitted through my mind…)

Well, this geek could not let an opportunity to research pass her by and now I get to share my findings! Lucky you!

Pomp and Circumstance (March No. 1 in D), commonly known as “the graduation song” was written in 1901 by English composer Sir Edward Elgar. The composition was first played at London Promenade Concert to a roaring crowd and two ovations. Later, Elgar was commissioned to write music for the coronation ceremony of King Edward VII. After revisions, Pomp and Circumstance was played at a gala concert after the ceremony and was an immediate hit (even seen as England’s unofficial national anthem). It was in 1905 when the score become associated with graduation ceremonies in the United States. That year, Elgar was granted an honorary doctorate from Yale University and he walked off the stage to Pomp and Circumstance. Not to be outdone, Princeton used the March No. 1 in its graduation ceremony the next year. Followed by the University of Chicago and then Columbia. Now, you can’t attend a graduation in the United States without hearing Pomp and Circumstance.

According to different sources, either the phrase “pomp and circumstance” can be either attributed to William Shakespeare’s Othello, or  Philip Massinger’s The Bashful Lover. With the meaning of “an ostentatious display of ceremonial grandeur“. Quite fitting for the accomplishment of graduation!

Band kids across America are only playing a small portion of the entire suite entitled March No. 1 in D and really just the playing the Land of Hope and Glory part (again and again and again…). Which, did you know has words? Singer Clara Butt saw the potential of Pomp and Circumstance to be a vocal piece when combined with A.C. Benson’s “Land of Hope and Glory”.

“Land of Hope and Glory

Mother of the Free,

How shall we extol thee

who are born of thee?

Wider still and wider

shall thy bounds be set;

God, who made thee mighty,

make thee mightier yet!”

Pomp and Circumstance is comprised of six marches and was composed over the course of thirty years, with the last march (No. 6 in G minor) written only as a sketch until composer Anthony Payne elaborated on the work in 2005.

After over a century, isn’t it time to find a new graduation song? I mean, there are plenty of marches that would convey the gravitas of the occasion and those band kids would doubtlessly appreciate a change of pace. Yet, Donald Duck has given a new spin to Pomp and Circumstance (see the clip above). And…it is the traditional graduation song. Pomp and Circumstance also helps the school budget, since the piece is royalty free! So, I don’t believe we will be seeing changes anytime soon.

Old Dominion University’s Spring Commencement will by Live Streamed at 2pm (Eastern) on Friday, May 10th. Follow the link below to watch:


And don’t worry, Pomp and Circumstance will probably be played! Congratulations Class of 2019!

Photograph Courtesy of Old Dominion University Ted Constant Center, May 5, 2017