The Chorus:

“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 bonds be set.
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.”

  • Lyrics by poet, essayist, academic, and author A.C. Benson in 1902, added to Pomp and Circumstance, composed by Sir Edward Elgar in 1901.
  • Played at most high school and college graduation ceremonies, its famous title comes from William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello—specifically this from Act III:

“Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner and all quality,
Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war.”

… As soldiers march off to war, so, too, graduating students march onto life’s battlefield …

About Sir Edward Elgar, he…

  • Was born on June 2, 1857, the son of an organist and music dealer,
  • Quit school at 15 and never returned,
  • Excelled at the violin and bassoon,
  • Had no formal training in composition.

And yet he went on to produce a number of works, and  …

By 1899, he’d earned recognition as a leading composer. Two years later, he finished his Pomp and Circumstance March in D Major, Op 39, No 1. It premiered that October, after which conductor, Sir Henry Wood, said: “The people simply rose and yelled. I had to play it again—with the same result; they refused to let me go on with the programme. Merely to restore order, I played the march again…”

An instant hit.

Knighted in 1904, Elgar went on to teach music at the University of Birmingham in ’05. That’s also when his friend, Yale University professor Samuel Sanford, invited him there to receive an honorary doctorate—this man who’d never finished high school.

The Yale commencement resounded with music, but nothing was so moving as when, in honor of Elgar, the graduates filed out to the New Haven Symphony Orchestra playing Pomp and Circumstance.  Its slow-moving cadence–bittersweet, joyous, hopeful, and sad–bids farewell while welcoming in new beginnings.

And word spread…

  • It played at Princeton University’s 1907 commencement;
  • Then at the University of Chicago’s in 1908; and
  • Columbia University in 1913.

From there it went viral, so to speak, playing even at small colleges, as its royalty-free track can be used at no cost.

So fitting.

As CRB’s Edyn-Mae Stevenson put it: “In a way, Pomp and Circumstance is Elgar. It’s a piano tuner’s son in the disguise of an English gentleman. It’s the boy who couldn’t scrape together enough money to attend conservatory going on to compose the graduation song. It’s the man who proved you don’t need a fancy degree to achieve excellence.”

With a nod to Sir Edward Elgar, take a bow 2024 graduates.

~ With thanks and good summer wishes, Carol