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  • Look at this picture.

  • You know the music we'll play.

  • Even if you have the volume off.

  • “I'll find you...”

  • Nope.

  • “I'm ready for my closeup…”

  • No.

  • Yep.

  • Why is this song the "graduation song?"

  • How did "Pomp and Circumstance" become the soundtrack to every...single...graduation?

  • Its path and fate is surprising.

  • And to understand it, you have to know about the British empire's war for gold.

  • Let's get technical first: this song is part of Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches.

  • Specifically, it's the tune from 1901's March No. 1 in D. "Land of Hope and Glory" is the version with words.

  • But to get there, you have to go back.

  • In 1901, Queen Victoria was coming to the end of her 63 year, seven month reign.

  • That period marked a big expansion of the British Empire.

  • In 1901, a central conflict was the Boer War in South Africa.

  • It was basically fought over packed diamond and gold mines.

  • Boers were the Dutch South Africans opposing Britain.

  • Black South Africans were largely caught in the crossfire, though some fought with the Boers.

  • For all South Africans, the war was brutal.

  • The British destroyed a lot of territory and built incredibly harsh internment camps.

  • For the British, that was the march of empire.

  • That fight was in the background when Queen Victoria died in 1901.

  • When her eldest son, Edward VII, prepared to be coronated in 1902, he needed a program.

  • At that time, Edward Elgar was already famous, and so was his military march.

  • So Edward VII asked him to play it at the coronation and add some words.

  • Elgar got AC Benson to write lyrics, and they were….warlike.

  • Here's an early recording sung by Dame Clara Butt.

  • "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;”

  • Just a second, Dame Butt.

  • Rewind that.

  • Wider still and wider.”

  • "Wider still" means empires expanding, for the coronation of a king.

  • And the namePomp and Circumstancecomes from an Othello quote about, well, here's Orson Welles: “Pomp and circumstance of glorious war.”

  • This song's about empire.

  • So why do Americans think it's about graduation?

  • Pomp and Circumstance was a near instant hit in America, too.

  • The tune was famous from its premiere, and it was quickly used in graduations.

  • In 1905, the University of Chicago and University of Cincinnati both used Edward Elgar's March at their commencements.

  • Later that same year, Elgar went to Yale to get an honorary degree for his world famous compositions.

  • In his honor, they played Pomp and Circumstance, without lyrics, as the ceremony ended.

  • The New Haven Morning Journal called it “a military march,” but early elite adoption helped it spread across universities.

  • For example, here's the University of Minnesota's commencement programs from 1900 to 1950.

  • Here are the ceremonies where Pomp and Circumstance played.

  • In 1931, the tune was so popular that Elgar recorded it for a recordit was the very first session recorded at Abbey Road Studios.

  • Yes, the Beatles Abbey Road.

  • The song established a legacy.

  • That legacy just depended on which country you were hearing it in.

  • In the UK, Pomp and Circumstance remained like an unofficial national anthem, while in the US it became graduation kitsch.

  • That's obvious in the parodies: in Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, the song satirizes government.

  • In Disney's Fantasia 2000, the joke is about a graduation march.

  • Elgar wears a mortarboard in America and a crown in the UK.

  • But in either case, his military march endures, even if it's not fully understood.

  • The British Empire has shrunk, but the song Elgar wrote for it?

  • It grows mightier.

  • Take it away, Dame Butt: God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.

  • So this is probably not the first time this has happened, but I wanted to call out that we actually got the idea for this video from a comment.

  • So thank you for that commentand that is the reason that you have just learned the history of Pomp and Circumstance.

  • And that I have had this song stuck in my head for the past two weeks.

Look at this picture.

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B2 US Vox circumstance graduation march edward wider

Why every American graduation plays the same song

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    Ginger Liu posted on 2019/06/24
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