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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Memoirs Inspired By Classical Music

A musical piece came on the radio the other day and like many romantic pieces it brought tears to my eyes, but this—these were different tears—perhaps different because of the type of tears –as in onion slicing versus matrimonial-bliss-tears at a wedding or despondent-tears at a funeral. It’s a piece of music called “The Graduation March,” or “Pomp and Circumstance,” by Sir Edward William Elgar who wrote it back in 1901. When I think about this unique music so different from pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Liszt or Brahms, I appreciate the royal fervor and the aristocratic nuances of the talented, British composer and the massive declaration of achievement it represents.

Upon hearing the music, I thought back to the playground scuffles, the cold school bus rides, the children who teased me for wearing glasses or for wearing a hairnet while working in the school cafeteria. I recalled a mĂ©lange of teachers who did or didn't understand me and scary tests.  Exams about everything and one minor crisis after another in elementary school and junior high school band which was the first time I had the honor of playing this music. We graduated from eighth grade, walked down the aisle and received a paper that looked like a diploma but it was just a figurative stepping-stone to high school.

In high school band, we marched early in the morning around the muddy field and I was always late to my first class. As I ran into class and slipped into my seat, the teacher yelled at me using my last name. For three and a half years, I marched around that track and played at all the graduations. I remember bad times and good times. I remember marching at football games and dreamy football players. I remember a mean girl wanting to punch me out because I kissed her boyfriend but I also remember two boys fighting over me in the quad. I think of my English teachers often and my Driver’s Education teacher and I remember being embarrassed in the locker room during physical education. By the time I graduated, I didn't play in the band but I stood tall when Elgar’s music filled the stands.

In college there, it was again: A testimony to late afternoons in a chilly library, cramming for finals, Cliff notes and dangerous boys. If life became unbearable, I wrote my angst filled teenage poetry and rode the bus to work. When I finally donned the cap and gown, it felt like the weight of the world had somehow floated onto the campus green, off my shoulders, for a dance to Elgar’s uplifting and inspiring music.

Later, much later, after years working in the newspaper business, I took a chance and entered graduate school where I remember a professor who said our grades would go down from 100% every class if we didn't participate. By the time I figured out that this woman meant what she said, I was already on the second class and sitting on a B. (Fortunately, she let me write an extra credit essay and it brought my grade back up.) Still, I remember the younger students, the older teachers, the long papers and the struggle to keep up my grades after a long day at the Times. Yes, the ‘Pomp and Circumstance Graduation March’ played that sunny day when I received my diploma. I had marched four times to that music and this time my tears were some strange conglomeration of pride-ego-thankfulness-joy-love-happiness and probably more pride.

The notes were a stamp of confidence laced with encouragement for the future swirling with a magical potion that made the past melt away--perhaps like the pain of childbirth or the excruciating last step up to a mountain peak where the hiker  inhales and can’t believe it’s over. Because it’s NOT over. The peak is simply a sense of accomplishment that will drift in and out of phases in our lives like this march.
This music makes it all worth it. Every step, every grade, every pound of weight in our backpack and every research paper or mathematical dilemma....Like the chalkboard eraser, this ‘Pomp’ wipes away the schoolyard bully, the mistakes, the embarrassing moments, the perspiration, the missed opportunities and emotional struggles, replacing everything with hope.  It's the BEGINNING!

If you ever ran after the bus as it pulled away from the curb... if you forgot your library card or broke your heel running to class because you wanted an education.... If you remember your anxiety at the pop-quiz but realize now that though possibly insignificant, it was a cog in the entire process. Part of the formation of your perspective and just a step through a giant obstacle course called learning.

Thank goodness, music isn't graded on a curve, but if it was, this could possibly be the best composition ever written. Thank you Sir Elgar. Thank you for your wonderful contribution to education, confidence and optimism.

 Do you, my friends, remember this march? Does it remind you of everything you are and all you will achieve?  

Facts about Sir Edward William Elgar
June 2, 1857-February 23, 1934

Besides being a voracious reader, he was a prolific composer who wrote tone poems, symphonies, concertos and marches. He played organ, violin, bassoon and was one of the first to record his music on a gramophone. Knighted at Buckingham Palace in 1904, he held degrees from Yale, Cambridge, Durham, Leeds, Oxford, Aberdeen and Western Pennsylvania. He loved cycling, was an amateur chemist and his face used to be on the 20 pound note. There are also three locomotives near London with the name Sir Edward Elgar and several statues portraying his gentlemanly demeanor.


  1. Excellent post, Eve! Yes, I know the tune very well indeed. It's such a beautiful piece of music.

  2. An inspiring tune. Great post. I just hopped over from Gary's blog, and I'm so glad. I'm now your newest follower.

  3. You captured it so well! You should be a writer.
    I do remember band camp and playing at every game.
    Never broke a heel though...

  4. So nice to do this post. Yes, I remember this music, and it does bring back many memories.

  5. Great post. Every time I heard "Pomp and Circumstance" at one of my graduations (there's been a few) it inspired me. Each time was, as you say, a new beginning. My diplomas hang on the wall and still inspire me. I thank my parents, teachers, friends along the way, and those pieces of paper for the quality of life they have given me and the opportunities.

  6. What a interesting post. I enjoyed reading all your memories.
    And I forgot that if you were a band member you must have played that song a lot.

    Have a lovely weekend.
    cheers, parsnip

  7. Wonderful observations. I definitely remember marching to this song 3 separate times in my life, and just like other music that has inspired and assisted me along the way, it reminds me of my own challenges and accomplishments.

    I love your reflections in this post: "The peak is simply a sense of accomplishment that will drift in and out of phases in our lives like this march... It's the BEGINNING!" I had a similar thought yesterday as I saw some high school students posing for their prom photo outside a local hotel. I was thinking that at the time prom seemed like the best and most important moment of my life, but in the grand scheme, it's just another "cog in the entire process". :)

  8. Oh my...this was a beautiful post.

  9. A lot of memories wrapped up in that piece of music. I think of my own graduations and those of my kids. Amazing how that piece of music has become so associated with the event of graduation, but it's a apt piece with a fitting title.

    Tossing It Out