The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is there better graduation music than the old stand-by, “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar? The Ear doubts it. | May 17, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

This is graduation weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This year, the biggest ceremonies will be held outdoors in Camp Randall Stadium, as in the photo below.

It started last night, Friday night, with doctoral students, MFA‘s and professional degree students including doctors, lawyers, business people and veterinarians who had their ceremony indoors at the Kohl Center.

Today, Saturday, May 17, 2014, is devoted to the largest number of graduates -– the undergraduates as well as master’s students.


The Ear wants to honor all UW students who are graduating, but especially the students — both undergraduate and graduate — at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who have brought him so many hours of pleasure and memorable listening.

But what to choose to play?

Believe me, I have thought long and hard about it.

And for the life of me, I still do not think there exists anything better than the old stand-by: The “Pomp and Circumstance’ March No. 1, originally written by Sir Edward Elgar (below) for the coronation of a King of England. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Edward Elgar

Of course, there are other fine marches by Elgar in the same set.

But none surpasses the really famous one, the omnipresent one at this time of year, THE Pomp and Circumstance March that captures the vitality and rush, yet also the dignity and hope of the event — and yes, all the bittersweet sadness of leaving behind close friends and mentors.

If you know of a better musical offering for graduation or commence, please leave a reply or comment with a YouTube link is possible and certainly the composer’s name and work’s title.

In the meantime, here it is again. You have no doubt heard it before probably many times. But no matter that it is a cliché or that is banal. It never fails to give me both goosebumps and tears, and it always makes me wish that I too were among those students processing through commencement.

Are you ready?

Graduates: Please line up, adjust your robe and mortar board, and smile.

Maestro, a downbeat please!

Best wishes and congratulations to all.

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  1. If you guys want to download into MP3:

    Comment by huepham — April 11, 2016 @ 6:40 am

  2. My favorite academic recessionals are the organ toccatas by Widor and Gigout and the Rigadoun by Campra.

    Check this one out:

    Comment by Ron McCrea — May 17, 2014 @ 11:09 am

    • Ron,
      I love the Widor — don’t really know the other two — and find in it endless joy and celebration.
      I have heard it played at weddings and Easter services as a recessional and at the opening of the Overture Center 10 years ago.
      But I have never heard it at a graduation ceremony.
      But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work.

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 18, 2014 @ 10:32 am

  3. At my secondary school they always played the Grand March from Aida, which still sounds just as festive and majestic to me now, as it did then. I always get a twinge of serious nostalgia when hearing it!

    Comment by Ann Boyer — May 17, 2014 @ 9:36 am

    • That is a fantastic alternative,
      though it lacks some of the quietude and poignant lyricism in the slow part of the Elgar.
      But no doubt about it, it is a great and stirring procession march.
      Did you ave REAL elephants and camels with you?
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 17, 2014 @ 10:51 am

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