Thursday, May 31, 2007

Correcting an Icon

This past weekend we attended our niece's graduation from Patrick Henry High School in Emory, VA. I'd attended several for daughters and children of family friends at Orange County High School, and naturally there were many differences between the ceremonies of the two schools.

One thing was the same, though -- a sonic icon was mangled yet again.

Orange always listed the "Pomp and Circumstance March" by Alger. Patrick Henry listed the "Processional March" by Edgar. And in neither case did the school band play anything but the middle part of the piece -- although Patrick Henry's had an arrangement which tacked on a brief intro!

Because of the nature of the event, I don't expect to see the full title of the work in the program (Pomp and Circumstance March, Op. 39, No. 1 in D major), but I do expect an institute of learning to get the name right.

Edward Elgar is one of the most famous composer's people don't know. His "Enigma" Variations was the first British score to achieve international success since the days of Henry Purcell, reestablishing the UK as a major musical center. His cello concerto and violin concertos are repertoire standards, and some of his shorter works, such as his Serenade for Strings are frequently performed.

Personally, I think his symphonies are underperformed, and there are several other Elgar compositions I revisit on a regular basis.

It's a shame most graduation ceremonies only opt for the slow portion of the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 (he wrote five, all about equal in quality). The bustling opening section maintains the same tempo, yet provides some interesting contrasts. And it gives the middle section more weight when heard in context.

Consider this an example of an icon that misrepresents what it stands for. The "Graduation March" does a disservice to Elgar's ouvre -- not to mention the work its excerpted from. Maybe misidentifying the composer is a plus.

Which leads me to wonder what other icons are distortions -- rather than representations -- of their sources?

- Ralph

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