Posts Tagged With: Pomp and Circumstance

Time Travel With a Beat

Bopping back and forth with the preset buttons on my car radio the other day, I switched from classical music on NPR to classic country music on an oldies station just in time to catch a song that transported me back in time.

The song was “Bop,” performed by Dan Seals, written by Paul Davis and Jennifer Kimball. (Here’s a video if you want to hear it. Warning: put your dancing shoes on first.)

This is the song I learned to jitterbug to. Just a few notes of it take me right back to dance classes, circa 1985. Seals and his baby bopped all night long, over and over, while earnest couples practiced on a well-used hardwood floor. First the basic step (one-and, two-and, back-step) and then the spins and twirls and moves—some of which, my late husband and I discovered, are a challenge when one partner is a foot taller than the other.

Music is one of the most powerful evokers of memory that we have. I don’t know enough about the brain to know why this is so, but I know from my own experience how well it works. A song pops up randomly on the radio or TV (or even, with unsettling frequency in recent years, in an elevator), and the memories associated with it promptly unroll with full color and vivid emotion. It happens often, with a great many songs, but here are just a few examples:

“Pomp and Circumstance.” I’m sure I can’t be the only one who responds to its first stately notes with an impulse to stand up straight, make sure our mortarboards are level, and process slowly toward the stage with that step-pause, step-pause gait peculiar to graduates and bridesmaids.

When the long-time band director at my kids’ high school retired, I was disappointed that his final concert didn’t include “Hot Cross Buns.” The simple little tune would have taken every student in the band and every parent in the audience back to those first days of clarinet or flute or oboe lessons. We’d have been hearing it in our minds as it sounded then, played with the hesitant, excruciating exactness of beginners just trying to figure out their instruments. Maybe the band director didn’t want to bring back that much emotion. Or maybe, after 40-some years, he simply couldn’t stand to hear it one more time.

And when I hear “The Marines’ Hymn,” it doesn’t evoke mental images of marching soldiers. Instead, it takes me back to a handful of kids in a one-room country school house, singing with gusto while one of them (me) plunks out the melody on an old upright piano. Most of us had only the vaguest idea where the “shores of Tripoli” were and probably couldn’t have told you whether Montezuma was a person or a place, but the song was in our battered old songbooks and we liked the tune.

Outside of science fiction, no one has been able yet to build a time-travel machine. At least so we think. We don’t realize that most of us already have time machines right in our own homes. They might be mp3 players, sophisticated audio systems, simple CD players, or even outdated tape players. Whatever technology they use, they all have amazing, almost magical power. With them, we can time-travel whenever we want to. All it takes is music.

Categories: Remembering When, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Almost Outstanding Graduate

"Pomp and Circumstance." Graduation simply wouldn't be graduation without it. At least I hope that's still the case because, trite or last-century as it may be, the grand sweep of that music still moves me right down to my toes.

Actually, the music we think of as "Pomp and Circumstance" is only one section, "Land of Hope and Glory," from the first of six "Pomp and Circumstance" marches written at the beginning of the 20th Century by British composer Sir Edward Elgar. It was first used as a graduation recessional at Yale in 1905, and since then hundreds of thousands of graduates have done their best to keep their mortarboards level and move at a pace appropriate to its stirring dignity.

It would be fun sometime to hear the entire suite of marches at a concert, though during the "Land of Hope and Glory" section it is probable that a large portion of the audience would be irresistibly driven to rise from their seats and march solemnly toward the stage in alphabetical order.

Maybe my emotional reaction to "Pomp and Circumstance" stems from my own high school graduation, though I don't consciously remember the music. What I do remember is processing in, seventy-something of us, two by two, from the back of the city auditorium and down the center aisle through the rows of seats crammed with relatives and friends.

Just as we had rehearsed, when we reached the front each pair separated to file in opposite directions and take our places, standing in front of the seats that were reserved for us. Being an "S," I was toward the end of the pack, and my assigned seat happened to be at the aisle end of the row. I reached the designated point, turned toward the row of chairs—and realized I didn't have one. Someone had counted wrong, or someone in the crowded auditorium had filched a chair.

Behind me, the rest of the graduates filed into the last row. Up on the stage, the minister began his invocation. Standing with my head dutifully bowed just enough so my mortarboard wouldn't slide off, I was quietly panicking. As soon as he finished, I knew he was going to say, "Please be seated," and everyone would. Everyone except me, who would be left the lone graduate standing, the humiliated focus of hundreds of eyes.

Some seniors, self-confident class president types or debate champions or drama club lovers of the spotlight, might have been able to pass such an incident off with élan or even enjoy the attention. I was not one of those students.

Before the pastor got to the end of his invocation, though, I felt something nudge the back of my robe. Miraculously, a chair had appeared behind me. When we were told to be seated, and in uneven blue-robed unanimity we sat, I had never been so grateful to settle onto a hard metal folding chair.

After the ceremony, I learned that a neighbor, the father of one of my classmates, had noticed my predicament from his seat near the aisle a few rows behind the graduates. During the prayer, this burly, six-foot-plus man had sneaked forward with his own chair and placed it behind me. Knowing him, he gave the audience a big grin as he went to stand in the back of the room.

I hope I thanked him properly. As inarticulate and shy as I was at the time, I probably wasn't able to let him know how much his embarrassment-sparing gesture meant to me. And now, even though I've remembered it with gratitude for all these years, he's gone and it's a decade too late to tell him in person.

Thank you, Lyle. Bless your kindness and your quickness. I think about you every time I hear "Pomp and Circumstance."

Categories: Living Consciously, Remembering When | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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