Last week, my husband and I watched “Jeopardy,” a competitive sport for our family. Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” was a celebrity guest.
Alex Trebek read the answer: “Familiar piece played at graduation ceremonies.”
Matthews buzzed in immediately with “The Land of Hope and Glory” and then corrected himself, “What is the Land of Hope and Glory?”
Alex said, “That’s correct, Chris.”
My husband, a faculty veteran of more than 20 years of University of Evansville graduations, looked at me and I threw my hands up. I said, “I thought it was ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’” I wanted the usually obnoxious pundit to be wrong. I had to know more.
Matthews was right. “The Land of Hope and Glory” is the piece’s formal name, and it is used frequently at English ceremonies. While the United Kingdom has “God Save the Queen” as its national anthem, this piece is frequently played at sporting events and British patriotic celebrations. When you hear those familiar strains as you watch your child, grandchild, nephew or friend march in a ceremonial robe, you now know, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.
Music composer Sir Edward Elgar was born in the English West Midlands in 1857. His father owned a music shop, which drew the young man to music. Success after the turn of a new century led him to write “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1,” from which the celebrated trio in D major came.
A poet named Arthur Benson penned words for a Coronation Ode for Edward VII, the king who succeeded the throne on the death of Queen Victoria. Benson, the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, had great street cred as the schoolmaster at Eton, one of England’s most prestigious schools.
Former pupils of Eton are known as “Old Etonians.” Among their ranks include some famous fictional characters, including Captain Hook from “Peter Pan” and the suave James Bond, who reportedly was thrown out of Eton. (Perhaps a martini incident? “Shaken, not stirred” is not appropriate for high school boys.) Numerous prime ministers and royals have their sacred sheepskins from the boarding school.
The highbrow Benton was looking for music to marry with his words, and met with Elgar to discuss collaboration. Forever, Benson’s words are linked with Elgar’s march.
As you dab your eyes when your graduate parades in his regalia, ponder these words: “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; “God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet, “God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.”
(By the way, Matthews lost the “Jeopardy” match, coming in third to CNN reporter Lizzie O’Leary and former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. He also shouted out “Istanbul” in a category dubbed “Six-letter words.”)
Published May 2012 at the Evansville Courier and Press.