The Man Who Wrote the US Graduation Anthem Offers a Life Tip

Annette on the (Pre-Pandemic) Road

I’m Annette Laing, the Non-Boring Historian, and Brit in the US. I write a variety of posts on a variety of subjects (mostly US and UK history) in a variety of styles, translating academic and even public history for YOU, and aimed at people who are too busy, and don’t know if they like history. It’s FREE (just pick the free option!) unless you’re very keen to support my work, in which case, please do. Start here, it won’t take a minute.

The Man is the English classical composer almost everyone in America knows, sooner or later. Graduate from high school in the US? College? You probably graduated to the sound of his work. Unless, of course, you graduated during the pandemic, in which case, my heart goes out to you, and this post is dedicated to you.

Before I get to the point of the post, let’s have a little music. Everyone? I want you to join in. Maybe not aloud if you’re in the doctor’s waiting room or whatever, but, then again, why not share?

Americans, you can hum. Mystified Brits who have no idea what I’m talking about? Don’t worry, because you’re going to start singing right away, the second you hear it. Well, you're going to know at least the first line, which is all any of us remembers, so just mumble the rest to be patriotic, OK? Everyone who is neither from US nor UK? Enjoy the show.

One last thing before we get started: This version will sound a bit weird to the Brits, because it’s not quite the composer’s original. Miguel Flores, the American who put this up on YouTube, wanted everyone to walk down the aisle to the best bit of the tune, so he edited it. Fair enough. And anyway, Mr. Flores’s contribution is what makes it American.

Ready everyone? (lifts baton to conduct) Aaaaand . . . .


Yes! Known by its real name of Pomp and Circumstance in the US (among people who actually know its name) this music is what the English usually call Land of Hope and Glory. To us, it is one of several patriotic songs to which we (I have my English hat on) struggle to remember the words. This stirring music is the work of Edward “So-English-It-Hurts” Elgar (1857-1934) composer of choice of the English Establishment.

He, of course, was not part of the Establishment. He was a total outsider: Not rich by birth, lived in the perennially unfashionable Midlands of England, a Roman Catholic in a Protestant country, educated at no-name school, not Eton, and all-around Didn’t Fit In. But he got the last laugh.

Personally, I am hoping the American tradition of bands accompanying graduates down the aisle to the time-honored sounds of this tune survives the Great Awokening. It will need a little help, though. It is sort of the theme tune for the British Empire's heyday, written for King Edward VII’s coronation in June, 1902 (postponed when the King came down with appendicitis) So let's decolonize it! Easy done. In the US we can call it Ted Elgar's Graduation Celebration. And in the UK, new words that we might actually then learn: “Land of Quite a Few Stories.” That's a start.

Why am I so keen to keep it? Because, while I may be a Scot, and I may have grown up in a working-class English town that wasn't exactly what you might call Elgar material, I absolutely love, love, love Elgar.

That’s why, in 2015, when I visited my friend Brit Angela, who lives in the Midlands, we decided to visit Edward Elgar’s Birthplace, now a museum devoted to his life. Here it is, with Angela adding perspective on the right:

My favorite exhibit was quite a surprise. Elgar’s working schedule, which you see at top, in his own words:

I come into my study at 9 in the morning, and I work till a quarter to one. I don’t do any inventing then, because that comes anywhere and everywhere. It may be when I am walking, golfing, or cycling, or the idea may come in the evening. The morning is devoted to revising and orchestration, of which I have as much to do as I can manage. As soon as lunch is over, I go out for exercise and return about four or later, after which I sometimes do two hours work before dinner.

So, for quick reference, here’s composer Edward Elgar’s daily schedule according to Annette Laing:

9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. : Work: Writing down music and also writing arrangements of it for orchestras to play

1 p.m. to 2 p.m.: Lunch. Maybe a few notes pop into his head while he has his ham salad.

2 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Exercise and Creativity: Walk, Golf, or Bike while making up tunes in head, using tune that came to him during lunch.

5 p.m.- 7 p.m. (approx) Work. Also write down tune from earlier

7 p.m. (approx) Dinner.

8 p.m.-Bedtime: Watch Victorian TV, which I guess would be staring in a mirror, read, smoke pipe, have nice cup of tea, or whatever Elgar did.

I mean, that’s not bad, is it? It’s great life advice for creatives, and I tried to follow it while working on my novels. Although I have to say it’s gone out the window since I started Non-Boring History, this blog, which is a beyond full-time job.

And for people with Proper Jobs? Once the robots come for many of the jobs, and we’re all on Universal Basic Income, won’t it be good to have a plan? Take up an instrument, a paintbrush, a pen, woodworking tools, jewelry kits, knitting, singing, baking, whatever floats your creative boat, and spend a few hours on your work each day, exercise, do a bit more work, and then fart around to your heart’s desire in the evening. Not a bad way to live!

Of course, Elgar did have a few advantages over most of us today, and their names were Mr. and Mrs. Ned Spiers, and Kitty Knott. They were his servants:

I, meanwhile, get by with a Roomba named Ernie, an Instant Pot, takeout, a wonderful retired husband, and a reasonable tolerance for messiness. You?

Still. I like Elgar’s life/work balance philosophy. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to work in a moment. which I like to do, just like Elgar, to music, although Pomp and Circumstance is a bit heavy for this purpose. Try this instead:

Ted Elgar? One of my best mates. Had a good laugh with him in 1912.

You’ll hear about Edward Elgar here again. You’ll also hear him again, the next time you’re at a graduation. I hope. Want to visit this place yourself? Here.