Pomp and Circumstance is a piece my orchestra played twice a year every year for 8 years. That's a lot of graduations.
After my first year, I began arranging my own versions of this piece for sheer convenience. Our instrumentation changed, our strengths and weaknesses were different every year, so I adapted.
This is a tedious piece to play at a graduation, because it is inevitable to arrive at the same 8 bars that you must repeat incessantly until all the kids have made it to their seats. We repeated it anywhere from 5 to over 20 times. Every time we would come to the repeat, students would look at me with eyes of hope that pleaded, "Let this be the last time!" But alas. It never was :)
It wasn't exactly a joy to hear it over and over again, either. Not only did we have to perform it, but we had to practice it over and over again. We had to practice playing it twenty times so they had the physical stamina.
The year 2011 was a difficult year. I had a difficult 8th grade class who had been with me for 5 years. The last 2-3 years of that time had been....unpleasant for both sides. They wouldn't practice. They couldn't retain. They couldn't listen or adjust to each other. I tried and created so many different ways of addressing the same issues that by the end of 5 years I was drained. I had used all my creativity to try to make them love music and enjoy my class. Instead, they were apathetic toward the class and hated me. I had never felt so much hatred coming toward me in my life :(
The year below them, the graduating class of 2012, was the opposite. They were excitable, enthusiastic, extremely alert and observant, willing and happy to dork out with me. In 2010-2011, I was truly frightened to join these two groups together, worried of who would win. Would the 8th graders make music lame for the 7th graders, or would the 7th graders excite and motivate the 8th graders? In the end, neither happened, which I considered a success. 8/9 of my classes were positive environments with this one class of negativity that poisoned my soul. I just wanted them to love it, and they never did.
For the 2011 graduation, the 7th graders (and some 6th graders) played for the 8th graders. My 7th graders were starving for a challenge and I was finally able to feed them with the technical rigors of this particular arrangement. The first time we played together, before school, was magical. The sound was the sound of 30 people sighing in relief. We had grown accustomed to the mediocrity of every day orchestra, forgetting what we used to be. When we began to play, a 12 year exclaimed, "I forgot how good we sounded!" When we ended, another had a huge smile on his face, and he said, "FINALLY, something I can't play the first time!"
It reassured us that our orchestra would bounce back.
It became, at least in my mind, an anthem of rebellion. There was a tinge of "ha ha" to it, and I'm not proud to admit that. But seeing as how that 8th grade class took a big chunk of my spirit with them, I only feel moderately guilty. It starts out minor, which we found funny (yes, a group of 6th and 7th graders found this funny). The beginning sounded ominous.
In the end, we pulled off something special. I remember thinking, "We'll be okay next year! I'm going to make it!"
This is my arrangement of Pomp and Circumstance: