The Decatur High School band is not letting school closures take away their end of year tradition performing “Pomp and Circumstance” for the senior class.
The song marking a milestone achievement recently took to a virtual stage as nearly 20 students of Decatur High School’s wind and percussion ensembles recorded themselves performing the classic tune. The video can be viewed here.
“It’s almost like the National Anthem, it’s symbolic and emotional and meaningful,” said Decatur band director Jeff Chang. “It’s not just a piece of music — there’s a lot of things attached to this [Pomp and Circumstance].”
When schools across the nation canceled the remainder of their in-person academics — and subsequently in-person graduation ceremonies — in early March, Chang wanted to find a way to uphold one of Decatur’s commencement traditions.
“Us music teachers, especially music ensemble, a lot of what we do is teamwork,” Chang said.
Both students and fellow music teachers missed the art of collaboration, and while it’s not the same as sitting next to your fellow musicians, Chang said this option was much better than simply doing nothing.
“Something people need to know is that it’s not as simple as people getting on Zoom and playing together,” said Chang, only half-joking.
Virtual rehearsal and recordings never worked out because of the technology sound lag, so Chang provided each student with a backing track of “Pomp and Circumstance.” The students then recorded their performance and sent the video to the music director to edit, tweak and combine, similar to a producer in a recording studio.
Many of the band’s upperclassmen have played the piece before at graduation ceremonies in prior years, which helped create a smooth process of performing.
“When you perform together, in the same room playing together, it’s one of the greatest things to make decisions in a split second,” Chang said. “Right away, you’re able to match your sound … it’s all happening so quickly.”
When playing your instrument alone, there’s a sense of insecurity and loss, Chang said, when you don’t have anyone else to listen to.
“Some moments that don’t match up,” Chang said of the 20-plus recordings. “Some are a little late, a little early, too flat or too sharp.”
Nearby Lakota, Saghalie and Illahee middle schools feed into Decatur, so Chang also invited the music teachers from those schools to perform with their former students.
“Thank you Mr. Shawn Roller, Mr. Wally Ridgewell, Mr. Ron Hazenberg and Ms. Rui-An Tseng for their special appearances,” Chang wrote on a social media post. “These kids wouldn’t be able to change the world with music without your guidance!”
Chang made two videos for viewers to enjoy: A students-only performance, and an alternative version that features video messages from familiar faces of Decatur staff and faculty.
At the end of the school year, Decatur traditionally holds a “moving up” assembly to honor the senior class. It’s also a chance for teachers to line up and say goodbye to students they’ve known for four years.
In a way, Chang said, the video serves as a re-imagined send off for both seniors and staff.
The virtual performance of “Pomp and Circumstance” will air during Decatur High School’s virtual graduation ceremony Saturday, June 13.