articles / Aaron Copland

The American Opera About Graduating High School

Aaron Copland

A graduation ceremony is an important milestone in anyone’s life. No matter what level of academic institution you graduate from, the ceremony itself represents the end of a life’s chapter and the start of something new. Classical music has crept its way into the graduation ceremony with Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 being the unofficial graduation march in North America and Vitamin C’s Graduation (Friends Forever) – which uses Pachelbel’s Canon in D – being a graduation anthem which every millennial knows word for word. It may surprise you to know, that the graduation ceremony itself also has a very famous appearance in classical music too: on the operatic stage!

Aaron Copland’s 1954 opera, The Tender Land, is one of North America’s most celebrated operas. The story centers around Laurie Moss, a Midwestern farm girl in the 1930s on the eve of her high school graduation. Laurie wants to go off and experience life in “the world so wide” but her small-town upbringing and overly-protective family generates concerns on stepping out of her traditional way of life. The pending graduation ceremony is a symbol of Laurie’s coming of age and her taking the unknown step of finding her own destiny.

The two most widely performed and excerpted moments from the opera both come from Act 1. The first is a beautiful chorus number titled The Promise of Living which evokes the dignity and meaningfulness of hard, honest work and its important part of a balanced and fulfilled life.

“The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving is born of our loving our friends and our labor. The promise of growing with faith and with knowing is born of our sharing our love with our neighbor.”

The other popular aria from this opera is Laurie’s Song, where Laurie Moss wonders how her childhood has passed so fast and dreams of venturing into the larger world outside her small town.

“Tomorrow when I sit upon the graduation platform stand, I know my hand will shake when I reach out to take that paper with the ribboned band. Now that all the learning’s done, Oh, who knows what will now begin?”

Written by:
Thomas Kotcheff
Thomas Kotcheff
Published on 06.19.2020