Think of all the pop songs perfect for blasting as high school seniors move their tassels westward and celebrate the end of the oppression of the classroom (for some reason, high school grads, blinded by the exuberance of being free, are naïve to the fact that college is filled with precisely the same classroom confinement). Too bad most of them are so stale by now that we are more compelled to cringe than cheer when they are blasted over the PA system. The Beatles’ “In My Life?” A good classic choice, but not a creative one. Green Day’s “Time of Your Life”? Every year that guitar riff gets stuck in our heads. And of course, Vitamin C’s 2000 hit, the not-so-subtly titled “Graduation,” that launches her to renewed recognition each June. (Hey, if she didn’t capitalize on the annual occurrence, someone else would have.)
But none of these seemed quite right for the send-off song for the North Penn High School class of 2012. Instead, the outgoing seniors at the high school 30 miles north of Philadelphia were treated to a special medley, a 12-minute musical salvo that celebrated their school years. A three-piece student orchestra, String Theory, composed a tune called “Circle of Life” to fete the grads. As the name suggests, the composition starts with the grandiose Lion King opener. But the Disney music lasts mere seconds – the title’s true meaning rings clear when their stringed instruments begin strumming the Backstreet Boys’ chart-topper “I Want It That Away” from 1999 – cleverly, the year the students would have entered kindergarten, thus starting their public school days.
Following the boy band hit, Ben Kloss, Minzo Kim and Suyog Padgaonkar work their way through a repertoire of Top 40 hits, providing a sentimental look through the class’s school years. Mind you, most of these pieces don’t naturally lend themselves to a string version – with the exception, perhaps, of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”, which is actually backed by a string section. But the trio masterfully adapts every song for the strings, even Usher’s hit “Yeah!” from 2004. You might expect a viola rendition to have clashed with the song’s shrill exclamations, but it somehow works. The ensemble caps off the hit list with the recent #1 single “We Are Young” by Fun.
But they can’t close on that: a chorus of awws descends upon the auditorium (though it’s unclear out of sentimentality or a feeling of of-course-they-did) when the song closes with Vitamin C’s eponymous graduation track. Because let’s face it, these songs mean a lot more to the average graduating high schooler than an orchestral rendition of Pomp and Circumstance.
We just notice one glaring error: the omission of “Call Me Maybe.”
To see all the songs featured – and to relive a brief history of recent music, you’d do no better than to click play above. Otherwise, we’ve included a handy cheat sheet on the second page.