The synchronized banging of pans will ensure the Virginia Tech Class of 2020 has some pomp despite the circumstances, thanks to a group of New River Valley musicians.

The PanJammers, an award-winning steel drum orchestra based in Blacksburg, has recorded a virtual version of the traditional graduation song, "Pomp and Circumstance" (originally composed by Englishman Sir Edward Elgar) to honor the Virginia Tech class, whose physical commencement ceremonies were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think people [band members] were looking for a way to stay engaged with the group … and they thought this would be a nice way to recognize the folks finishing their degrees at Tech this semester,” said Sheryl Ball, who has been playing with the band about a year.

An economics professor in the College of Science, Ball said the idea came to her in the midst of the band looking for ways to be creative while social distancing and the college organizing a virtual celebration.

“I think my brain just kind of squished those two ideas together,” she said.

More than half of the band’s roughly 30 members have Virginia Tech affiliations, either via employment or alumni status. The 17 players who took part in the video donned either academic regalia or maroon and orange while recording their performances independent the other members.

Derley Aguilar, a former communications instructor with the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and a PanJammers band member, sent each player the sheet music and a version of song to serve as a foundational track.  

“Everybody has to have that once piece that they listen to and play to,” said Aguilar, a 1995 alumna of Virginia Tech. “They basically have to have two devices [to make it work], something to listen to the track on and a device to record themselves.”

Within about a week the members had uploaded their completed takes onto a Google Drive for Aguilar. She then spent about 20 hours weaving the individual songs into a collective music video.

“The hardest part was fitting everyone on the screen,” she said.

The final product is roughly three minutes long and is scheduled to be played during the Department of Economic’s virtual commencement celebrations. (The College of Science will also share the video widely on its social media platforms.)

“I hope the students feel that the community and the faculty really support them when they watch the video,” Ball said. “If this makes it just a little bit more special, then we’re all going to feel good.”

— Written by Travis Williams

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