“March of the Kings”

I really wish I could remember the name of my sixth grade music teacher.  I would like to thank her.  She was a wonderful woman, patiently trying to coax music out of a group of kids who really didn’t want to sing (a challenge for which I have recently gained new appreciation).  I was the odd kid in that class.  I loved music and loved singing.  It was into this environment the teacher introduced us to “The March of the Kings.” The song has everything I liked.  It’s a powerful march, in a minor key, and perhaps most importantly to me,  gave me a musical excuse to play the organ loudly.  Although we sang the song in class, it was at the console where my passion for this tune really grew.  I have no idea if anyone else in class liked the song, but I used my allowance money to buy a recording of it (along with Bizet’s Carmen) and played it over and over and over again.

There are several settings of the original French words.  I learned the opening line as “Yesterday, I met upon the way…” and so on, but the words as I have included them here seem to be the most common.

This great day, I met upon the way,
The Kings of East as they came riding proudly,
This great day, I met upon the way,
The Kings of East with all their fine array.

The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh
Were guarded close by a band of sturdy warriors,
Their swords, their shields, and their bucklers bright,
A-gleam and sparkling in the morning light.

This great day, I met upon the way,
The Kings of East as they came riding proudly,
This great day, I met upon the way,
The Kings of East with all their fine array.

The names of the composer of the original tune and author of the lyrics are lost to history, but the song originated in thirteenth century France, the time of the Crusades. Songs often reflect the popular culture of their day, and this one is no exception.  References to gleaming armor and warriors, banners and jewels, all very knight-like, are intertwined with the gifts of the magi.

I am in good company in my love of this song.  French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875) used this tune as incidental music for the play L’arlésienne, as a farandole, or stately dance. Early in the song, Bizet states the melody, then begins it again two counts later in another part of the orchestra. Rather than sounding conflicted, this device propels the song on with even more urgency and determination.  And so it is with the setting  I enjoy playing as a postlude on Epiphany Sunday.  In the final verse,  the tune begins with the manuals and enters in the pedals two counts later.  You can practically see the glint of metal and feel the tramp of soldier feet.

To my sixth grade music teacher: I hope you somehow know you really made a difference in the life of this student.  Thank you.

 Here is a link to an organ setting of the main theme. It’s fun to play!


  1. Torger Reppen says:

    Thank you for the brief history on the March of the Kings. I too learned it as “yesterday I met upon the way…” Grade school music teachers are far under appreciated. I am uncomfortable with the fact that my kids were taught so little. We did put them through a few years of violin and piano but nothing compares to the vast and varied songs a music teacher puts in a curriculum.
    Oh – and that’s a very beautiful clip of Bizet’s use of the tune.

  2. gailmasinda says:

    Good idea! I was at Nellie Swanson school for fifth (1966-67) and sixth (1967-68) grades. Hope someone remembers the name of our music teacher. She wasn’t there all the time, but ‘made the rounds’ to various schools.

  3. Paul Riggs says:

    Very interesting, indeed. Which elementary school did you go to? Maybe someone will remember your music teacher’s name.

    I always enjoy reading what you write, sister.


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