Last night of the proms

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More than a high school prom, the Proms or Promenade Concerts, is an annual eight-week orchestral classical music concerts. Held in London during the summer, it consists of over 100 daily events, of which more than 70 concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, series of chamber performances at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Last Night. The performance is a mix of old and new and includes music, conductors, performers and orchestras from around the world. The event has been named Promenade Concerts because of the original practice of audience members promenading, or strolling, in some areas of the concert hall during the concert.

Started on the 10 August 1895, Proms is the masterpiece of Robert Newman, manager of the Queen's Hall, and Henry Wood, young musician. They wanted to popularize classical music by organising low tickets prices concerts and therefore reach a wider audience, in informal atmosphere and educating people about this kind of music. Now, every season takes place under a particular theme, and is broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and on BBC 4. Indeed, the BBC is the organising body of the whole event and maintains an online forum for discussion. This is why the Proms are also called the BBC Proms.

According to some experts such as Dawn Copeman[1], a commercial writer and editor on travel and history, but also according to the public opinion, the identity of Proms has changed. Since 1959, the core orchestral repertoire diversified, opening with a more experimental style, like complete opera performances, jazz, gospel music, children's concerts... Then came the famous Proms in the Park, Proms Chamber Music and Proms Lectures.

The more expected concert of the Proms is certainly the Last Night, also renowned as one of the best classical music festival in the world. Held in the Royal Albert Hall, this concert is certainly the highlighter concert of the season. Then what's make the Last Night so famous and different from the other concerts?

Tickets – 2 parts (classic+british) – camaraderie (standing up, informal people=>English pubs) – Britishness (fancy dress, patriotic t-shirts, flags, everyone sing, anthem, national songs) - decor

First of all, this is a uniquely and amazing British live event welcoming local visitors but also people coming from outside the UK. As the other concerts of the Proms, the rationale of the Last Night is to make people enjoy classical music. But the Last Night is even more. This is incontestably the concerts where people are coming for celebrate British tradition. This may explain the fact that tickets for the Last Night are invariably the first to be sold out when tickets go on sale, although they are as expensive as those of the other concerts. This British touch is enhancing by the programming of the concert, divided into two parts. The first half is the orchestral classical part, followed by the patriotic finale. The first half is representing the entire theme of the Proms season. As a common classical music concert, people act with as simplicity and calm as this kind of event would require. But this is not the main reason for which Prommers are really there for. All they are impatiently expecting is the second part with the British patriotic pieces. There reigns a convivial atmosphere, with people coming from different social class, where the only word of order is fun. Indeed, lots of people are standing up, drinking, eating, singing and dancing, which create a sort of camaraderie and can refer to the English pubs environment. Therefore, people come wearing as unusual and fancy dress as dinner jackets and patriotic T-shirts, and carrying on all sort of flags. Those are symbols of nationality, the more relevant aspect of the culture of the Last Night. But this is also what makes it so unique, since people use this occasion to display Britishness, in an exuberant way. We can then meet as national, regional, but also international flags: the Union Jack, the Welsh Dragon, the Saltire, the Irish tricolour, the French tricolour, the Italian tricolour, the German flag, the New Zealand flag, the White Horse of Kent and the Cross of St George. More than a fashion accessory, the flags is a symbol of nationality and represents the pride of membership of a whole celebrated nation. Pride of Prommers shaking up their flags when comes the patriotic final, and singing all along, all together with the orchestra the famous: Land of Hope and Glory, Fantasia on British Sea Song, Rule Britannia, concluding with Jerusalem and the British National Anthem. Let's take Rule Britannia as an example and to discuss its cultural significance, toward it words. Rule Britannia is a British patriotic song. Although this is not the national anthem, it is about Britain in an important way that God Save the Queen, which is the British national anthem, is not. The song is originated from and starts with the poem “Rule, Britannia” of James Thomson. First heard in 1745, it achieved instant popularity. Through the lyrics of the song, some parts of Britain's history are illustrated. Indeed, the whole song refers to the Royal Navy period, which really did “rule the waves” by protecting Britain and its burgeoning empire from “haughty tyrants” and “foreign stokes”. At this time, Britain became a Great Power and was envied from the world for its commerce, industry, empire and newly formed parliament. Therefore, the lyrics reflect Britons' pride in being afforded more freedoms than residents of other nations. The song also symbolized the revolutionary era –which, however, began after the song had been written. It puts emphasis on freedom and tyrants, as well as commerce, wealth, and greatness, with the lines “Still more majestic shalt thou rise, more dreadful from each foreign stroke.” Finally, those lyrics would assume a material and patriotic significance by the end of the 19th century. And since this, Rule Britannia has a strong cultural connotation for the Britons, and is traditionally performed in many occasions, such as the Last Night of the Proms.

Rule Britannia's Lyrics

When Britain first, at heaven's command,
Arose from out the azure main,
Arose, arose, arose from out the azure main.
This was the charter, the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang the strain.

Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

The nations not so blest as thee,
Must in their turn to tyrants fall,
Must in their turn, must in their turn, to tyrants fall,
While thou shall flourish, shall flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all.

Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful from each foreign stroke.
More dreadful, more dreadful, from each foreign stroke.
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.

Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

Thee haughty tyrants ne'er shall tame,
All their attempts to bend thee down,
All their attempts, all their attempts to bend thee down,
Will but arouse thy generous flame.
But work their woe and thy renown.

Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

To thee belongs the rural reign,
Thy cities shall with commerce shine,
Thy cities shall, thy cities shall with commerce shine.
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.

Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

The muses still, with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair,
Shall to thy happy coast, thy happy coasts repair,
Best isle of beauty, with matchless beauty crowned,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.

Rule Britannia! Britannia rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.

References

Last Night of the Proms review. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/proms/6181080/Last-night-of-the-Proms-review.html [Accessed 3 October 2009]

The Proms: A Beginer's Guide. Available at: http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/travel/proms.shtml [Accessed 3 October 2009]

The Proms – Best of British “The Secret Person”. Available at: http://secretperson.wordpress.com/2008/09/13/the-proms-best-of-british/ [Accessed 3 October 2009]

The Proms are uplifting and very British. Is that why the Barking mad Left wants to destroy them?. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/columnists/article-526249/The-Proms-uplifting-British-Is-Barking-mad-Left-wants-destroy-them.html#ixzz0TIBTKJM0 [Accessed 3 October 2009]

Proms don't promote new British values –Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1580657/Proms-dont-promote-new-British-values.html [Accessed 3 October 2009]

Music Review: Andrew Clements on Last Night of the Proms. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/sep/13/last-night-of-the-proms [Accessed 3 October 2009]

[1] Dawn Copeman is a freelance and commercial writer who has had more than 100 articles published on travel, history, cookery, health and writing. Dawn is the editor of the Newbie Writers Website and also edits the Writing World newsletter

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