Virginia Barton

28 April 2017: Baa baa black sheep

28 April 2017: Baa baa black sheep

 

28 April 2017

 

Did your parents embarrass you? I’m ashamed to admit that my children were often embarrassed by me. Having sung to them from babyhood as we all do, Mum carried the habit further and sang in the queue at the supermarket, the bank, or on the school bus. I still do it but nowadays the mezzo has morphed into a gravelly baritone.

I can’t remember not singing. As a family we all sang, even those that couldn’t; my dad groaning like a grampus. But in appropriate places, like church. Never in a bank, perish the thought.

It cheers people up, singing, and it’s good for the lungs. A singing group has started where BH and I live and it’s immensely popular. Cleverly, the music chosen is familiar; tunes remembered from long ago in the school choir, or at Guides round the campfire.

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All of which puts a person in mind of the Proms. The season begins again on Bastille Day, but the schedule is out already. These concerts are held at the Albert Hall in London, a majestic building with questionable acoustics. There are concerts every evening until the first week of September, and BH always gives me the programme which makes glorious bedtime reading – rivalling the Lakeland catalogue.

(For those of you sad people who don’t know about it, Lakeland started as a mail order company in the mid-Sixties about 25 miles from My Dream Pad in the North, selling plastic kitchenware. It’s huge now, with many outlets and a wide variety of stock. Don’t you find Retail fascinating?)

But back to the Proms. These were intended to bring first-rate music played by top class orchestras and soloists to a wider audience; hence the involvement of the BBC. That august body broadcasts every single concert every evening, and often in the mornings, afternoons and late into the night. An absolute feast of listening. Nowadays the programme is varied: open it at random and there’s the Latvian Radio Choir performing Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil -Vespers, The John Wilson Orchestra, and Oklahoma! And lots of John Adams to mark his 70th birthday.

 

The “Last Night” is rife with tradition. The Prommers, stalwarts who stand, night after night, in a sort of corral close to the stage, crown the bust of Henry Wood, the Founder, with a laurel wreath. They give white buttonholes to the Conductor and every member of the orchestra and catapult streamers, balloons and flowers towards the platform.

It was Sir Malcolm Sargent, pin-up conductor for twenty years, who popularised the Proms and particularly the “Last Night”. This concert has to include a post-Interval selection of traditional music: British Sea Shanties, Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem. (Mercifully leavened this year with Adams, Kodaly, and a composition by Sargent himself called An Impression on a Windy Day.) Complaints of jingoism are brushed aside and woe betides any new Director of the festival who attempts to change this hallowed tradition.

It’s rather endearing and very British.

 

Comments

3 Comments

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  • Rosanne says on: April 28, 2017 at 9:14 pm

     

    Greetings Ginny,
    I’m mystified by the name. Why are proms called proms?
    🙂 Rosanne

    • Ginny says on: April 29, 2017 at 1:00 pm

       

      Sorry Rosanne, I should have explained but felt the item was quite long enough!

      Henry Wood became sole conductor of the Promenade Concerts back in 1895, aiming for a large audience of people who would not normally experience “good” music. The concerts were lengthy, up to 3 hours or so, and the venue was the Queen’s Hall, subsequently bombed. The audience was encouraged to walk about — promenade — eat, drink, even smoke. Very distracting for the musicians, I imagine.Interestingly, there are complaints by actors today about audiences eating and drinking during performances; Hamlet with cake and coffee, perhaps?

      Concerts way back in the 18th century held in London’s Pleasure Gardens like Vauxhall, were the predecessors of the Proms. Ginny

      Ps. What are American proms? Something to do with Graduation, I believe?

  • Rosanne says on: April 29, 2017 at 2:43 pm

     

    Thank you, Ginny. Mystery solved!

    American proms are theoretically formal dances held at high schools. I skipped every one of them so I cannot attest to the doings as an eye witness. Did go to the Yale prom once and was mortified — all the guests were white and all the waiters were black and all the swans were carved ice. The whole business reeked of unearned snobbery. My clearest memory other than the above was that I had skinned my elbow the day before playing a casual game of soccer (football). I had the requisite elbow-length gloves, of course. My date nonetheless commented that he “abhorred contact sports.” I abhorred my date – and cleared out as soon as politely possible. In fairness to him, we were being “fixed up” by meddling adults so there was a whiff of forced march about the enterprise. 🙂

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