Saturday, September 10, 2011

Proms in the UK Are Not Like in the USA

We went to our first Proms here in England on Friday night. You may well ask what a Proms is and why did we bother going?

Our first exposure to a Proms was in a Doctor Who special feature on the series 5 disks, I think. A big concert of Doctor Who music was played at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring appearances by many of the actors and characters (yes, there were Daleks in attendance) from the series. We enjoyed the special feature though we didn't really understand why the concert was called a Proms.

Rather than try to summarize what I learned from Wikipedia, here is a quick and dirty block quote from their article:

The Proms, more formally known as The BBC Proms, or The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC, is an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts and other events held annually, predominantly in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Founded in 1895, each season currently consists of over 70 concerts in the Albert Hall, a series of chamber concerts at Cadogan Hall, additional Proms in the Park events across the United Kingdom on the last night, and associated educational and children's events. In 2009 the total number of concerts reached 100 for the first time. In the context of classical music festivals, Jiří Bělohlávek has described the Proms as "the world's largest and most democratic musical festival".[1]
Prom is short for promenade concert, a term which originally referred to outdoor concerts in London's pleasure gardens, where the audience was free to stroll around while the orchestra was playing. Promming now refers to the use of the standing areas inside the hall (the arena and gallery) for which ticket prices are much lower than for the reserved seating.
The Proms concert we went to was free and nowhere near London. A good idea just spreads and spreads, I suppose. The venue we were at has been having concerts for seven or eight years. It's quite popular and a big crowd came out for the evening's festivities. There was no reserved seating, just an open parking lot where people brought chairs, tables, food, and other sundries to make a festive evening.

We hung out with the Scottish Dance instructor and her family. They had a big spread of food that we made a very minor contribution to:

They also had a barbecue grill off to the side for toasting marshmallows and keeping warm

The concert was outdoors and the band was sheltered in a nice pavilion. They started with a bagpiper playing the Scottish national anthem as the band came on stage. Then the whole band played the British national anthem (patriotism is part of the Proms concerts).

Union Jacks were in abundance

The first selection of music was Also Sprach Zarathustra, the famous Strauss piece used at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Other classical works filled out the first set. We enjoyed the music as we munched on food. About halfway through the conductor announce that a plane would be flying over as part of the celebration. We eventually did see him, though he never flew directly overhead. Mostly he was off to the side beyond the building where food and drinks were sold, resulting in many pictures of the plane like this:

Maybe it was a stealth fighter?

The children weren't that interested in the plane, especially since we could hardly ever see it. Jacob went up closer to the stage when there was xylophone solo. He loves the percussion section! Otherwise, he wandered a bit among the concertgoers. I wonder if he thought it was a big people maze. He did manage to sit now and then.

He also snagged a balloon from a vendor; Lucy's balloon got away from her and into the sky

We didn't stay for the second (show music) and third (traditional proms closers like Rule, Britannia and Jerusalem) sets since the kids had to go to bed. We also missed the fireworks at the end, though they might have been too loud for the children. We had a good time anyway and look forward to other Proms in the future. Probably not till next year, when we'll stay for the second set. By the end of our three years, we may stay for the whole thing!

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