Last Night of the Proms

When I was younger, Danish TV would once a year show The Last Night of the Proms from Royal Albert Hall. I was an absolute fanatic about it. There’d be great music, lots of laughing and everyone in the audience were dressed in period costume. It always seemed like the ultimate party to me and I wanted to be part of it some day, singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ with the rest of them.

Well, years later, I got my wish. Sort of. Every May, St. James’ Cathedral has a Last Night of the Proms concert and it’s become a tradition to go. Parts of the program changes, parts stay the same. It's wildly monarchical,
wildly British, wildly all about the Empire (to be said with very uppercrust British accent, if you please), complete with military presence in the form of the Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada. The only thing missing is the period costumes and as I’d look ridiculous in a bonnet, I can live with that.

This past weekend, we made our way to St. James Cathedral for the annual Proms performance. Naturally, the evening starts with a rousing rendition of the Canadian national anthem, which is a damn good one. Sung by a cathedral full of enthusiastic people it sends chills up and down your spine. I always look forward to hearing the changing parts of the program. We all know the tune from ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’, right? This year, I heard the rest of the tune for the first time when the band played 'Colonel Bogey on Parade' (and it’s very good). They also played ‘The Vanished Army’, which was composed as a tribute to the first – the first - 100,000 dead of World War I. It was beautiful and sad and I couldn’t help imagining 100,000 ghostly boys, marching in formation through the church. Maybe some day we’ll become civilized enough that there will be no more vanished armies.

The evening is presided over by Dr. Giles Bryant, who I believe used to be the choir conductor/music director/or whatever they’re called at the church. He is incomparable. Urbane, witty, gregarious and knowledgeable, he makes the evening. I’m also beginning to recognize other repeat visitors – people in the choirs, the band, even in the audience. Then, of course, there’s the conductor of the band on whom I have a wholly adolescent crush, based solely on his posture (swoon-inducing) and the way he carries the uniform. Sigh…

I love the traditional aspects of the evening. As some people in my family circle could tell you, I’m a sucker for traditions. Love ‘em! I love the connection to the past, the roots created by traditions. How cool is it to listen to a performance of Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’, first performed at the coronation of Mary and William in 1685? You can feel the history. So we sing 'Rule Brittania', 'Jerusalem'

(apparently the official song of The Women's Institute in the U.K.), 'Save the Queen’ and my very favourite: ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, sung with great abandon while everyone madly waves flags of various U.K. persuasions (the Union Jack, Scottish, Welsh, etc. Although we do sneak in a Danish one). And then we sing it again. And again. For a few hours. Well, maybe not hours, but it’s sung enough times that you can make it through until the next Proms without getting twitchy. Walking home, we sing it some more.

It’s a great night.