Friday, 5 September 2014

CBeebies Prom

I felt slightly emotional as I watched this with my daughter. The Proms were such a huge part of my life when I lived near to or in London, and it's with regret that I haven't been able to go once since we moved up to York seven years ago. For the best part of 20 years, I never failed to attend at least one concert every season. Sometimes I invested in a seat (or preferably let my dad invest in a seat for me), but often I would get properly into the spirit of things and turn up and queue to prom. I never much cared for standing in the arena as it was too much like hard work in the often sauna-like Royal Albert Hall temperatures, so would usually head upstairs to the gods instead. High in the gallery it was less crowded, and you could lean on the railings or lie down at the back and just let the music swim around you without anyone minding. You could even, on occasion, smuggle in a bottle of wine. It was always an amazing feeling, looking down from that great height, almost touching the vast echo-proof floating bubbles on the ceiling of that beautiful, beautiful building, at some of the best orchestras in the world and knowing you had paid just a few pounds to see them. Three quid to see the Berlin Phil play Beethoven's Seventh - truly one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Photo by Becky Buckley

The Prommers themselves are characters in their own right. Many buy season tickets year after year and have become a close-knit circle of friends. Someone ahead of me in the queue on the opening night one year had brought in a load of seed cuttings that she had promised a fellow prommer on the last night of the year before. They have their own traditions - the shouts of "Heave" from the arena and "Ho!" from the gallery as the lid of the grand piano is lifted, and the quietening down of the audience in the interval so they can chant out a plea for donations to their "musical charities" collections. One time I went there was a delayed start, so the Prommers started playing a game of verbal tennis ("Ping....!" "Pong....!") between the arena and gallery. (It ended with a "You cannot be serious!") Once the piano lid is lifted, whoever plays the A note to for the orchestra to tune to is met with tumultous applause. I'd stay a standing ovation, but most of the audience are on their feet already. Some Prommers have their own personal spot in the arena, which they would probably defend with their lives. They certainly are prepared to queue for hours every day to make sure that they get it.

The Proms have become associated more and more with the Last Night, when in fact there are two full months of concerts before anyone starts waving flags and singing Land Of Hope And Glory. I am not really a fan of these Proms In The Park spin-offs as they just cannot create the same atmosphere of the Albert Hall. They are just a glorified picnic, with everyone ignoring the music until the first bars of Rule Britannia strike up. They just cannot recreate the emotion or exuberance of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, the East Western Divan Orchestra or any top symphony chorus belting out Mahler, Berlioz or Verdi. 

I have always admired the way that Proms schedulers like to premiere crowd-estranging controversial new music alongside more mainstream pieces. Hence you may see Judith Weir or Harrison Birtwhistle on a programme with Brahms or Mozart. But the need for crowd-pleasing and strong ticket sales means that there is a new trend for the Proms to have themed concerts as part of their season - Doctor Who, Sport and now CBeebies. Having seen trailers for it, our daughter was very keen to watch the CBeebies Prom and I have to admit that I was interested to see what they would do with it. I enjoyed lots of children's classical music concerts with my dad when I was little (both in the Royal Festival Hall in London and the less glamorous studio of Harlow Playhouse), and am keen to find similar things to go to with our daughter in the not so distant future, should they still exist. And to be fair, Charlotte sat entranced throughout it, though I am not sure whether she was more taken with all of her favourite characters appearing on stage at once (Gem from Swashbuckle, Mr Bloom and Robert the Robot) than the actual music. (But Henry Wood's Fantasia of British Sea Songs was well chosen in this circumstance.) The presenters were actually very good entertainers, and much less stiff than their on-screen personas, even if Bernard Cribbins (the only television star of my childhood still allowed to appear in public) as story-telling Old Jack now has to read his lines out of a book, bless him. And there was a nice little interactive piece at the end, featuring sounds from around London, like "Stand clear of the doors!" (shouldn't that have been "Mind the gap"?), "Apples and pears!" and the chimes of Big Ben. Though some members of the BBC Philharmonic were spotted boredly flicking through their scores to see how much more they had left to endure until the end.

Nonetheless, whether she cared more about the characters or the chorus, at the end of the concert our daughter insisted I fetch her footstool from the bathroom to use as a podium so she could wave a foam baton to conduct me playing Frere Jacques on an eight-note xylophone. (No notes left for the lower "dang", alas.) So a little seed has been sown. I hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment