People wave flags during the last night of the Proms at The Royal Albert Hall in 2015. ©JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
The Proms or Promenade concerts to use the formal name are a season of musical performances given every summer in London’s Albert Hall, culminating with the tumuluous and tongue in cheek Last Night, a concert that in contrast with much of the highbrow stuff performed throughout the season, is a light hearted celebration of music and its ability to break down barriers and bring people together. It is as much a fancy dress party for 5000 people, who in disparate small groups are there to enjoy themselves. As well as some lighter classical pieces the music performed inclusdes bawdy folk songs, jaunty sea shanties and a chance for the audience to sing along with patriotic songs of the past. This audience participation is one of the most popular features of the concert and closes the season with the songs Rule Britannia, Land Of Hope And Glory, Jerusalem and God Save The Queen.
And nobody takes it seriously. I regularly watch the televised performance and in any year, as the audience wave national flags and sing Rule Britannia, a song about the British Navy’s dominance of international trade routes, people wave national flags, not just The Union Flag, the Cross of St. George, The Scottish Saltire or the Red Dragon of Wales, but The Stars and Stripes, Canada’s Maple Leaf, the tricolours of France, Germany and Italy, Australian Flags, the flags of India, Pakistan, Japan and other Asian nations, African national flags and others. And when the medlody shifts to the rousing Land of Hope and Glory those flags still wave. Land of Hope and Glory is usually interpreted as the ultimate British patriot song but maybe those people singing their hearts out and waving their own national flags are interpreting it a little differently, as I always have:
Land of Hope and Glory, mother of the free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee.
Wider still and wider, let thy bounds be set,
God who made the mighty make thee mightier yet.
Well we all hope the land we call our home will be a symbolic parent of free people, and there is nothing offensive about asking how shall we praise this land. By war and conquest, or by spreading the ideals oif tolerance and openmindedness to promote peacefuk coexistence? Wider still and wider let thy bounds be set? Surely that can only be intended to glorify imperialism, you might suggest. But it can, can it not, be taken as a reference toour cultural horizons. Let’s learn from the whole world and encourage them to learn from us. And the last line? Well I don’t do God, but though this has been interpreted as a reference to military and economic might, it could also be taken as a reference to cultural strength, make us a stronger community so that we lose our natural fear of ‘otherness’ and preserve our own culture and values while respecting other, but not surrendering to the unreasonable demands of extremists.
It only takes a little creative thinking to render that short lyric inclusive and likely only to offend those who are determined to be offended on behald of the majority who simply do not care.
The most genuinely troubling of the patriotic songs that, though patriotism has been unfashionable for at least fifty years, have become an integral part of each year’s Promenade Concerts’ grand finale, Rule Britannia(sic) is the most overtly patriotic of the Last Night favourites though the phrase ‘Britons never ,never, never shall be slaves does not relate in any way to the Atlantic slave trade even though the song originates from the decades at which that trade was at its height. Correctly titled Rule, Britannia! the comma is all important especially now as linguistics professors in the more ‘woke’ university faculties are claiming grammar and punctuation are racist and oppressive. Composed by Thomas Arne in 1744 for a musical pageant on the reign of King Alfred, often mistakenly credited with uniting the various kingdoms of England under a single ruler, but still one of our greatest historical figures because he fought off who fought off the Viking threat by building up the English navy and extended the influence of Christianity to the pagan kingdoms of The Danelaw (the northern part of England ruled by Scandinavian Kings.
The belligerent lyrics touched a nerve because they chimed with the aspirations of mid-18th-century Britain, which was poised to become a mercantile empire based on sea power and was also constantly at loggerheads with France. This is where thone commas in the original title and fist line become important: “Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!” – meaning, if you don’t rule the waves, and fast, France will crush you.
This year however the jovial mood of the Last Night of the Proms may be spoiled by interference from the appallingly self righteous do – gooderfuckers of the far left, many of whom work for the BBC. the Times on Sunday has reported these moralistic pokenoses are mounting a campaign to have songs like Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory and possibly the Scottish Hogmanay song Auld Lang Syne banned on the grounds that they are offensive (though who Auld Lang Syne could possibly offend is hard to grasp, apart from the self – elected internet spelling police, Americans who, unable to tolerate English (i.e. correct) spellings of words like colour and favourite, will cetainly have a massive problem with medieval Scots.
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And at midnight, as one year passes and another is born, after a few celebratory drinks, it makes perfect sense.
The official excuse for dropping this feature is that COVID 19, Social distanccing and blah blah means there will be no audience to sing along, but when sports events have been played out in empty stadia, the BBC had no problem about dubbing the soundtrack with audience noise from past events.
Part of the reasoning is that coronavirus restrictions significantly limit the size of the orchestra and the number chorus singers that will be able to safely gather at the Royal Albert Hall, the newspaper explained.
But there is also a feeling among some of the organizers that songs from the glory days of the British Empire would be inappropriate in a year when Black Lives Matter protests are rocking nations on both sides of the Atlantic. In particular, Dalia Stasevska, the principal guest-conductor from Finland, is reportedly a strong supporter of the BLM cause, who is “keen to modernise the evening’s repertoire”.
WTF right has a Black Lives Matter supporter to interfere in a British cultural event. This person should be told to stick to the job they have been hired for. Start bringing politics, particularly the toxic politics of the far left into The Proms and in a few years there will be no proms. And it will not be COVID – 19 keeping paying punters away but the sheer boredom of a program selected for political correctness rather than musical excellence.
Read more on the origins of patriotic songs sung at the Last Night Of The Proms
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