Last night at the proms


What could be wrong about a gig where thousands of mostly young, mostly beautiful people come to enjoy themselves in a great convivial singalong?  The last night at the proms has become a huge party for music lovers, a joyous occasion, a festive culmination of a wonderful series of concerts, given by wonderful orchestras, conducted by wonderful conductors, and blessed by wonderful individual performers.  It is quite beyond criticism.  Only an old grouch would dig up something nasty to say about this great British institution.  Well, here is one old grouch, complaining about something he finds disturbing (and also puzzling) to do with the tradition of the great last night.

First we have Land of Hope and Glory. This is sung with such patriotic fervour, it seems.  There is much waving of huge national flags, as the massed audience wish their country to conquer foreign lands and become mightier yet.  The atmosphere is not the same as at one of the Nuremburg rallies, where there was not much smiling as the massed audience looked adoringly on their Fuhrer and yelled Seig Heil!  Nor do the audience at the proms give the Nazi salute, or anything resembling it.  Yet the expressed wish, for a great people to expand into Lebersraum is reminiscent.  Could such nice people as the promenaders be persuaded to kill foreigners?  

Then, confusingly, the same audience later sing Jerusalem, with a more contained fervour.  This is a patriotic song too, but it is not mindless my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism, but patriotism of a more considered, constructive kind.  Jerusalem is all about improving British society, about not ceasing from ‘mental fight’ until equality and justice comes to ‘England’s green and pleasant land’.  It is quite a revolutionary song, one that might have been expected of a revolutionary, republican poet, writing in times when kings had more power than they have today.

            What do we make of this switch, from willing cannon fodder to dissidents within so short a space of time?  Am I being too serious?  Answers to the editor, please.