The controversy about the Last Night of the Proms rumbles on. Apparently, Jerusalem, the National Anthem and a version of You’ll Never Walk Alone will be sung by choirs. Meanwhile, Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory will feature as orchestral pieces without singing. That doesn’t sound too bad does it? The music is nice and You’ll never walk alone always brings a tear to the eye. If they can just get rid of the choir for Jerusalem then we can enjoy that bit of music without any dodgy mythology too! Of course, the re-inclusion of the music without the words is simply not good enough for many.
However, for me, the debate just highlights the ridiculous, pointlessness of it all. The whole purpose of the Proms was originally to enable people to access live, classical music who previously would not have been able to. The point about those patriotic songs is that they were a jolly sing along at the end with fancy dress, party poppers and flags as the audience went into celebratory party mode. So a Last Night of the Proms without the Promenaders and without the sing along is … well it simple is not the Last Night of the Proms. It is a classical music show on TV.
I have commented before on the attempt to keep big events going this year, particularly with reference to Christian festivals and conventions. For some reason, there is a desperation to make these events happen still in some way even if they are shorn of all the things that make those events what they are. Even, dare I say if what is offered instead is no different to what is available to people from their local church, podcasts, and if they want other churches, except without the branding. It seems to me that the BBC have fallen into the same trap with the Proms.
It is easy to criticise others but what we are seeing here is exactly how meaningless traditions happen. We feel the need to keep repeating something because we have always done it and we do not know what to fill the void with if we stop. However, the thing has long since ceased to fulfil its original purpose and indeed we have probably forgotten what that purpose was. We can do this together in our churches and we can do it in our individual lives too. The assumption of course is that the tradition does no harm and so it stays. Yet, by staying in place, the tradition may be doing harm simply by stopping us from engaging with something new and helpful in its place. What