A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first Battle Proms event. If you’re an American like me, you probably see the word prom and think only of the annual high school dance. But here in the UK, “Proms” is often referring to a famous series of classical music concerts held at the Prince Albert Hall in London each summer. Last summer, I vaguely recall seeing “Proms” on the television guide, airing on the BBC. I remember wondering what exactly “proms” might mean here, but in the midst of everything else I was learning about a new culture following our move a few weeks earlier, I didn’t give it much more thought.
So needless to say, when my family was invited to join a few friends at a Battle Proms concert, I was excited to see what this “proms” stuff was all about!
Battle Proms is a little different from the actual Proms concerts in London, but a similar concept. I live very near Burghley House, which is considered to be England’s greatest Elizabethan home and a popular tourist attraction. For the past several years, it’s been host to one of several Battle Proms events held around the UK. I found this to be one of the most unique things my family has experienced since moving here, and I wanted to share a bit of the evening with you readers.
The evening began with couples, families and friends gathering on picnic blankets and lawn chairs throughout the sprawling gardens of the estate property. A large stage was set up, along with food and drink vendors, games for children, etc. We nibbled on treats, like pork pies, cheese and crackers, and crisps. The evening’s entertainment began with a historic cavalry display. My little boys loved seeing the soldiers all dressed up and the various exercises they had their horses do. We were then treated to an amazing flyover by a Spitfire, the famous airplane used by the British Royal Air Force during World War II. It was incredibly moving as the plane swooped and twirled in the air above us for quite a while.
Then the true “proms” part of the evening began. The New England Symphony played many famous classical pieces, like the 1812 Overture and Beethoven’s Battle Symphony. One of the most memorable aspects was the cannons that were fired off during key points in these classical pieces (as many believe the composers intended for them to be played).
And the last 30 minutes or so of the concert were such a treat, especially to an American eager to learn more about British culture. The symphony played traditional British songs like Jerusalem, Rule Britannia, and Land of Hope and Glory. (And God Save the Queen, naturally!) All while fireworks were being let off in the distance. The thousands of concert goers were all waving flags and singing along. It was definitely a moment I’ll never forget.
I’m looking forward to tuning into the Proms concerts this summer on the BBC (it begins Friday night). But it’ll never top seeing a Battle Proms performance in person. If you’re planning a trip to Great Britain this summer, there are still several scheduled. Or plan ahead for next summer and include this special classically British event in your itinerary.