'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

14 June 2011


Traditions, I believe are a safety net for security. Traditional bigotry is inexcusable, traditional culture should always be examined, traditional diets or clothing should also be looked at if they are more than superficial or exclusive and excluding in nature. Progress and development are essential for the human condition and even survival, but there is still room for some inoffensive traditions that reflect a unity of appreciation, a memory (not an obsession) of what matters and also just for light fun. Life would be grey without some ceremony and without activities that we all understand and can participate in without over zealous commitment. Below are some examples of how an audience can participate in the spirit of an evening of music for which they may have no personal talent. They are traditions that give me and hopefully some of you a warm glow, do no harm and reinforce our social needs to join in.
Last Night of the Proms
In 2011 the proms will celebrate their 117th year. One of the great traditional evenings is the Last Night of the Proms which is where we see the British out to play. After guest artists the evening develops into a night full of rousing music repeated year after year. Rule Brittania, Land of Hope and Glory by Sir Edward Elgar and finishing with the audience singing spontaneously and unaccompanied Auld Lang Syne, a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788. The audience know when to sing hartily, bob up and down in unison, wave flags (Union Jacks or any flag of choice), spin noisy ratchets, blow whistles, hold hands and generally fulfill all the traditions embedded and repeated over the years.
"Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1" (1901) by Sir Edward Elgar, containing the theme commonly known as as "Land of Hope and Glory". Lyrics written by A.C.Benson in 1902. Complete with the traditional and obligatory encore.
The Hallelujah Chorus
In many countries, it is a wonderful tradition for the audience to stand when the performance of The Messiah by GF Handle arrives at the glorious Hallelujah Chorus. 
In many countries, it is a wonderful tradition for the audience to stand when the performance of The Messiah by GF Handle arrives at for Hallelujah Chorus The tradition is originated at the first London performance of Messiah, which was attended by King George II. As the first notes of the triumphant Hallelujah Chorus rang out, the king rose to his feet and remained standing until the end of the chorus. Royal protocol dictates that when the monarch stands, everyone stands. Thus, the entire audience and orchestra stood when the king stood during the performance, initiating a tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. Exactly why the King stood has provoked much speculation:-

He was so moved by the performance that he rose to his feet.
He stood out of tribute to the composer.
He stood in deference to Christ The King of Kings.
To me it is obvious that in the Mass the congregation always stands for the Allelulia.

"Va pensiero" - Nabucco

'Nabucco on March 9, 1842, was the opera that pushed the Italians to start the revolution against the Austrians in the cause of freedom and independence." Riccardo Muti. 

This is a chorus about one's beloved country and became an anthem for freedom. In Verdi's opera it is known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves in captivity in Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon as they pine for their lost homeland. Verdi was a great patriot and often implanted political and patriotic undertones in his operas. It also became a tradition in Europe after the WWII for the audience to stand in memory of the Holocaust.
Below is a performance from 12 March 2011 which shows how still this chorus affects an audience. This performance saw a return of Riccardo Muti after an accident and the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. The audience were so overcome that at the conclusion of the chorus there were cries of Viva Italia  to which the maestro responded by addressing the audience of his love of Italy and after much urging he encored the piece, turning to face and conduct the audience who all stood and sang. Th house was showered with pages torn from the programmes and the chorus members were reduced to tears. The Rome Opera is a sight on historic evenings and I too have been lucky to attend a performance of Aida there with the genius Franco Zeffirelli appearing on stage to take bows for his amazing production.
Hasten thoughts on golden wings.
Hasten and rest on the densely wooded hills,
where warm and fragrant and soft
are the gentle breezes of our native land!
The banks of the Jordan we greet
and the towers of Zion.
O, my homeland, so beautiful and lost!
O memories, so dear and yet so deadly!
Golden harp of our prophets,
why do you hang silently on the willow?
Rekindle the memories of our hearts,
and speak of the times gone by!
Or, like the fateful Solomon,
draw a lament of raw sound;
or permit the Lord to inspire us
to endure our suffering!

Audience Appreciation

Generally an audience shows its appreciation with applause of varying intensity and depending on the occasion and the style and nature of performance. Classical music opera and ballet can be accompanied with a shout of Bravo or for those more practised - Bravo for a man, Brava for a woman, and Bravi for two or more people. A younger audience may just scream, whistle or hoot and I, in a moment of high adrenalin and excitement, have been known to unconsciously scream ‘FUCK!’ at the top of my lungs when Joan Sutherland hit a particularly impressive note, which she did with great regularity. It really matters little how you respond as long as you feel comfortable letting those on stage and around you know how much you liked what they did. Standing ovations are also fun, but only when it really is an outstanding performance. I do not believe it that response just because someone is recognised or simply old etc. as is done with monotonous regularity in the US. There is little an audience can do to show how they feel and there should be a grade of responses from silence to pandemonium. (booing I find aggressively unnecessary). I have found that the occasions when I rose to my feet before my brain had realised I had were the genuinely most rewarding. To finish an evening with a throat sore from shouting, hands swollen from clapping and feet sore from stamping will linger in you memory for ever. I have had a few such evenings.
Tradition covers many aspects of life. There are Religious traditions, some of which hold society back, promote separation and invite ridicule, but then some elevate the mind to contemplate deeper examination of our life and that of others. There are cultural traditions, some of which also create separation, but some preserve treasures of history and a way of life and dress. There are sporting traditions which offer a sense of belonging, but also promote competition which I find no room for in my life. We must,  in my opinion, consider which traditions we which to adhere to if any and also why. Yes Why?
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