Tim Peake and Bringing a Country Together

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake on his first spacewalk. Image Credit:  NASA  via  Flickr  (Public Domain) - ISS-46 EVA-1

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake on his first spacewalk. Image Credit: NASA via Flickr (Public Domain) - ISS-46 EVA-1

     One of high points for the United Kingdom this year was Major Tim Peake's mission aboard the International Space Station, which began on December 15, 2015 and ended on June 18, 2016. During those six months, Major Peake fascinated and inspired people back home in Britain and throughout the world by carrying out mission objectives alongside his fellow ISS crew members from other countries, such as repairing a failed voltage regulator which made for Peake becoming the first British astronaut to participate in a spacewalk.

      Along the way, he kept everyone up-to-date with his engaging social media posts on Facebook and Twitter, including his participation in the London Marathon on a treadmill – making him the second person to run a marathon in space, various videos highlighting his life aboard the ISS, his support for British sports teams, and remarks for occasions such as New Year’s Day and the Queen’s 90th birthday.

     Perhaps my favorite aspect of Major Peake's journey was when he shared photographs of various locations in the US, UK, and throughout the world from the ISS, including fabulous views of picturesque auroras. It is indeed true that one cannot fully appreciate the world unless it is viewed from that vantage point.

     For Major Peake, it all must have been an incredible experience – one which he appeared to thoroughly enjoy for every minute. Even before he returned home, he was being celebrated as a hero throughout the UK and there was great interest in his mission from the public via several platforms, particularly social media. As the first British ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut and only the second Briton to wear the Union Flag patch in space, Peake was conferred the Freedom of the City by his hometown of Chichester and the Queen made him a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George for his services to research and scientific education – all while he was still aboard the ISS.

     Having returned from space, Major Peake now intends to embark on a tour of the United Kingdom this month, during which he will visit all four capital cities of the country (London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast), as well as Leicester, Manchester, Salford, and Glasgow. According to Principa, Major Peake will be “will be giving presentations at each city, giving his first-hand account about life onboard the ISS and talking about the important science experiments he conducted during his mission.”

     Alongside Major Peake for part of this tour will be our own Colonel Tim Kopra, a NASA astronaut who was a crewmate with Peake aboard the ISS. The two Tim’s (who look quite similar in appearance) will be in Belfast, Edinburgh, and London in what is expected to be an engaging series of events about their time working and living in space, as well as inspiring others to become astronauts, so that they may explore space and make new discoveries for the benefit of mankind. On a wider scale, there is the potential for Britain to develop its own spaceport and having more people interested in space and space travel may well provide additional impetus for such a spaceport to be built. With regard to Tim Peake, there has been an ambitious education and outreach initiative in which the UK Space Agency has invested £3 million to engage over a million young people into his mission and so this tour is also a way for him to thank the British public for their support.

The two Tim's - Britain's Peake and America's Kopra. Major Peake is being given a patch by Colonel Kopra to commemorate his 100th day in space on March 24, 2016. Image Credit:  NASA  via  Flickr  (Public Domain)   - ISS047-E-017191

The two Tim's - Britain's Peake and America's Kopra. Major Peake is being given a patch by Colonel Kopra to commemorate his 100th day in space on March 24, 2016. Image Credit: NASA via Flickr (Public Domain) - ISS047-E-017191

     On that matter, he remarked that he had been “extremely touched” by that support before, during, and after the ISS mission, and made a particular mention about watching the launch parties attended by so many in the four capitals as he ascended into space last December. Having viewed those celebrations, Major Peake now looks forward to the tour allowing him to partake in those celebrations himself and to thank as many people as possible.

     One hopes that he will receive hearty thanks from the people of a United Kingdom - wherever they live and are from - who are grateful for his service to the country. In these uncertain times, Peake shows what people ought to aspire to be, and is therefore an inspiration and an example to follow because of the hard work and dedication that has brought him this far, the grace and humility he has shown along with an uplifting personality, and for his love of country.

     Throughout his mission, Major Peake made it known that he was proud to be British – with his tribute to Her Majesty on her 90th birthday and frequently having the Union Flag nearby in his social media posts – and I do believe that this upcoming tour may be a way to celebrate what is good and decent about being British and sharing in the achievements of a British man which were made possible in part by the UK and its people at large. It may be asking too much for the Peake tour to be anything along the lines of what we have witnessed in the celebrations for Team GB and Paralympics GB following their dynamic performance at Rio 2016, but it ought to at least be something worthy of marking the achievements of Major Peake.

     Between these two – Tim Peake and the British Rio teams – there is a lot to be proud of as a citizen of the United Kingdom and they are examples of what can be achieved when the country comes together to make beautiful and extraordinary things happen and then commemorate them. With the country as divided as it is along several fault lines, it is sometimes a wonder that such things are able to occur, but I believe that this speaks to the enduring strength and resilience of a country that has withstood so much throughout its long existence. When there is a common sense of purpose, differences can be broken down to allow for synergy among different people (for the UK is a union of people as well as a nations) to work together as one, which instills pride in themselves as individuals and as something greater than themselves.

     Going forward, the virtue of working together, achieving together, and celebrating together as a United Kingdom will be invaluable as the country enters into uncharted territory. Perhaps the tour by Major Peake throughout the UK can help serve as a reminder to the British people of who they are and what they can aspire to become, while striving to build a better country, and indeed a better world, along the way.

Losing Faith in the SNP?

     Yesterday, Darren McGarvey – known as Loki the Scottish Rapper – wrote an open letter to Nicola Sturgeon on STV in which he laid out his frustrations with the SNP and the independence movement, along with his intention to not vote for the party on Election Day in May.

     The letter consisted of McGarvey describing the harrowing details of his mother’s upbringing in Gorbals, one of the worst slums in Glasgow, and how she had to deal with alcoholic parents who could not look after their children – leaving McGarvey’s mother to take up the slack. He spoke of the disgusting filth and squalid conditions of their home, personal belongings sold off to purchase cigarettes or alcohol, the lack of privacy (in the old-fashioned way), the debt collectors, the drug dealers, and the disgrace of children being made to fight over scraps of food as a spectators sport for drunks.

     It was in short, not really a home so much as it was an “open-plan torture chamber where deprivation, in the truest sense of the word, was the absolute default position” and where “poverty had not only corrupted people, but left them grotesquely deformed.” There was no place to hide and no one to find for comfort.

     Without a support structure, McGarvey’s mother could not properly cope with life’s challenges, and would descend into her own bout of alcoholism following the birth of McCarvey himself. From here, he vividly described his own upbringing, which included being at the receiving end of her drunken sprees, watching her calm herself with drugs via needles, the abandonment brought upon him and his siblings, and generally living in a chaotic atmosphere.

     Eventually, he too would fall into a similar trap with alcohol and drugs which rendered him unable to look after his brothers and sisters as the family tore itself apart.

     Thankfully, he has come out of this, been sober for over a year, is back to being active in the lives of his siblings, and celebrated the birth of his first child. Unfortunately, his long-suffering mother passed on long ago at the tragically early age of only 36.

     McGarvey’s heart-breaking personal story is one that can repeated throughout multiple generations in Scotland, and it speaks to the sort conditions which have led to what he describes as a “desperation for change.” For him and many others, this was seemingly answered by the SNP and the idea of independence, and as he continues to speak to Nicola Sturgeon (as well as the rest of us), he tells of how he has been voting for the SNP since 2006 “because something radical needs to be done about poverty in this country” and saw independence as a means of “paying more than lip service to tackling the deep social inequality that creates the conditions for deprivation to thrive.”

     He explained that Sturgeon was the first politician he ever believed in, and now he finds himself disappointed in the some of the proposed policies of Sturgeon and the party going into the election only a month away – policies such as keeping tax rates the same as the rest of the UK and halving air passenger duty, which are “aimed at affluent communities who voted No in 2014” and “providing assurances more of the same awaits them should they throw caution to the wind and decide to vote Yes at the next referendum.”

     The result is that he wonders that if this is going to be the case in a devolved Scotland within the United Kingdom, what does the future hold should Scotland become – as he campaigned for in 2014 – an independent country? How can Sturgeon expect to get the well-off to pay more in taxes as an independent country when she, “the most powerful First Minister ever”, won’t ask them to do so now for fear that they will leave Scotland?

     He watches as the SNP pursues policies based on pragmatism and the need for votes from the middle classes, and he expresses his frustration at the party “cultivating a tolerance for low taxation coupled with moderate incremental reform, peppered with comforting social justice rhetoric that barely tweaks the status quo never mind challenges it.”

     For McGarvey, separation was not simply about “getting over the line”, but it was about achieving a new direction with new policies which spoke to urgency of dealing with poverty. With the new powers under the recently-passed Scotland Act, Holyrood under Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP – with a fresh mandate expected in May – is in a greater position than ever to act on many of Scotland’s generational societal ills in a way that the SNP (dubiously) claimed could not be done under the old constitutional arrangements. Separation may be desirable in the long-term, but it is not necessary now to achieve many of the goals of McGarvey and others like him who have “more than just a passing interest in social justice.” His life experiences have shaped who he is, and as far as he is concerned:

“There is no pragmatism where inequality is concerned. There is only action and inaction. If you can't make an argument for slightly higher taxes to a class of educated people who are fortunate enough to be doing well in a terminally unequal society then I already know what is required of me as a citizen.”

     He further laments that Scottish independence appears to be “an increasingly elastic notion” with no real substance behind it except aside from being all things to all people, which breeds centrist policies to maximize votes and not “scare the horses”, but which fail to even come close to the radical vision he and so many others bought into.

     For many of them who voted Yes in 2014 and for the SNP in 2015, McGarvey goes so far to say that the current circumstances present a dilemma; some – likely most – are so committed to the dream of independence, that they will look the other way and will continue support Sturgeon and the SNP in a “bold and unwavering fashion.” McGarvey believes that this dilemma must be confronted head-on, but in the absence of that, he does not believe that the SNP is worthy of his vote this year.

     His story and his view is one that is being repeated throughout Scotland: people who voted Yes because they believed that separation would bring the change they desired, and then voted for the SNP because they saw it as being the best party to deliver that change – in or out of the UK.

     They had believed that with separation and breaking up the UK, Scotland could pursue radically different policies than the rest of the UK. Indeed, they bought into the rhetoric that Scotland and the rest of the UK were so different in political and economic thought, that separation was necessary; they painted a vision of radical Scotland needing to free itself from the reactionary conservatism of Tory England.

     They had believed the rhetoric of the Labour Party being “Red Tories” who were too scared to offend the English middle classes with radical policies and higher taxes, and that Scotland was much more egalitarian and amenable to paying more in taxation to pay for more public services and reduce poverty. They believed that the actual Tories were the root of all evil (and all of Scotland’s problems – not to mention “anti-Scottish” in the words of Nicola Sturgeon herself), that the LibDems were lapdogs at one stage or another for both parties, and that the Union was incapable of delivering on progressive policies because the overall electorate was too “small-c” conservative and required the main parties to compromise and be pragmatic.

     Now they are discovering that Scotland is hardly as radical as they had believed, that the Scottish middle classes aren’t that different in temperament and political/economic values as their English counterparts, and that the SNP – when given the choice – will stick to the middle ground on a centrist platform which embraces pragmatism, you know, like most political parties which aspire to have power and achieve other political goals.

     For the SNP, their main goal has been and always will be separation and breaking up Britain, and they know that they will need moderate Middle Scotland to carry them over the line. So while it is convenient to use left-wing rhetoric to get votes from the Scottish Left and displace the Labour Party, the reality is that the SNP will not do anything to cost them votes where they matter the most. If anything, the SNP is doing what the Tories and Labour did during their periods of dominance in the 20th Century: appealing to where Scots are comfortable at, and that’s in the moderate middle, which again, is the same winning formula in most Western democracies – including the United Kingdom as a whole.

     These sort of points were made time and again throughout the referendum to combat that simplistic notion of left-wing Scotland vs. right-wing England, but it was a notion that proved intoxicating to many people, including Darren McGarvey. If anything, the SNP shamelessly used long-term tragic circumstances such as his to get votes for the independence cause based on the idea that only with independence could Scotland build the sort of fairer society where children would not grow up in dire poverty like McGarvey and his family.

     Again, this was countered by the fact that there is deep poverty in other parts of the UK – in Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Swansea, Manchester, Newcastle, Cardiff, Belfast, and London itself – and that it made more sense for the UK to stay together as a country in order to achieve progress together through common solidarity among the British people and the pooling and sharing of resources.

     The SNP slickly attempted to appeal to people’s fears and anxieties by telling them that independence would make it all better, and many – feeling they nothing to lose – voted Yes. Since then, they have stuck with the SNP, and as they watch to see the SNP make compromises to stay in power, some have become dismayed like McGarvey over tax policy. Others are concerned about the Named Person initiative, the lack of transparency in government, and more recently, the SNP cozying up to China. Increasingly, they are venting their frustration on social media, some are leaving the party, and prominent independence-sympathetic writers such as Iain Macwhirter and Kevin McKenna are warning the SNP to not forget the people and ideals they had brought to the fore in 2014. At some point, people may question the point of separation and ask whether it is truly worth it.

     But in the words of columnist David Torrance during the leaders debate on March 24th:

     That being said – and with Labour and the Liberal Democrats proposing tax increases – it is difficult to imagine the SNP not being in power once again – likely with another majority. However, there does seem to be a realization on the part of some people that the SNP and its vision for separation are not magic bullets that can solve anyone’s problems. The sooner this is realized by more individuals, the better, so that folks of all persuasions throughout the United Kingdom can join together to move forward to create the better society that everyone wants.

My Experience at the Proms

     Yes, that’s right. I attended the BBC Proms a couple of nights ago in my hometown in the United States.

     Well, sort of. As it was, I found that there was going to be a special screening of the Last Night of the Proms – as it was seen on the BBC on the evening of September 12th – at select movie theaters (cinemas, in British parlance) across the country, and upon finding that it would be featured at one theater in Savannah, I purchased my ticket.

     The Proms – officially known as the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts after their first conductor – are arguably the world’s greatest musical festival, and have been a British summer time institution for over a century. The Last Night is the most iconic part of the whole season, which runs from July to September, and is what most people think of with regard to the Proms. I have seen bits and pieces of Last Night celebrations, and have also listened to it over the radio, but had never seen the whole occasion from end to end.

     The result was that I was really excited and stoked about attending this special screening and looked forward to a great British time.

Image Credit: Wesley Hutchins

Image Credit: Wesley Hutchins

     It began at 7:00PM, but on this day, I did not get off from work until 7:15PM. Fortunately, the theater was not that far from my job, and I arrived in the auditorium just in time to watch a video which featured a history of the Proms, and specifically, the people who attend them – the Prommer’s, some of whom are annual attendee’s over the course of years, if not decades. This is their special season, the one which they look forward to every year, and it was good to see that dedication to such an awesome event.

     Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the attendance in the theater auditorium, for including myself, there were only ten people there. This was quite disappointing, and may have been a result of a lack of promotion. After all, I had only found out about the event via a friend on a Facebook group, and that was by chance. However, I believe that the poor attendance had much to do with the event being held on Wednesday night – the middle of the work week – as opposed to a Friday or Saturday night on the weekend, when more people have time for leisure activities.

     Nevertheless, it was at least good that I was not alone that evening, and looking at the program from the BBC’s website, I realized that I did not miss that much – only two selections: the world premiere of the BBC-commissioned Arise, Athena! by Eleanor Alberga and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major.

     Following the video, the presenter (or as we say in America, the host/anchor) Katie Derham guided us through the proceedings on a platform overlooking the main floor of the Royal Albert Hall in London, which has been the home of the Proms since World War II. Derham introduced us to Arvo Part’s Credo, a 12 minute-long piece from 1968, which is characterized by a combination of rite and scripture, as well as the social and spiritual conflicts faced by Part himself during this period. The chanting by the BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Singers, as well as the performance of BBC Symphony Orchestra was quite powerful and at times, produced a cacophony of noise which was meant to symbolize good vs. evil. Indeed, the Soviet authorities at the time were suspicious of the religious overtones and the apparent message of passive opposition to their authority (in his native Estonia), and the music was not performed there for several years after its original outing.

     But here, it was performed in all of its glory and sense of spiritual uplifting. It was followed up by Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks), a musical chronicle of the pranks and misadventures of a peasant folk hero from Germany. If it was a bit more light and less powerful than Credo, it was certainly made up for by the rather crafty tone which befitted the conduct of the title character.

     Following this was a break in the action in which another video was shown, this time about the people who make the Proms and keep it going every year. It was a fascinating look at the work of the organizers, camera operators, stage hands, engineers, lighting crews, musicians, and so many others who are the unsung and (quite often) unseen hero’s of the Proms and everything that they do in the course of the concert season which make the Proms quite memorable and thoroughly enjoyable as the greatest music festival in the world.

     Part of that greatness is born in the fact that the Proms attracts top-flight musical talent from around the world, and to conclude the first part of the night was the exceedingly impressive German operatic tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, who performed selections from three operas by Giacomo Puccini: Tosca, Manon Lescaut, and Turandot. The power of his voice at times was like trombones within itself which pierced through the instrumental sounds to take over the whole stage and fill up the entire hall, and the crowds lapped up to it in earnest.

The Royal Albert Hall - current home of the Proms. Image Credit:  Drow Male  via  Wikimedia Commons   cc

The Royal Albert Hall - current home of the Proms. Image Credit: Drow Male via Wikimedia Commons cc

     Before heading to intermission, another video was shown which featured highlights from the whole Proms season beginning in July. Among other things, there was a piano soloist masterfully playing George Gershwin’s iconic Rhapsody in Blue, an African-American group performing Sing, Sing, Sing, a children’s chorus singing Zadok the Priest, the sounds from the Finale of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, and many other great musical selections from throughout the season by various groups, bands, and solo artists – some famous, other not so – from around the world. Indeed, it appeared to have been a fun, exciting, and eventful concert season – with the best still yet to come in part 2 of the broadcast.

     During the 10-minute intermission, I stepped out of the auditorium to grab some popcorn from the concession stand. Typically, I do not this because of the exorbitant prices, and the popcorn I bought – a small bag of it – ended up costing me $6.62 (with tax). Unbelievable, and against my better judgment this was, but I was in a good mood following the first half of the Proms, and since this was a week night with the theater virtually empty, there was no long line as may be typical on a more crowded evening on Friday's or the weekend (though if it meant having more people in the auditorium, then that would have been preferable).

     Upon return to the auditorium, the second half of the great show commenced with Katie Derham taking us to witness the highlights from the parallel Prom in the Park events around the United Kingdom. In Hyde Park, nearby the Royal Albert Hall, Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese was singing Granada, a fast-based and highly-energetic tune by Mexican composer Agustin Lara before an outdoor crowd of over 20,000. At Singleton Park in Swansea, saxophonist Alexander Bone teamed up with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for a pleasant performance of the whimsical song Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. North of the Cheviots in Glasgow, I Will Always Love You – immortalized by the late Whitney Houston – was soul-stirringly sung by Alexandra Burke with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra before a large crowd on Glasgow Green, none of whom could have been left with a dry eye at the conclusion of that emotional performance. Across the North Channel in Belfast, the Riverdance group – celebrating their 20th anniversary this year – performed an Irish folk dance routine backed by the Ulster Orchestra on Titanic Slipways, the area on which the RMS Titanic and her sister ships were built.

     It was all quite good to have a taste of the events going on elsewhere throughout the UK with the enormous wealth and diversity of talent on display. Following this, everyone from all over the country joined the main event at the Royal Albert Hall where the second half opened up with a bang in the form of the jazz standard Victory Stride by American James P. Johnson. Indeed, while the first half was mainly heavy on classical music, the second half would be a looser and lighter affair, with Victory Stride providing an appropriate start. It was a dynamic piece of music to which I and others in the theater could get into along with the Prommers on the screen, who themselves were having a good time as the real party started.

     Indeed, this was the part of the night when some members of the orchestra and singing groups were decked out with decorations, such as glitter and flags hanging from music stands, and the bust of Sir Henry Wood overlooking the hall was graced with a wreath. In the audience, the sounds of streamers, poppers, and air horns could be increasingly heard throughout the hall as the previously sober and serious atmosphere gave way to an atmosphere of mischief, wackiness, and good-natured British sense of fun, albeit with an American twist – and not just with the music.

     This came in the form of Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra who made history two years previously as the first woman to conduct the Last Night, and who was now back for her second go it. Following Victory Stride, she stood before the crowd – on a well-decorated conductor’s platform – and rendered a warm welcome to the audience in the hall and elsewhere throughout the UK and around the world, and engaged the Prommers in the hall, Hyde Park, Singleton Park, Glasgow Green, and Titanic Slipways to greet one another in a wholesome spirit of togetherness.

     The American influence of this Last Night was continued with a performance of Aaron Copland’s I Bought Me a Cat from Old American Songs, and to make things interesting, it featured an extraordinary sing-a-along effort – with the first two verses sung by the audience in the hall, followed by one verse sung by each audience in the park events in the following order of Hyde Park, Swansea, Glasgow, and Belfast. Then, everyone joined in for the last verse in a spectacular finish to the light-hearted and somewhat disjointing song to rapturous applause up and down the country. It was, as Derham said, like going on a tour of the national farmland of the United Kingdom, and as Alsop had hoped, the technology gods had cooperated in this effort.

     We were then treated to the gifted hands of Benjamin Grovesnor, who masterfully performed George Gershwin’s Love Walked In and Morton Gould’s Boogie Woogie Etude, the latter of which lived up to its name with the audiences getting more of a pop in their step following the more gentle selection.

Main HAll of the Royal Albert Hall from above. Image Credit:  yisris  via  Flickr   cc

Main HAll of the Royal Albert Hall from above. Image Credit: yisris via Flickr cc

     After this was a small break in the action during which the Proms celebrated the 50th anniversary of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Sound of Music by featuring a collage of videos with several ordinary Briton’s performing Do-Re-Mi from the great musical. Among those showcased were nuns, children’s groups, community choirs, family's, as well as a host of individual efforts from all across the UK, including the BBC’s own Jeremy Vine in Glasgow and some of its staff and other presenters. It was an eclectic mix of young and old, from various backgrounds, creeds, and faiths – all of it wrapped in the overall sense of being British on this most British of occasions.

     But the show was back on the road with Jonas Kaufmann making a return to the hall to perform Lehar’s The Land of the Smiles, Danielle de Niese hoping over from Hyde Park to artfully enlighten the crowd with The Girls of Cadiz, and Peer Gynt, Op 23 (Morning) tranquilly performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra – led by the leaf-like flutes and gradually building to a decent satisfaction by the whole ensemble.

     Danielle di Niese was brought back to further honor the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music by leading a supreme performance of its medley with all of the UK participating at the same time in what Marion Alsop claimed was the biggest sing-a-long ever. It was certainly a brilliant moment shared by all who were in the hall, in the parks, and watching or listening from home or wherever they happened to be located.

     And yet, all of this was but a prelude to the very best part of the night with some of the favorites of British patriotic music being played to finish out the spectacular evening.

     First up was Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March, No. 1Land of Hope and Glory. Truly one of the great pieces of music in the world, it was born out of the age of imperial height and expansion, but today decently captures the hopes and aspirations of the British people for themselves and their country, the United Kingdom, so that it can be a better country and so that they can lead better and more fruitful lives. For this reason, it is like an alternative national anthem with an inspiring air to it which provides a huge burst of patriotic passion. The climactic ending was enthusiastically played twice, and to the supreme satisfaction and joy of the people.

     This was followed by two selections from another favorite: Fantasia on British Sea Songs - a nine part medley of maritime songs which was arraigned by Sir Henry Wood himself. The two selections performed that night were like night and day, with Home, Sweet Home providing a soft and measured melody tinged with a bit of nostalgia as the audience elegantly hummed to the tune of the oboe as it was played. Then there was Jack’s the Lad, with its repeated melody starting slow with the flutes and than building up at a faster pace as more instruments joined in. It was a bit of a kooky rendition with seemingly deliberate and disjointed mistakes in the early part to amuse the audience, who clapped and stomped to the three beats at the end of each repeated line of the music (and causing enough rocking to shake the cameras). As the end approached, the pace had quickened to result in a dramatic climax with the energy of everyone going to a new high.

     Fantasia then set the stage for another song about Britain and the sea: Rule Britannia! It is arguably one of the most iconic of all British patriotic songs, with it being performed to represent the country around the world in such a way that it – like Land of Hope and Glory – sometimes feels like the national anthem. (Indeed, I had once thought it was the national anthem and I suppose many of my fellow Americans think it is as well.) For this year’s performance, Jonas Kaufmann was brought in to sing the main lyrics whilst the crowd and the choir sang the electrifying chorus part. Kaufmann made history as the first German to lead Rule Britannia, and he did not fail to make an outstanding impression with his voice leading the way and providing enormous excitement for the crowds in the hall and elsewhere - truly rocking the Proms.

Proms in the Park at Hyde Park, London. Image Credit:  Neil Rickards  via  Flickr   cc

Proms in the Park at Hyde Park, London. Image Credit: Neil Rickards via Flickr cc

     Those crowds were now really getting into the spirit of the night, and this is truly where the Proms is very special. In addition to the singing, people also displayed their British patriotism with the Union Flag of the United Kingdom, which was seen throughout the night in the form of fancy and funny hats, socks, bow ties, dresses, and vests. In addition, there was a Sikh gentleman in the BBC Symphony Chorus who wore a Union Flag-themed turban, and Jonas Kaufmann caused a frenzy by throwing a pair of the flag-themed boxer shorts to the audience following Rule Britannia! Most importantly, it was proudly flying from the hands of thousands of people that evening, as were also those of the Home Nations of the UK – the Red Dragon of Wales, the Saltire of St. Andrew and the Red Lion Rampant for Scotland, St. George’s Cross for England, and St. Patrick’s Saltire and the Ulster Banner for Northern Ireland. The Channel Island flags for Jersey and Guernsey were also on display, as were those from the Isle of Mann and some counties – like Yorkshire and Cornwall. Still yet, there were some American Stars and Stripes in the crowds, along with Irish and French tricolors, the flags of Australia and New Zealand, as well as Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, India, Germany, Spain, the flags of sports teams, as well as the EU and UN flags.

     On top of all this was the supreme sight of seeing so many people from various backgrounds, cultures, creeds, and faiths – all having a good time and sharing in this moment of a truly British night all around. Indeed, it showed how the Proms is able to bring these people to together to celebrate their common sense of being British and enjoying the company of one another – bring them together and allowing them, if even for only a moment, to forget their differences and join together as one.

     This was said as much by Marin Alsop - the woman of the hour - as she faced the crowd following Rule Britannia! to give her closing speech.  She spoke about the power of music to bring people together like few other things do, and that even though it does not solve the great issues of our time, it can provide a bridge for greater understanding and cooperation to make solving these issues a bit easier. If nothing else, moments like the Last Night are good for getting out and sharing a special time with, and bringing voices together among, fellow citizens.

     Alsop made this point personal by referencing her own hometown of Baltimore, which has experienced protests social tensions over the last year in response to what many people believed was the wrongful death of a black man whilst in police custody. She spoke of how efforts involving her and other Baltimore musicians to get more kids interested in music and other fine arts, so as to give them opportunities to find their talents and make something out of themselves and perhaps be in her place one day.

     She particularly emphasized the need for girls and women to get into music and appealed for more support for the arts – privately and publicly – and to this end, she thanked the Prommers for helping to raise a record £107,000 for musical charities over the course of the Proms season. Alsop also thanked them for being a great – if also wacky and somewhat unruly – audience, and gave praise to all the people, seen and unseen, who made this Proms season one of the best thus far, and for this, she got a rapturous applause.

     Her remarks having been well-received, Alsop continued on with the final leg of the night – beginning with a wholesome performance of Jerusalem. Its sweet and soft melody set against the powerful imagery of its lyrics was pleasantly received by the crowd which sung it in earnest.

     Then came arguably the most important part of the night: the performance of the National Anthem of the United Kingdom. As has been the case most years, it was Benjamin Britten’s stirring arraignment that was performed with the chorus singing the first verse ever so softly, which led to a spine-thrilling build up and the full-throated strains of the orchestra, singing groups, and the crowds inside and outside the hall on the second verse – punctuated with a spectacular climax featuring the last line of “God Save the Queen!” being sung three times to close out the anthem.

     Inside the theater two rows in front of me, there was one person who stood during the anthem in solidarity with almost everyone on the screen. Whether she was British was not of any significance because what mattered was that she had that kind of respect for the United Kingdom and its people. Indeed, it was quite inspiring to watch all of those people – thousands of them – with their flags, funny dresses, hats, and costumes, and in many cases, just themselves joining together and singing with one “heart and voice” in honor of Her Majesty and with reverence and pride in the country over which she reigns. At the end of the day, it is the people who make this country.

     At the conclusion of the National Anthem, Alsop struck up the orchestra to perform Auld Lang Syne, the traditional closing song of the Proms, and it was truly a moment of warm fellowship and camaraderie as everyone joined in the arm crossing of hands and extended a true farewell to one another until next year. To top it all off (and in a sign of the times), Alsop raised a selfie stick to take two cheeky selfies: one of herself and the audience in the hall, and then another with the orchestra and chorus in a final hurrah for the glorious night. Take that, Nicola Sturgeon.

     And so ended my “experience” at the Proms, which was so memorable and well worth the money for the ticket (though perhaps not the popcorn). As enjoyable of an experience it was, it is nothing compared to actually being there in person, so as to truly get a feel for what it is like to be among those crowds of Prommers, with all of the good-natured fun and togetherness that entails. Personally, it would a treat if I managed to attend the main Prom event at the Royal Albert Hall, as well as the Prom in the Park in the events throughout the country with their unique programs.

     However, this is where I do have one particular gripe with what I saw. Following the Sound of Music medley with Danielle di Niese, the Glasgow Green and Singleton Park (Swansea) events dropped from the main event, and Titanic Slipways in Belfast left following Land of Hope and Glory. All of them apparently went back to their own events independent of what occurred in London, which meant that they were no longer part of the overall UK event with the most rousing of British patriotic airs, including the National Anthem itself. This was massively disappointing because with the absence of those places in the latter part of the coverage, it was as though critical and indispensable pieces of the United Kingdom were grossly missing, and in a big way which made the country somewhat diminished compared to if those areas were included.

     The second half of the Last Night ought to be an event for the whole UK, with all events involving themselves in the same coverage to finish out this most British of occasions. Perhaps an exception could be made with regard to the section where Jerusalem is played (since it is more specifically an English anthem), but even then, you could find Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, and even Irish flags being flown to this song – often with respect. At any rate, something ought to be done to ensure that all Prom events are going to the same script for the latter half as an occasion for all of the United Kingdom to come together as one, and it is my hope that this event can help to make the “united” part real and truly meaningful, and show that there is much, much more to the UK than just "big bad (evil) Westminster."

     Nonetheless, this Proms experience at the movie theater was one which I thoroughly enjoyed and will greatly treasure. It was a truly fun and joyous time to celebrate Britain and to take part in a British event that is open to the world.