Prom 71: Birthday Prom

Getting to our seats

I’ve long been a sucker for synchronicity ever since I read Celestine Prophecy. According to that brief read, there are no coiincidences but merely a series of interrelated events, the links may not be immediately obvious but offer the answer to a question. Even perhaps a question we don’t even know yet.

It was three years ago I went to the Royal Albert Hall with a friend I’d worked with in Aldeburgh. We sat in the stalls and turned our seats to the stage. We glanced through the programme and noticed that the fourth horn player in the orchestra that was playing that night was someone I’d remembered from my days managing the Britten-Pears Orchestra. I’d also remembered him from my days in Suffolk Youth Orchestra. The boy had done good. We were both terribly proud.

It was this same concert that I stared across at the Radio 3 commentator’s booth and saw a face I recognised. There sat with his headphones on and microphone under his nose, was a man I also recalled from the Britten-Pears Orchestra seven years before.

I remembered his name and emailed him as soon as I got home. He replied and without realising re-ignited my interest in the media industry, in writing, my mild-obsession with the composer Benjamin Britten and, most importantly of all, a desire to work in radio. Following his advice I enrolled on a radio production course and loved it.

A few months after the end of the radio production course at the start of the 2005 Proms season a friend rang me to tell me that the same horn player I’d seen in the Proms the year before had walked out of a rehearsal and dropped down dead. These things are not meant to happen. Talented people aren’t meant to just drop off the face of the earth without warning. They certainly should be taken from us in their late twenties.

It was the same orchestra my Suffolk acquaintance played in three years ago which another horn playing friend whom I know because of the same Britten-Pears Orchestra who ended up playing for, sitting in the same seat occupied by the chap who died in 2005. When I learnt that, I have to confess I gulped for a moment.

(Either you’ll see the link and appreciate the link and why it touched me or you won’t. If you don’t then I suspect I may have difficulty explaining it any more than I have already.)

It is that same female friend who’s husband played the trumpet fanfare in last year’s Last Night of the Proms, something none of us were expecting when we sat guzzling glasses of Cava and readying ourselves for the traditional bits of the last night Prom. That trumpeter will, I understand, be doing the same again in this year’s Last Night. That trumpeter is someone I went to University with thirteen years ago.

Maybe it’s not very spooky. But even when I write all of that done, as confusing as it must be to read, it still spooks me.

So imagine the scene last night when, waiting for Simon who had pootled off to the box office at the Royal Albert Hall to retrieve my special birthday tickets for my oh-so-special-I’ve-been-looking-forward-to-it-all-week-birthday-Prom, I notice out of the corner of my eye a face I recognise. I can’t remember her name but I know I have to speak to her. That’s what happens in the Celestine Prophecy I tell myself. There’s no time to stop and think about this. I just have to do it.

She remembered my name immediately and although I didn’t remember hers, I was correct in recalling her from wind orchestra rehearsals back at University. I conducted that band and remember Helen from the glances I would make to the flute section, cueing them in whenever I’d spotted the appropriate mark in the score or had actually remembered to. I’d last seen her 13 years ago. I saw her at the Royal Albert Hall last night quite by chance.

Sadly there wasn’t much time to chat. But in the brief minutes we spent catching up, Helen revealed that she now worked for the scouting movement. She explained that she had just recently finished organising the World Scouts Jamboree. “Oh, ” I laughed, “then you’ll know Peter Duncan,” remembering my attempts to persuade the BBC that it was a good idea to let me talk to the ex-Blue Peter presenter about how he bought a piece of furniture in Ikea.

“Yes I know Peter Duncan,” replied Helen. It seemed I had been asking the wrong people for access to Peter Duncan. If only I’d known that four months ago. Instead I learn it the night before the Proms season ends.

With time pressing, Simon was keen for us to move into the Albert Hall and take our seats. There were two more surprises left. The first that another old friend from Suffolk Youth Orchestra would be joining us for the concert. I’ve known Hannah for years. It was terribly special to have her around, especially when I finally discovered that Simon had managed to secure tickets in one of the “boxes” inside the Royal Albert Hall. It was my first time “in a box”, scarily close to the orchestra and even closer to the same seat I sat in three years ago.

It was back then, three years ago, I observed a contemporary of mine made good, playing in a professional orchestra in a world renowned music festival. It was also then my interest in all things BBC was reignited. Suddenly there was direction. I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.

And the cherry on this particular cake now? Three years after that first visit and sometime this week I’m told, I’ll receive a big A4 envelope inside which will be various documents and a letter demanding my signature. It’s taken three years and untold applications and interviews, but at the end of the most unusual Proms season I’ve ever experienced it seems like synochricity which has seen me finally get what had formally been an elusive role at the BBC. I can hardly wait.

And all of this on my birthday, marked with the kindest of gestures by a pal in the arena bar who shared a bottle of champagne amongst the four of us to mark my passing into a new age range.

Little wonder I believe in synchronicity.

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