Being in the Proms audience

Three things online tackle a subject often visited around this time of year, every year: concert audience behaviour and its effect on newcomers. 

Jonathan McAloon writing in the Telegraph on Tuesday, had an interesting idea for making newcomers to the Proms:

There needs to be an incentive for new audience members to take seats in the stalls. Perhaps a limited number of seats could be reserved for those who have never attended before. Or there could be a special offer for Proms regulars who bring first-timers, thus encouraging the passing on of tradition and knowledge: in this way, newcomers could quickly learn how best to avoid annoying the unforgiving killjoys.”

McAloon’s solution comes after some observations about the Proms audience and, in particular, the Prommers. 

Prommers are the real fanatics: the trainspotters of classical music. A group of them take to the Albert Hall stage in intervals and before concerts. When I first saw them I thought they were some kind of Greek chorus, chanting in unison the amount they had collected for charity. They are delightful, but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my first Proms experience among them.”

Michael Henderson responds in the Telegraph:

There are some very odd people to be found in the Albert Hall in these summer weeks, concert-goers that one does not encounter in London’s other halls between September and May. But that is part of the Proms’ charm. All – or much of – human life is there.

It isn’t difficult for first-timers to pick it up. You buy your ticket, you listen in silence to the music, and at the end, should you feel like it, you applaud. Tens of thousands of people have been doing it for the past 120 years, and each summer they add another layer to the ritual. There’s really nothing else like it.”

I’m (almost) inclined to agree with Henderson. A couple of years ago, Christopher Gillett wrote a fairly damning piece about the Prommers, something I felt the need to respond to. I’ve done my time Promming as a teenager and as an adult. I Prom from time to time now too. I rather like the mix of people who descend on the Albert Hall for the season – it makes for a rich experience. 

I prefer it if people don’t clap in between movements but realise that if I get irritated by it then its going to bother me far more than it is them. The fact is that people are there. Without the audience, I’d be denied the opportunity of listening to their appreciation. And as I wrote earlier this week (quite coincidentally, I hasten to add), it’s the audience’s initial reaction to a performance which can be the one of the most exhilerating experiences of all. 

As the music approaches its natural end, close your eyes and hold your breath. Wait for the applause and the roar. And when it comes, build a picture in your mind of the expressions on the faces of those who are making the noise. You’ll know just what sort of performance it has been (assuming you didn’t know already) based on that initial reaction. Not only that, you’ll be a part of a very special experience.

They’re not applauding the BBC, they’re applauding the orchestra. But still, there’s a moment of direct audience feedback any BBC staffer would be forgiven for revelling in just for a moment.

A magical experience. A moment to experience feeling alive.”

Clap when you want. It doesn’t really matter that much. Just make sure the final applause is the biggest and the most appreciative. 

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