Ian Bosworth spoke to Nick Page about the growth of Prom Praise featuring the ALL SOULS ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS.
With the shadow of war looming over our land and any display of patriotism taking on chilling connotations 'The Last Night of the Proms', has suddenly become an event of no little controversy. But for thousands who annually cram into the Royal Albert Hall the Proms are less about 'Land Of Hope And Glory' nationalism than a heartening move to lower the brow of classical music. All kinds of ordinary punters now go for Beethoven and Brahms and The Proms has become the embodiment of the Make Classical Music Available movement. Since 1977 a similar move has been, going on within Britain's churches.
Prom Praise - a series of concerts-cum-worship events, first held at the Royal Albert Hall, later at other venues, have fused the symphonic musical tradition to praise and worship music.
Brahms and Wesley, Bach and Kendrick are performed side-by-side in a unique musical package. Under the brilliant conductorship of Noel Trenderick, the All Souls Orchestra many of whom worship at the famed All Souls Church in Lang-ham Place London have been the musical bedrock of Prom Praise. The whole concept has been a phenomenal success story, growing from some quirky event sponsored by Today magazine to become a mushrooming movement with the Prom Praise Celebration getting an audience of millions when broadcast this year on BBC's Radio 2 with and a new album is about to be released by Word. I asked Nick Page, broadcaster, sometime Prom Praise MC and managing director of Langham Arts how Prom Praise began.
"It started in 1977, when All Souls had a massive re-building project and it was going to be open every day," remembers Nick. "There was a feeling that as the Sunday was a normal service of thanksgiving that something very special should happen on the Saturday, as a further act of thanksgiving to bring glory to God.
"Michael Baughan, who is now Bishop of Chester, was then All Souls' rector, was thinking and praying over that. He thought of the 'Last Night Of The Proms'; just for the atmosphere. Take out the patriotic songs and replace them with Christian hymns and songs but keep that orchestral atmosphere of celebration".
As well as the Royal Albert Hall concerts, Prom Praise events have occurred at the Royal Festival hall, the Opera Hall in Edinburgh, and this October there will be a Prom Praise at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. But who precisely is Prom Praise aimed at?
"I think it's a double thing really," responds Nick. "It must be an occasion when we're creating music that's inspired - in general - by God and salvation music which is the hymns and what you'd call sacred music. These are combined together to give praise to God. We are anxious that this is done in such a way that it isn't just another thing for Christians but that the public can come and understand what we're doing. There's an evangelistic purpose as well", Nick is keen to emphasise that Prom Praise can be entertainment and yet still have a ministry dimension.
"Entertainment is a difficult word to define in the sense that when the Lord was telling funny stories (which we call parables) that was entertainment. We tend to use the term 'entertainment' these days as a code for anything which lacks substance; in which case I'd say 'No, that's not our purpose' - I believe that it must be to the best artistic standards, that there's no point in doing what we're doing unless there's a sense of worship, a sense of encouragement certainly. A number of people come to us and say 'that's given us a sense of what we could be at our churches', not with the London Symphony Orchestra but that using the organ in church is not necessarily the best way of leading worship."
The mixing of music traditionally thought to be 'religious' and 'secular' has raised a few eyebrows.
"I think it's Christians who tend to be surprised that one moment you
might have Mozart, the next moment Kendrick. We tend to separate these
things a bit. I think the general public won't necessarily find it a
shock; particularly because it was linked by Richard Booth and Noel
Trenderick who expressed as it went through that there was about to be
some Strauss or whatever. We thank God for His gift of music. As we
enjoy the music we can thank God for the enjoyment."
The broadcast of an hour and a half of Prom Praise on Easter Sunday brought in a shoal of letters. Not unexpectedly they were a mixed bag. "I had a very nice letter from Scotland, from a retired Church of Scotland minister who said he had enjoyed it, but there were bits which he found triumphalistic; that we should remember what Jesus did for us, which was a sacrifice. I think we'd done "When The Saints Go Marching In" which, with full orchestra and quite a jazzy arrangement, was quite an exciting triumphant piece of music. He was right to challenge us, but I feel that we'd actually created the right balance - we'd also talked about sacrifice, about the tragedy as well as the triumph."
This month sees the release of a new album recorded in February at the Royal Albert Hall. It retains the full atmosphere of the actual performance with a dazzling variety of material: gospel spirituals ("The Gospel Train" and "Were You There"), a jazz waltz in 5/4 time ("Sing Of The Lord's Goodness"), omnipresent Graham Kendrick ("There Is A Redeemer"), favourite hymns ("Jesus Christ Is Risen Today" and "Jerusalem" - the latter of course ironically the other Proms favourite), George Gershwin ("American In Paris") and a virtuoso performance of "Jupiter" from Gustav Hoist's 'The Planets'. It's an album which is bound to do well. And it's one which further cements the progress of Proms Praise. But what of the future? Nick Page is confident that there's still much for Prom Praise to achieve. "I think that as far as Prom Praise is concerned, its style is set (although it's different every time we do it) because of where it came from with that 'Last Night of the Proms' feel. Langham Arts, which has been set up to look after Prom Praise, is very conscious that that approach works well but there's a lot of people whose appreciation is much wider than that, so for instance, at Christmas we're doing an event called 'Christmas Spirit' in association with Christmas Unwrapped.
That will be more of a variety show - an enjoyable evening of celebration of the real meaning of Christmas including sketches and music."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.