The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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A Taste of Heaven

I think the Last Night of the Proms is a little bit like the new creation.

It’s a bold claim, but bear with me.

For a start, there’s joy, and plenty of it. The performers exchange their usual black outfits for bright dresses and pin flowers in their buttonholes. The conductor’s podium is festooned with streamers, party poppers may explode at any moment, and air horns regularly accent the music. It’s silly and exciting and you can’t help but smile.

Although it’s often thought of as a thoroughly British evening, the flags on display come from all around the world. Even the conductors in recent years have been Finnish, Czech, and American; Sir Andrew Davis will be the first Brit to take the helm since 2011. The Last Night may not quite cover every nation, tribe, people, and language, but it’s heading in that direction. And this isn’t a stony-faced, silent crowd. This multitude raises its voices to join together in song.

Despite its reputation, the Last Night isn’t all waving flags and patriotic songs. For example, this year’s concert will include the world premiere of Songs of Darkness, Dreams of Light by Roxanna Panufnik. Commissioned by the BBC, this work commemorates the end of World War One – and it reminds us that, even if WWI didn’t turn out to be the war to end all wars, one day there truly will be no more war.

I may not have convinced you. But is it such a ridiculous idea? It’s not that far from the image used throughout Blest Pair of Sirens, the piece that will end the first half of the concert. Here, Hubert Parry (composer of Last Night-regular Jerusalem) sets to music John Milton’s At a Solemn Music, which expresses a longing for the perfect music of heaven. To suitably jarring harmony, we hear how sin ‘broke the fair music’, yet there is a desire to keep in tune with heaven until, at last, we ‘live with [God], and sing in endless morn of light’.

And that’s one way the Last Night of the Proms is totally unlike the new creation. It may be a party, but it’s also tinged with sadness, because it is an ending – of the Proms, of summer. But there will be no sadness in the new creation, and there will be no ending. That joyful celebration will go on for all eternity.

Pippa James
Pippa is Executive Assistant at LICC


  1. THA K YOU!

    By Susan Lansley  -  7 Sep 2018
  2. Certainly an interesting perspective and a good billing for both events!

    By Jill  -  7 Sep 2018
  3. Some years ago I had a vision of Jesus playing electric guitar and singing over his Church/Bride “I feel wonderful because I see the love light in your eyes, and the wonder of it all is that you just don’t realise how much I love you…… oh my Darling you were wonderful tonight” That’s one live performance I don’t want to miss!

    By Peter Riley  -  7 Sep 2018
  4. Thanks. This has reminded me of the sheer joy of hearing the world premiere of Esenvalds’ glorious setting of Longfellow’s poem “A Shadow” at Prom 9 with the World Orchestra for Peace. The opening line is simply stunning. I moan about the BBC a lot but there is also a huge amount to be thankful to them for.

    By Trevor Stammers  -  7 Sep 2018
  5. Well, the memories came flooding back! I can remember singing Hubert Parry’s ‘Blest pair of Sirens’ when I was at school. It was in the summer of 1956 and I still have my copy of the score, which cost the princely sum of 3 shillings and 6 pence (17.5pence)! In those days for me it was just a great musical piece to take part in, but reading the words again today, I realize how inspirational they are! The two ‘sirens’ that John Milton refers to are ‘the harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse’. As one line says, ‘O may we soon again renew that song and keep in tune with heaven’. Amen to that!

    By David Shillitoe  -  7 Sep 2018
  6. That’s certainly an intriguing vision Peter!
    And a great post Pippa. It’s always enlightening to consider how events, happenings and dimensions of life in this world point towards the spiritual & eternal.
    I blog (linked here) on such signs & rumours of wonder in films & popular culture…eg a recent post on ‘The Escape’ film, which I billed:
    ‘It’s anything but escapist. But in this film about one woman’s flight from domestic drudgery through the prism of art, hints abound of a better beyond…’

    By Bruce Gulland  -  7 Sep 2018
  7. Thank you Pippa! Good to have something so positive. And since you say “A bit like ” no one can quibble theologically. Like Jesus’ parables which are such excellent illustrations but not literal. Great fun. I will watch you singing from my sofa and wave my flag..

    By Peter Gowlland  -  7 Sep 2018
  8. Lovely.

    By Cynthia Tews  -  7 Sep 2018
  9. Indeed, it is a great fun occasion..but in one way it is not like a foretaste of heaven. Although there are many nations flags waved, and a number of the ‘performers’ over the weeks were from many cultures, I again looked in vain to find many black or brown faces among the ‘audience’ or among the instrumentalists and singers. Could it be that this is an example of something that is considered ‘typically British’…but prominently of one side of the peoples of Britain today? Not a criticism..a genuine question. (Could it be that the ‘British’ Notting Hill Carnival is the other side of the coin?)

    By John Battman  -  10 Sep 2018
  10. thanks Pippa-a really interesting article-well in tune with my thinking!

    By simon grew  -  10 Sep 2018

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