This weekend just gone brought with it several significant events. It was (as if you need reminding) the first weekend of the new term; it was the first in-house Saturday for our boarders and our new Head of Boarding, Mr Baurance; it was the first set of sung services for our choristers, which brought with it the investiture of our new Senior Choristers Rowan, Lottie, Izzy, Felicity, Hector, Oscar and Théo (many congratulations to them). It was also, and here we get to the important issues of the day, the return of Strictly Come Dancing to our TV screens and – at the same time – the Last Night of the Proms. The joint appearance of these two on-screen events was met with much jubilation in the Featherstone household. Both events are compelling viewing; both shows are iconic and much-loved; and yet both for different reasons.
The Last Night of the Proms is pageantry, orchestral music, circumstance and not-a-little pomp at its (slightly tongue-in-cheek) finest. It is an institution and a warmly-held tradition that’s been going since 1895. It’s familiar, traditional, comforting and widely respected, and people love it. And quite right, too. I have only been to the Last Night once (a mother-in-law in the BBC Singers meant the occasional ticket to some big dos) but it will be a while before I forget the might, majesty, joy and magnitude of a seriously fun event. I also won’t forget those Prommers who, with quasi (and occasionally actual) aggression, determinedly went through the traditional movements and stages of the Last Night: their ferocious focus on sticking to the dogma of the event at all costs (including glaring, growling, flapping and shushing at those who perhaps weren’t doing things the ‘right’ way), was a bit of a sad thing to behold. Seeking to (be seen to?) uphold the traditional fun and spontaneity of an event (designed in the first place to be inclusive) by anxiously stamping out precisely both of those qualities was something I didn’t really get. I don’t think they did either. From my seat up in the gods (and perilously close to the organ loft) I saw tradition at its very best and at its very worst.
If the Last Night of the Proms represented (telly-visually, at least) tradition, Strictly represented the modern, the new, the energetic and the ringing of the changes. A whole host of new celebrity dancers were introduced on Saturday night, each of them about to push themselves outside of their comfort zone and try something new – live on TV. The new stars, some new professionals, new routines and new favourites for each of us (I’ve been told that our favourite is to be Dr Ranj) mark the return of a familiar format and context, but with much that is new: exciting adventures await. That’s a very appealing mix, and I am looking forward to tuning in in 8 days’ time. I’m also wondering whether I’ll be able to make it two years on the (fox?) trot that I win the staff room Strictly sweepstake.
As a School we should be a little bit Last Night and a little bit Strictly. The history of ECS is long and distinguished (founded in 1179 as the Chorister School, Exeter); our heritage and our traditions are deep-rooted and an absolutely integral part of who we are. At the same we seek to be innovative; to offer freshness and vigour; to provide opportunities that are new and exciting; to embrace change and to help our pupils embark on new adventures with appropriate confidence: in short, to help them acquire the right habits for life. This is a best-of-both worlds moment – and I hand-on-heart think that the ECS balance is the right one, and that we genuinely do offer the very best of both of those worlds to our pupils. Our statement of aims (you can find this on our website) makes it clear that we are an Ancient foundation with Traditional values and a Modern approach. Each of those capitalised adjectives is important, and each of them feeds in to the daily experience of our pupils, and to the culture, feel and ‘vibe’ of our School. An amalgamation of the Royal Albert Hall and the Strictly Ballroom – what a marvellous place that makes.