I think this is the nineteenth year of our summer concert: the “Battle Proms”. It is a wonderful mixture of all the things that draw us together, from listening, singing, gasping, exclaiming and smiling looking up at the fireworks, talking to friends in between the music as well, of course, as eating. Come what may with the weather, it is one large picnic, often quite ornate, with chairs and tables and sometimes with tablecloths as well. Most years we have been lucky and in the one rainy year we continued with fewer people but with stalwart British humour, sheltering under umbrellas.
The “music”, if you like, takes different themes throughout the evening. To my mind, the first “song” is when all 10,000 of us, gathered across the Park grasslands in front of the Castle, turn to listen for the note of the engine of the Spitfire. Around 7.30pm we are all quietly scanning the skies to the north until, with a collective excited gasp, we hear the Merlin engine and then see the outline, before it suddenly swoops in front of us around the Castle.
First built in 1936 in Southampton, the Spitfire was one of the most aerodynamically efficient planes of its time and, unusually, had retractable landing gear. The result of years of development and experience, its design created both speed and manoeuvrability. An estimate suggests, however, that there are just 30 spitfires still able to fly in the UK and its rarity makes it an even more compelling sight and sound.
Whilst the Spitfire flies in the air, the orchestra begins to play. There is something deeply emotional about music. We play it when most troubled, we sing when sharing celebration or grief, it connects us to each other, to nature and, when words fail, the lyricism of music usually finds a way. It lifts us up, creates happy moods and forms such strong memories that I only have to hear a few bars of Ave Maria to be cast down to the memorial service for my father long ago or, more happily, to memories of my mother singing a descant in a tiny Norman church in Cornwall. I nudge my sisters (some of whom have lovely voices like our mother)to sing today in her memory!
This Highclere evening is not about demonstrating a new piece of music, or showcasing a new performer. I have always thought it is actually about the audience – all of us – and about playing what so many of us love. Supporting us is the New English Concert Orchestra, and, encouraged by the singers and conductor, Dennis Coombes, everyone joins in and takes part. As the evening light falls, the music accompanies the cannons and the fireworks so that it ends in spirals of colour and lights.
This year we do, in fact, have one further weekend involving music in a month’s time. It is smaller scale and, whilst August is about picnics and relaxing, September is about dressing up, still full of enjoyment I hope, and involves Castle tours as well as jazz music, bands and 1920s dancing. I hope many guests will take to the stage! The arrival story even involves music of a type in that guests are welcomed by music of the barrel organ of the Carousel. We are all looking forward to going round clockwise in circles and riding horses with perfect behaviour! Apparently in North America and mainland Europe they go counter-clockwise …
Songs of summer are precious and transient. I look forward to the Battle Proms and then it is past. (Date for your diary for 2020: Saturday August 1st)
We all trying to seize the moment, which is seems often like the happiness of a bubble on a stream, not something you can hold except in your memory. Perhaps the whisper of the grass, the bustling life of insects, lasts longer. And music? Beethoven commented that “music can change the world”.
I want to be there all over again! While I have been to a concert in front of Powderham Castle with the tablecloths and candelabra, I can only imagine the evening in front of Highclere. Thank you for share this!
It is a wonderful evening with a great atmosphere.
Lovely and fascinating as always, Lady Carnarvon! Thank you for my Monday morning “Highclere fix” !!
St. Louis, MO
How wonderful…I would love to join you.However I live in Barrie Ontario Canada.
I was born in Writtle Essex.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful event.
Every success with your annual event! Your description takes me to memories of brave family, now passed, that experienced the hardships of the war years in England. I was a little girl in California then and only experienced the adults worrying and memories of blackout curtains and rationing. I love that happiness is your celebration! Carry On!!
May the Battle Proms stir the hearts of those attending, excite children seeing it for the first time to love of country, and become a lasting memory of Highclere Castle’s deep but gentle reminder of an illustrious past and a fabulous future. Thank you again for sharing a delightful part of English history.
You are quite right – very well put.
Well done Martha!
Thanks for the forewarning for 2020 date of Battle proms. Today in the USA many of us are preoccupied, esp. El Paso, TX.
The celebration of music guides us through so much of our lives. As you so eloquently share your memories of music and the associated people, it gave me pause. Passing along the healthy memories from generation to generation (l’dor va dor) maintains connections to sustain families. What joy you must feel in providing these events as families create traditions to carry forward in their narratives.
Ida, all our thoughts are with the families who have lost those they loved – so sad, just beyond words.
This particular evening, above, is about being together and as such is one of my favourite evenings of the year.
It was indeed a wonderful evening which I also had the privilege to attend and Lady Carnarvon’s description very much brings the event to life. Readers of her excellent blog might also be interested to know that, for the second year in succession, ‘Battle Proms’ chose to support SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity. On Saturday evening, thanks to the generosity of all those attending, we raised a record sum – £15,934.38; this exceeds the sums raised at Blenheim Palace earlier this year and at Highclere Castle in 2018, the two next highest totals for a single concert.
This money is vital in allowing us to continue our work to support servicemen and women, veterans and their families when they need assistance and enabling us to help them regain their independence and dignity; nothing is more important than that.
Thank you again for the magnificent generosity of all those who attended a wonderful concert on Saturday evening at an amazing, magical venue
Sir Andrew Gregory
Controller, SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity
It is always a joy seeing you and your wife.I always feel humbled by the commitment of your volunteers. Your team offers such practical help and a helping hand. Thank you.
Hello Lady Carnarvon,
Yes a very enjoyable evening. We spoke at the Highclere tent. I did not get a discount, did you?
Hope the organisers will now consider cutting the music during the Spitfire flight, as many would like to hear the roar of the engine.
Have you noticed fewer flags each year? At my first event, I was amazed how many flags were flown from all round the world.
Did you get to visit Kew in July?
Hope to see you again on 28th to show you the black /silver Canadian coins.
Considering what is going on here in the States at this moment, reading your latest installment felt like a soothing touch. So lovely. Thank you.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
A most wonderful time for all on so many levels. Music pulls at our heartstrings, and we remember. The photographs are beautiful, and the Castle looks glorious in the light of the fireworks.
Thank you for sharing more spectacular times, and thank you for your ongoing tributes to the service men and women who sacrifice so much.
Happy August. Summer is gliding on warm wings!
Charlotte Merriam Cole
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
What lovely photography! The fireworks seem to be shouting words of celebration to all who view them. It is appropriate to see them illuminate the Castle! Highclere deserves to be celebrated for enduring for so long, through so many trials, to quote Martha Levinson from Downton Abbey, “through war and peace Downton Abbey still stands!”, or in truth, Highclere Castle still stands. That fact gives us all a reason to celebrate! Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I know I speak for all the readers when I say we feel as if we are all a part of the Highclere Family. We may not be able to be there physically, but our hearts are there with you!!!
Thank you so much
Yes, our carousels do go counter clockwise! The picture of the UK Carousel is lovely. How grand everyone looks!
Thank you from across the pond for the magic you shared in your blog about music and memories made and a glorious evening of celebration! Oh, to be in England!
Another wonderful Monday reading your blog!
I will be at Highclere this Thursday in the afternoon touring your beautiful home and gardens!
I am here on Thursday
I agree, music can be full of memories, and bring back memories sharply sometimes. I can often remember exactly what I was doing while hearing a song 40 years ago, and the feelings I had then.
Music helps with depression; it helps with inspiration, such as in writing like I do; it can calm or exhilarate us, and we include it in almost all our celebrations and remembrances.
Right now I can visualize the music playing while looking at the lovely scenes here.
Val, San Diego, California, USA
When ever I am writing my books I first walk over to choose a CD – usually the same ones – Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, John Rutter …
Hmmmmm. Thanks for the Save the Date notice for the 2020 Battle Proms. We’ll be visiting England next year to celebrate my eldest daughter graduating from High School. We might just have to swing by your lovely neck of the woods. Always love starting my week with your blog.
Thank you – I think it makes a good weekend
The Battle Proms sounds like a fun filled event.. The fireworks and the flights of the historic aircraft must be quite a sight to see. You are quite right, Lady Carnarvon, music can uplift, inspire and arouse a myriad of emotions. Have a wonderful evening.
Oh to be in England!
Music is so powerful and it evokes such vivid memories. This is an aria from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo:
I am Music, who in sweet accents
can calm each troubled heart,
and now with noble anger, now with love,
can kindle the most frigid minds.
It seems that everyone had a wonderful time at the picnic.
I hope everyone did!
My husband and I had the wonderful opportunity of being at the Battle of the Proms as winners of the PBS Sweepstakes in 2014. It was also the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WW1. The evening was very emotional for me, as I am originally from England, now living in America. I was able to meet long lost friends and relatives at Highclere. Singing along with the audience, Rule Britannia, Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory had me in tears. The evening is something I’ll never forget. I hope to come over again one day. Thank you Lady Carnarvon for another lovely and meaningful Monday morning day brightener.
We will for sure celebrate with music and song on May 8th next year – 75 years since VE day.
I was born on May 4th, 1945,in England, 4 days before VE Day. Highclere would be a wonderful place to celebrate my 75 th birthday. I’ll have to think seriously about coming over from America.
Do come over!
Dear Lady Carnarvon: I must say that I love the picture of the lady in the big hat riding sidesaddle in the British way on a carousel horse! So Mary Poppins…one half expects the horse to sail off the carousel and go gallivanting through the festivities. With all the “magic” around, it might seem quite natural…
We all need a bit of Mary Poppins
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Thank you for another lovely post. In your blog you paint vivid pictures of your world at Highclere. It was a true highlight to visit the estate in May, and to meet you. I very much agree with your comments about the power of music to move the soul and to heal the heart. I play my flute in a community band, and sometimes I don’t want to go to the rehearsals when I am busy and stressed. But I make myself go, and I ALWAYS feel much better after playing some music for a couple of hours. It’s so nice that you create these unique opportunities to experience music with the beautiful backdrop of Highclere. Thank you for all you do.
P.s. Can’t wait for the Highclere Gin to be available in the US!
Mountain View, CA
The first shipment is in the US – it is just sorting out distribution. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!
As an American, my heart swells with pride when I hear our national anthem, or watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. However, I can’t help but think, that were I to attend Highclere’s Battle Proms, I would be British for a day.
I read your posts every year, and enjoy your descriptions of the day and concert.
My father had a long interest in airplanes, and knew all about them. He donated generously to the Museum of Flight in Seattle. I know there are exhibits of the Merlin engine and I do believe they have a shell on display. It would be wonderful to hear and see a Spitfire in flight.
The spitfire is amazing – it makes your heart turn..
Dear Lady, Carnarvon,
Nietzsche said that “Without music, life would be a mistake”.
What wonderful occasions you continue to organise at Highclere. And thank you for sharing the photos and your description of the events.
Being present next year at the 20th anniversary of your summer concert, “The Battle Proms”, would be something to strive to attend. Despite there only being slim chances of me being able to attend next year, the date of 1st August 2020 has now been noted in my diary,
Best wishes for every success with all of your other events that are planned for this coming September. I am sure that they will all be a splendid success.
Thank you Jeffrey!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
LOVELY!!!! May your day be a pleasing melody as well, Lady Carnarvon and Highclere team!!!
Ann Catherine Flood
I visited Highclere with a friend on September 10, 2017 for a Vintage Garden Party. I had the opportunity to talk with you about your home. You had family photos displayed around the home. My friend and I had a wonderful time at the party and had our pictures taken with you and Lord Carnarvon. Watching the Morris Dancers is one of the highlights of the day even though they had to perform indoors due to rain.
I find this statement in Cathleen Small’s book “Mummies” published in 2017 untruthful and very disturbing.
“The beloved series (Downton Abbey) is filmed on location at Carnarvon’s home in Hampshire England. Highclere Castle, a massive estate that the current Lady Carnarvon estimates to have between 50 and 80 bedrooms. Descendants of Lord Carnarvon still inhabit the estate although the main house is in need of repair, so the family currently lives in another home on the property.”
How could an author not know that you live in Highclere?
Hope to visit again.
Barb Voigt, Middleton, WI
It is not accurate – I think sometimes we all miss the art of asking, listening and then commmenting..it is a beloved (fictional) series and a beloved (real) home. PS I also loved watching the Morris Dancers performing inside – they were hilarious, such fun!
We just returned from a two week cruise around your island and what a lovely time it was. I did not have very good internet reception and could not do much with email so it was a real treat to return home and find your last three blogs waiting in my inbox.
Thank you. And thank you England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland for your fantastic hospitality.
I know Viking have a lovely cruise around the Uk and Ireland – was that who you were with? I would love to sail around the Scottish Isles!
Sorry for the delay. We were on the Norwegian Spirit. A tired old ship, but very delightful. I believe it is going in to dry dock when this season is completed.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
My heart breaks that we were not able to be with you. Australia is such a long flight! Did you by any chance make a DVD of the evening? That would allow so many of us who long to be there but can’t – to share in your joy. As everyone says – good music lifts the spirit to new levels, and eases the aches and hurt we often face in life. Really wonderful that you raised so much for your charity too. Well done to everyone who “dug deep” for this wonderful cause.
God bless, Anne Stille.
Looks as if everyone had a grand old time. Friends, food, fireworks, and lots of fun on the grounds of majestic Highclere Castle. The music must have been the icing on the cake. No one could have asked for more.
Music enriches us. It soothes the soul and it transports us to the times of our lives. Life would be drab and dull without it.
My thoughts are rambling tonight but I wanted to mention after finishing your book on Lady Catherine I was amazed to read the stories of sacrifice everyone made during World War II. My father was in the Army Air-core. He served in England, France and Belgium. He crossed the pond to come home on the Queen Mary. When he reached home he met my older sister for the first time. She was born while he was away.
Enjoy your week, dear lady!
West Memphis, Arkansas
Thank you – hence my idea of doing something on VE Day
I’m sure whatever you do for VE Day will be spot on. You have a knack for fabulous!
Woops……I didn’t get the comment in!!! Wish I could have attended. These events are monumental!!!!
I enjoyed this post, as I do all of Lady Carnarvorn’s weekly posts. It is very interesting, as always! However, I do not know what Battle Proms are! Is there a quick explanation?
The BBC Proms takes place in London in August – it is just to with music and in this case they fire cannons etc..
I had to laugh at this “I nudge my sisters (some of whom have lovely voices like our mother)…” at least one sister is reading this and thinking to herself “That’ll be me that she’s talking about, the sister WITHOUT the lovely voice…” 😉
That’s the lovely thing about families though, they love us no matter how good (or bad) we are at singing and other things….
I looks like fun!!!! Wish I could have attended!
What a wonderfully evocative post! I could almost hear the music… I was sorting through some files yesterday and ran across the wonderful souvenir book from the opening day of the Capability Brown event that you and your husband. What a captivating an endenduring canvas Mr. Brown created for your outdoors events.
Four of us are planning a trip to England during the spring of 2020. We want to be sure to see Highclere Castle when it is open. A search of the internet indicates that the Castle will be open for tours May 10- May 16, 2020. Is this the correct information? Can you tell me when we can purchase tickets?
This is my latest bright idea – it is series of talks, (plus guided tours of the Castle) over the week around the theme “Living in a Castle” I have not quite worked out who are giving the talks although I have some ideas. It is all written up and now being processed by the computer team to post in the next two weeks. I think it will be fun!
We will be open for the Whitsun Bank holiday but that is free flow rather than guided tours given the much larger number of people.
A lovely and moving description of what sounds like a wonderful event! I am also impressed with the photo of you and Geordie walking back to the castle.