Auld Lang Syne (literally “old long since”) is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns, set to the music of a traditional folk song. It is typically sung at the stroke of midnight to celebrate the beginning of a new year. But it is also sung to mark other endings — graduations, funerals, etc. In a particularly moving rendition during World War II, a Japanese ship carrying over 1,000 passengers (mostly Australian prisoners of war) was sunk, and as the ship went down, the Aussies in the water sang it for their mates trapped on board.
As I come to the end of my roller coaster ride through 2011, I have lots of contemplating to do about the ups and downs of the past year. One of the great things about this stage in life is that there’s plenty of time for contemplation (IF I rein in my lifelong go-go-go obsessive compulsive tendencies). I’ll spend time in the next week or so reflecting upon the past year and where I am and where I want to go.
But it doesn’t take much reflection to know that what was most important last year was the old acquaintances who fortunately have not been forgot and, more importantly, have not forgotten me. And they’ve been bolstered by new acquaintances that I know won’t be forgot.
Friends and family become increasingly significant as the years go by.
And God knows when I look at what’s happening in our country these days we all need to take a “cup of kindness yet” . . . or better a large pitcher of it.
When I look back at all the times I’ve sung (badly) Auld Lang Syne, a couple stand out — one small scale, the other huge. But both involved being with loved ones who joined with others in a larger event of significance.
The small scale event occured when I was playing cards with my wife and a good friend from my childhood days in the kitchen in the back of our old house on Sherier Place, here in the Palisades. We heard some noise coming from the direction of the trolley stop beyond my back fence. So we went down to see what was going on. It turned out that groups of people were gathering at the trolley car stops up and down the line (the trolley service was being discontinued), to watch the last trolley car come into the city from the end of the line in Maryland. Our group sang Auld Lang Syne as it passed.
The large-scale event is the singing of Auld Lang Syne at the traditional closing of the “Last Night of the Proms” concert in London. For those not familiar with it, the Proms is an eight-week series of summer concerts sponsored by the BBC. The last night, which is very different from the other nights, is a two-part concert. It usually takes place on the second Saturday in September. The first half of the concert features the playing of popular classics, with the selection changing each year. But what makes the “Last Night of the Proms” so special is the second half — a series of British patriotic pieces. Although not listed in the program, the Prommers have made a tradition of singing Auld Lang Syne at the end of the concert.
The concert is performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London but also is shown on large screens in Hyde Park and throughout the UK. It has been described as “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival.”
Tickets to the Royal Albert Hall concert are extremely hard to come by. Back in the early 1990s, my London-based dear departed friend Richard (R.I.P.) managed to snare two tickets. It was an unforgettable experience. More recently, I watched the concert with the masses in Hyde Park in the company of Terry, one of my best pals.
(It was appropriate that my “royal” concert was with Richard and the “masses in the park” was with Terry. Richard used to throw a big party for the Queen Mother’s birthday. Terry, a barrister, defended the striking coal miners when I first knew him and didn’t give a damn about the Queen Mother or her birthday. Yet Terry and Richard adored each other.)
To give you an idea of what precedes Auld Lang Syne here’s Rule Britannia as sung at the 2008 concert;
And how about this playing of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstances in 2006:
Finally, let’s all join hands and sing:
And so here’s to all my family and friends: