A beginners' guide to the BBC Proms

Whether you're a newcomer to classical music, or just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of events, here's all you need to know about this year's Proms

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Tickets

As soon as the programme comes out, go through it carefully - not in a nerdy way; just so you can choose your concerts and plan your ticketing strategy. If you're going as a one-off, then it's worth buying a seat. If you want to go on a more regular basis then it's more cost-effective to Prom, which means buying a standing ticket in the gallery or the arena. The gallery has the advantage that you can spread yourself out but the arena is much closer to the action. If you plan to go very often, you can get a season ticket in advance, guaranteeing entry to any Prom up to ten minutes before the start of the concert and potentially working out at less than £2.25 per concert. Otherwise, just turn up on the day, queue, and pay £5 for one of the 1,400 standing tickets.

Queueing

This can be part of the fun or a necessary evil. The latest you can join the queue is 45 minutes before the start of the concert, when Prommers are admitted into the hall. The most sensible time to arrive, however, depends on who's playing. It's infuriating to wait in the queue, only to have the door shut in your face at the last minute due to high numbers. If it's likely to be a popular performance get there early, particularly if you want a good position in the hall. Stewards hand out raffle tickets, allowing people to leave the queue for up to half an hour and then reclaim their place.

Etiquette and ritual

Prommers have an eleventh commandment, 'Thou shalt not barge in at the front if you've only just arrived'. In the past, this unwritten rule tended to be left to the prommers to enforce, resulting in some frayed tempers and righteous bristling during the concert. Once the music has started, the only real etiquette is to listen quietly, however there are a couple of traditions unique to the Proms (see below).

Calls

These range from welcoming the orchestra in the language of the players, to a vocal tennis match on the Last Night. Somebody will shout out 'Anyone for tennis?' at which point the audience in the arena call out 'ping', and are answered by a 'pong' from the people in the gallery.

Prommers' Applause

Similar in technique to normal applause but in the arena, you get a unique strain - the Prommers' Stamp - the mark of an exceptional performance. Someone will begin to stamp their foot slowly, and is joined in unison by other Prommers. The speed will pick up until it gets too fast to maintain and dissolves into general applause.

Survival

Those prone to queue-rage should bring provisions: chocolate and an entertaining companion for ordinary Proms; sleeping bag and thermos flask for the Last Night. As you are not allowed to bring food and drink into the Royal Albert Hall, you should make sure you have consumed your queueing ration before you reach the front door. Thereafter, you are obliged to buy the food and drink for sale inside, which, let's just say, is slightly more expensive than your local supermarket. So, either make sure you are satiated before entering the RAH's hallowed portals, or bring a wad of cash, because it will get hot in there, particularly if you're packed into the arena with all the heaving bodies. And don't go thinking that you can nip over to the said supermarket at half time – there isn't one near enough to make it back in time.

The BBC Proms see the world's biggest and best orchestras and classical performers come to London. Be sure to spend at least one of your summer evenings there.

See our guide to the BBC Proms

Users say

3 comments
Clare Hodgson
Clare Hodgson

Naresh Sohal - The Cosmic Dance (2012-13) - BBC Commission, World Premiere - Friday 2 August Proms - Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Peter Oundjian conductor. My sister and I took my sons aged 13 and 8 to this wonderful concert - we did not get home until 1am but it was a fabulous evening we shall never forget. It was such a privilege to be present for Sohal's world premiere -it was something very special. We truly felt transported to another world from the magical opening to the drama of the big bang. The mystical movement of the galaxies and the beauty of the milky way (with a vivid and inventive depiction of the black hole - my youngest's favourite bit!). Sohal's wonderful soundscapes and colours took us to the sun, moon and culminated in his powerful and moving depiction of the earth. Both boys are drummers and so particularly loved the extensive percussion. Peter Oundjian's excitement was palpable and commanded an inspiring performance from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Katherine Bryan's principal flute solos were particularly communicative and reflected the vast expressive range and variety of Sohal's score. A truly glorious expression of creation which excited and energised both young and old.

Clare Hodgson
Clare Hodgson

Naresh Sohal - The Cosmic Dance (2012-13) - BBC Commission, World Premiere - Friday 2 August Proms - Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Peter Oundjian conductor. My sister and I took my sons aged 13 and 8 to this wonderful concert - we did not get home until 1am but it was a fabulous evening we shall never forget. It was such a privilege to be present for Sohal's world premiere -it was something very special. We truly felt transported to another world from the magical opening to the drama of the big bang. The mystical movement of the galaxies and the beauty of the milky way (with a vivid and inventive depiction of the black hole - my youngest's favourite bit!). Sohal's wonderful soundscapes and colours took us to the sun, moon and culminated in his powerful and moving depiction of the earth. Both boys are drummers and so particularly loved the extensive percussion. Peter Oundjian's excitement was palpable and commanded an inspiring performance from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Katherine Bryan's principal flute solos were particularly communicative and reflected the vast expressive range and variety of Sohal's score. A truly glorious expression of creation which excited and energised both young and old.

Clare Hodgson
Clare Hodgson

Naresh Sohal - The Cosmic Dance (2012-13) - BBC Commission, World Premiere - Friday 2 August Proms - Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Peter Oundjian conductor. My sister and I took my sons aged 13 and 8 to this wonderful concert - we did not get home until 1am but it was a fabulous evening we shall never forget. It was such a privilege to be present for Sohal's world premiere -it was something very special. We truly felt transported to another world from the magical opening to the drama of the big bang. The mystical movement of the galaxies and the beauty of the milky way (with a vivid and inventive depiction of the black hole - my youngest's favourite bit!). Sohal's wonderful soundscapes and colours took us to the sun, moon and culminated in his powerful and moving depiction of the earth. Both boys are drummers and so particularly loved the extensive percussion. Peter Oundjian's excitement was palpable and commanded an inspiring performance from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Katherine Bryan's principal flute solos were particularly communicative and reflected the vast expressive range and variety of Sohal's score. A truly glorious expression of creation which excited and energised both young and old.