Monday, December 20, 2010

Flash Mobs, Random Acts of Culture, Etc.

It started, so far as I know, with a bunch of people dancing to "Do-Re-Mi" from The Sound of Music (the recording by Julie Andrews, of course) in a train station in Antwerp.  If you haven't seen that, it's worth tracking down on YouTube.  It's fantastic.  Then a cell phone company organized something similar in a train station in England (for a commercial, I think).  It was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to make such unexpected outbursts of performance work with music.

This past October, the Opera Company of Philadelphia landed on just the thing:  sing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah in the middle of a department store.  And not just any department store:  this was the old Wanamaker's (now it's Macy's) where there is a monster theater organ.  The organist launched into the opening ritornello, but that wasn't unusual: organ music plays quite often in the store.  But then the singers--hundreds of them--joined in, to the surprise and delight of the shoppers. People looked on in amazement, and plenty starting singing along.  The expressions on the faces are priceless. The video of the event went viral on YouTube.  You can find that one, too.

I'm a cynic in many ways.  I figured by the second or third time I saw this, I'd think it was old hat.  No such luck.  Each time somebody sends me the link (and I've gotten it at least a half-dozen times), I watch and I'm thrilled.   There was a similarly unannounced sing-along of the Hallelujah Chorus more recently at a food court in a mall (in Canada, I think), and people have been sending me the link to that YouTube video as well.  That one starts with one singer, who looks like she's talking on her cell phone, launching into the theme.  Then another guy takes it up, and then one posing as a janitor does it, and so on, until there's a whole gang of people singing--including some who just showed up for a burger and fries. Still not old hat.  Still thrilling.

So perhaps you can imagine my delight when it got noised about that folks were going to attempt to have a "spontaneous" sing-along of the Hallelujah Chorus here in the Valley of the Sun.  It happens at the Scottsdale Fashion Center food court this Wednesday (12/22) at high noon.  I suspect that every available choral singer for miles around will be there (the hope is that we will exceed the 650 reported to have taken part in Philadelphia).  I can't wait.

My enthusiasm dimmed a little when I heard an NPR story this afternoon about such things happening all over the place.  They interviewed a lady from Kansas City who had just organized one there.  I was a bit disappointed that Phoenix was just a little behind the curve; that we'd be just one more flash mob, part of a trend (but not a trendsetter).  I'm guessing that nobody at the mall on Wednesday will really be surprised by the outburst, and the surprise, after all, has been a big part of the fun.

But my disappointment, if that's what it was, was short-lived.  When you think about it, even briefly, isn't it pretty fabulous that a huge number of singers (I will report later how many) all show up at the same time to sing what is arguably the most famous piece of music in the western world?  And that even people who don't know it's going to happen are moved and join in?  I mean, how cool is that?  Pretty cool, actually, and most of the time conducting choral music doesn't seem like the coolest thing a person could do (it's what I do).

So for one brief shining moment this Wednesday, we won't be either ahead of the curve or behind it.  We'll just be cool.  And that's pretty cool, if you ask me.

UPDATE, 12/21:  Even something like a flash mob can backfire. Here's news from Sacramento this morning:

LA Times Story

Comments about the stories are all over the place, but are mostly dominated (it seems to me) by grouches. Here's one example:

McClatchy Story

(Scroll to the bottom for the readers' reactions.)

The same story is posted here, but again note readers' comments at the bottom.

I stand by my original sentiment. You just have to see the reactions on people's faces to realize that this is not some inconvenience. It's a pretty cool way to share music, and it emphasizes, it seems to me, that we have more in common than we have differences.

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