flashmob:“a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual act for a brief time, then disperse.” (Wikipedia)
For the year or so that I’ve been watching the occasional video of flashmobs gathering in public places to perform, I’ve wished I could be part of one. But I didn’t wish strongly enough to organize one.
All the videos I’ve been sent took places in major cities like Amsterdam and Philadelphia. I live in a very rural area whose biggest city (Springfield, MA) has a population of only 155,629. And yet, to make a flashmob, you only need a dozen or so people.
I think a lot of the allure of flashmobs is that for the most part, we live in a society where entertainment is provided, prepackaged. Until 1877 when Edison invented the phonograph, if you wanted to hear music, you gathered some friends with instruments and songbooks and made some. If you wanted a theater experience, you played charades. Public concerts outside of major cities were few and far between. Now, every tiny town has live music 20 or 30 nights a year, and many have music every weekend night all year long. We are, for the most part, deprived of the opportunity to not only make our own entertainment but perform it for others. The flashmob at the Holyoke Mall had one day’s notice, no rehearsal. Singers were to wear a solid color indicating their part (my alto wife wore green, other parts wore red or white)—and of course, many people who just happened to be there joined in the singing.
Thursday, I received an e-mail from the organizer of a local folk music sing-along: a flashmob would gather the following day to sing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus at the food court of the largest shopping mall near us, the Holyoke Mall (halfway between our house and Springfield, in a town of 40,005). On a Friday night just before Christmas, it would certainly have an audience. Better still, it was organized by the local opera company; the singing would be worth hearing.
The next morning, my wife, D. Dina Friedman, who sings in a community chorus, got an e-mail about the event that went out to all the chorus members. This was looking better and better. And the timing was perfect; we could drop our son off for the final rehearsal of his school’s winter show, go sing, and be back at school in plenty of time to watch him perform.
The singing was magical. Sound coming from every corner of the large and crowded food court, and a few stunningly stellar voices rising above the crowd. It reminded me of the time more than 30 years ago that I happened to be out on a lawn at my college while the chorus was rehearsing for their upcoming tour, and they invited me to stand within their circle and be surrounded by beautiful sound.
What amazed me the most, though, was not the event, but the aftermath. By the time we returned home after Rafael’s show, when I went to post something on Twitter, I found links to at least two different videos, including this very high quality one posted on the Springfield newspaper’s site.
I sent the link around, and got a couple of “wish I was there” or “how did you find out?” responses. And then last night, I went to a different performance, more than 40 miles away from the shopping mall at a retreat center in a really remote area (it happens to be the most beautiful house I know, one I love to visit for this annual storytelling concert)—and at intermission, I heard people talking about the flashmob and wishing they had known ahead.
In other words, even without a big-city backdrop, this flashmob had an impact well beyond the borders of the food court. E-mail made the event possible; social media gave it permanent life. “And I say to myself/What a wonderful world.”