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The Power of Public Performance

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The power of music is not exclusive to the concert hall or dedicated music lover.

At approximately 8:00am on March 23, 2009, Antwerp, Belgium’s bustling Central Station was overrun by what might be described as a “flash mob.” For those who are unfamiliar, a flash mob is defined by Wikipedia as “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then disperse.” However, what occurred in the Antwerp train station, though quite unusual, was not exactly pointless. With the song “Do Re Mi,” the classic track from The Sound of Music, piping in through the train station’s public address system, two dancers in casual attire suddenly started performing a routine in the middle of the station’s main lobby. They were quickly joined by several others, and then more and more, until over 200 people were performing a choreographed song and dance routine in front of astonished and quite visibly delighted commuters. To date, the YouTube clip of this event has been watched almost 22 million times (go to www.youtube.com and search: “Sound of Music Antwerp”).

On Saturday, October 30th, 2010, a flash mob hit the City Center Philadelphia Macy’s department store. The Opera Company of Philadelphia coordinated the gathering of over 650 singers, both from the Opera and a number of community choral groups, who infiltrated the store dressed as customers and, at 12:00 noon, dropped their bags and began a rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” as stunned shoppers looked on. That YouTube video has amassed almost 7 million hits in the few months since it occurred.

Another seemingly spontaneous version of the Hallelujah Chorus is my own personal favorite, this one taking place in the food court of the Welland Seaway Mall in Ontario, Canada. After a brief organ intro, one man stands up and begins singing the first verse, “Hallelujah,” to the surprise of those around him. After a moment, he is joined by another singer. One by one, members of Chorus Niagara pop up and add their voices to the song, as shoppers and passers-by stop dead in their tracks with smiles on their faces and wonder in their eyes. The YouTube video for this event, which took place on November 17th, 2010, has been seen a whopping 29 million times.

The song and dance in the Antwerp train station was put on by a local theatre company as a promotional stunt for an upcoming run of The Sound of Music. The event at the Philadelphia Macy’s was a part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s goal of putting on 1,000 “Random Acts of Culture” over the next three years. And, according to the description on YouTube of the performance in the Ontario food court, that event was organized simply to “wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.”

In all three of these instances, the venue was given advance notice, as there is musical accompaniment playing through a P.A. However, the effect produced on the unsuspecting audience is incredible. Between the visible wonder, awe, delight, and excitement, these videos are a tangible demonstration of the power of music. While perhaps only a few of the folks strolling through that Canadian mall would consider attending a community (or school!) choir concert, it’s a safe bet that everyone who witnessed that performance left with smiles on their faces and a memory they will not soon forget.

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