“Will Sing For Flash Mobs”

By Katherine Shields

Musings of a Musician Mom, Opus 2, No.11 December 24, 2010

It’s Christmas time in the desert! Without snow to lend that picturesque “home for Christmas” look, you have to fake it with some serious high-wattage yard decorating ala “Clark Griswald”. In this town, we’ve got holiday light displays so big that when they get flicked on each evening the lights dim in every casino in Las Vegas.

Staying out of any shopping mall after Thanksgiving is one of the basic tenets of my religion, along with a few other little-known commandments such as “Thou shalt not covet thy brother’s 12inch solid milk chocolate Santa” and “Thou shalt not play Christmas gigs involving flying angels, singing Christmas trees and electric guitars.” The only thing that will get this composting, recycling , fishing, hiking, viola-playing, homecooking, shopping-hating, chamber music-loving Musician Mom to any shopping mall in December is a good old-fashioned “Hallelujah Chorus” flash mob. I thought a flash mob was some kind of political protest, or one of those internet “music teacher hoaxes” when I got the email about this event. Still a skeptic, I watched the YouTube of the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s “Hallelujah Chorus” flash mob which took place in a downtown Macy’s store with accompaniment provided by an enormous theater organ. It was absolutely stunning- the music, the incredible resonance, the surprised looks followed by smiles on the faces of the unsuspecting shoppers, the thunderous applause and cheers after the music died away. In that digital video moment I became a flash mob believer. At the appointed mall on Wednesday there must have been 2000 people in the food court; I think 1000 of them were there to sing. I dragged my two children and Climber’s best friend along with me, bribing them with the promise of snacks and visits afterwards to the “Game Stop” AND the puppy store.

We got our eats at Paradise Bakery and strategically positioned ourselves just outside the food court atrium by an escalator. Actually, the place was so packed with Christmas-sweatered holiday shoppers we couldn’t have gone anywhere else if we’d tried. After parking the stroller we commenced the snacking portion of the program. After scarfing two $3.75 cinnamon buns, the two boys-without a word to mecharged up the escalator. Terror-stricken, I grabbed the little girl and followed. I was in the middle of remonstrating with them when at 11:45, a full fifteen minutes before the appointed hour, what should my wondering ears hear but a zillion people singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.” In mid-harangue, I began singing while rummaging in my totebag for the cleverly-concealed score. I was shuffling pages around when Ballet Girl grabbed a couple and started singing. I took the only pages left in treble clef and chimed in, not realizing that I had page 1 of the alto part and page 2 of the soprano. At this point we were standing next to the “Pillow Pets” kiosk. My daughter took advantage of my distracted state and tried to talk me into buying a pink poodle “Pillow Pet,” using the famous “grab and whine” play. I spent most of the rests in my part trying to wrestle the toy away from her. “For- the Lord God om-ni-po-tent reign-eth…Halle-lu-jah”…put that down, I’m not buying it…. “Halle-lu-jah, halle-lu-jah”…I MEAN it….”Hal-le-lu-jah”…do it NOW or you’re grounded! The really exciting part was getting trapped on the second floor when music was over. The throng of people in the food court was so huge that the security guards closed the down escalators. We were marooned behind a gate guarded by two

burly security guards, directly above the stroller, all of our food and drinks and Ballet Girl’s pink faux-alligator handbag. Then , while we were waiting patiently for the gates to open, watching people arrive on the UP escalator, the singing started again---

I never did hear the promised recorded accompaniment played on the mall’s PA system. And there was no-one singing anywhere near me, except Ballet Girl- who barely reads, but chimed in on all the Hallelujahs with gusto. I would have had a better musical experience if I’d been in the middle of the food court with all the other singers.

But after all, I’m not really a singer- and I’m not convinced the “Flashmob” concept is about a supreme musical experience for the performers, or a great performance for the listeners. It’s about a paradigm shift from the widely-held belief that music happens only in concert halls and is listened to only by people sitting in seats. These days we’re challenging that belief. Music is fifty tubists dressed in Santa suits on the steps of the courthouse playing Christmas carols; a second-grade class performing “The Barber of Jump Street” and thirty viola players playing the National Anthem before a Diamondbacks game. It’s bluegrass jam sessions, gospel choirs, polka bands, gamelan orchestras, alp horns and Tibetan monks playing metal bowls. It’s the Beatles, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys and Beethoven, and the porcupine I heard sing the first five notes of a major scale. So I’m out there in a little corner of the world, doing my own singing, kids choir conducting, chamber music coaching, viola playing and teaching, opera orchestra, contest adjudicating, Musican Mom thing. I don’t know quite where it’s all heading, but I’m glad I’ve learned to improvise. It’s important that the music keeps on going. Because if it stops—the silence will be deafening.

Katherine Shields lives in the Phoenix, AZ area. Between flash mobs, she writes “Musings of a Musician Mom” for Scribd.com. She is a rank-and-file violist with the Arizona Opera Orchestra and is on the Teaching Artists Roster of the Arizona Commission on the Arts with Quartet Sabaku.

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