Interestingly, the wild idea for this post was conceived in the most unlikely of circumstances. Woefully scrolling through my online required class, bursting with selfish Buddhists, slave history, feminist mantras, buffalo art, and existential environmentalists, my boredom shattered the laptop screen and killed the excitement for collegiate learning. How does the Tao Te Ching or debates over Civil War slave monuments relate to my humble self? However, amidst the forced culture, liberalism, and civil rights dogma, one jewel of captured time stuck with me long after What Is The Good Life (IUF1000) thankfully ended. One YouTube video, buried beneath an ages-long article about Beethoven’s 9th, opened up a thousand musical possibilities for me in simply five minutes and 40 seconds. One giant bass, one quirky bassoon, three cellos, five violins—and then ten more! The army of $20,000 instruments quickly assembled, a lone tune tooted by one transforming into a shapeless, classy amoeba of Beethoven, Grieg, Ravel, and John Williams. A mob of one suddenly morphing into a sea of fifty or one hundred talented hands producing music purely for the thrill of it…Orchestral flash mobs wrestle the pretension out of classical music and have gained wild popularity on YouTube, especially performances in Europe.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has always lain unfavorably in my eyes, mostly because its tune is too hackneyed, clanging, and familiar to be considered unique or groundbreaking. However, under the sultry influence of Spanish performers and century-old cathedrals, its recognizable notes ceased to be purely routine and distasteful. Banco Sabadell, a large banking firm located in Sabadell, Spain, commissioned the Vallès Symphony Orchestra to perform the Ninth Symphony spontaneously outside of their ritzy headquarters. I managed to withhold emotions while watching The Notebook, Dear John, AND A Walk To Remember, but something about this beautifully compiled music and video broke my dam of solemnity. For six minutes, this German tune, which I formerly distained, was elevated nearly to the ranks of Scheherazade and Petrushka. Although the musicians themselves were talented and in sync (despite the lack of a conductor and fancy symphony hall), the actual notes leaving them was not the reason this video left me breathless. The reactions of the audience—the little boy waving his hands wildly about like a tour-de-force of a conductor, a girl riding upon her father’s shoulders with her small mouth wide open, an elderly Spanish hombre somberly booming out the words to Himno a la Alegria—were absolutely priceless. Classical music isn’t about fancy black dresses, mountains of pearls on rich patrons, or tuxes so stiff one can barely sit—it’s about the power of feeling something intangible, that delightful, sad, or moving essence of sound which communicates itself quite clearly without the white noise of words. This flash mob was orchestrated carefully, but the reactions of the people who randomly enjoyed this sunburst of flavor were not.
After I crashed headfirst into flash mob fever, I binge watched several classical music mobs that occurred in grocery stores, railway stations, folksy outdoor cafes, and touristy courtyards. The diversity of locations was fantastic, although Beethoven’s Ninth seemed to be a popular choice. I guess the wordless message of joy tends to spread infectious happiness…Besides the stellar Banco Sabadell orchestra, I fancied the badass Star Wars flash mob in Cologne, Germany. Imagine a suave French Horn player sitting down in a stained café chair next to you and start playing the iconic notes of George Lucas’ fantasy! I was in Germany this summer, and although I was not afforded this auditory treat, I can vividly imagine a piccolo player mimicking the sounds of a galaxy far, far away in a Deutsche bar. The violins echoed the cosmic rays of the universe as delighted shoppers and children laughed at the unlikely choice of music. It’s obvious these performances are planned weeks in advance, but that does not detract from their vibrant authenticity. It’s interesting to mention that most of these flash mobs occur throughout Europe—Cologne, Paris, Algemesí, Sabadell, etc. The number of United States shows is embarrassing, perhaps because Americans worship the god of sports rather than the snappy Lords of the Baroque, Romantic, and Modern.
Besides purely instrumental thrills, several mobs have sung famous operas into the streets of the peasants. An unstructured version of the Gypsy Song from Carmen was performed spontaneously at a Whole Foods in New York City. With the trianglist clinking away by the nectarines and a flutist chilling by the pears, the zesty Spanish vibe leapt out of the fruit aisle and into the hearts of the shoppers. The vocalists (with Anna Yelizarova as Carmen) were creepily dancing along with the One World Symphony until their mouths opened and a thousand rays of beauty and skill shone through. Imagine dashing to the grocery store for dried apricots, and you end up leaving with a musical treat that would’ve ordinarily cost $100. Surprisingly, this performance was thrown together willy-nilly in only two days, Anna Yelizarova throwing on a spicy red dress and transforming into Carmen overnight. Watch this fruitful show here.
Orchestral and operatic flash mobs are truly a delight because all the smiles, the stunned glances, the unbridled look of joy on the musicians’ faces are real and unrehearsed. The first violin doesn’t have to twirl herself up into a veil of pretension, but just play and play until the border between her worn fingers and glossy strings becomes blurred. Empowering songs that unite (i.e. Beethoven’s Ninth) or damning tunes that strike fear into your heart as you’re at a railway station (i.e. Carmina Burana) only become more piercing at unusual locations and unsuspected times. Bolero becomes the hymn of the trains, Carmen the theme song of tasty kumquats, and Grieg fills a quintessential “quaint” European town with class, the stones and centuries’ old buildings truly echoing the Halls of the Mountain King.