Flash Mob

July 4, 2011

Booklovers wandered through the many and diverse tents at the annual Falmouth Public Library Book Sale on Saturday, July 2, browsing the books, audio books, CDs, and other media, finding treasures, chatting with friends, enjoying the blue skies and warm sunshine.

Suddenly, a lone voice could be heard, singing that melody that Falmouth feels such a connection to, especially on this 4th of July weekend: “America the Beautiful.” In appreciation, a man in the crowd gave the singer, John Yankee, artistic director of the Falmouth Chorale, a warm handshake, thanking him for the performance that had only just begun.

Other singers soon joined in, a few at a time, until 90 singers, members of nine Falmouth choruses, filled the air, singing, with spirit, and real feeling, three verses of Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates’ beloved anthem.

Participating choruses were the Falmouth Chorale, Belle Weather, Cantus Novus, the Choraliers, the Greater Falmouth Mostly all-Male Men’s Chorus, Mastersingers by the Sea, Notescape, the Solstice Singers, and the Woods Hole Cantata Consort.

Onlookers and singers alike were moved by the flash mob and glad to be part of the event.

As Pamela Taft of the Greater Falmouth Mostly All-Male Men’s Chorus put it:

“It was wonderful to unite as a community of singers ….The weather was glorious. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. The people in the crowd were pleasantly surprised and very generous with their appreciation. I had a warm feeling in my heart for the rest of the day. I hope they did as well.”

Judy Willis of Mastersingers by the Sea said:

“It was a truly memorable experience. I enjoyed the surprised expression on peoples faces when they realized an event was unfolding. Singing “America the Beautiful”  with members of other choruses  in the shadow of the Katherine Lee Bates statue made it a picture-perfect day in all respects.”

Singer Marty Tulloch enjoys singing in choruses to hear the beauty of the vocal parts fitting together. The flash mob was a new experience for him because the chorus members were spread out and he had to sing his part independently. He loved the challenge and the experience.

John Yankee, who prepared the singers for the event, was happy with the result:

“There were two important factors for me. First was that almost everyone respected and embraced the idea of personal preparation (practice and memorization) so that the singing would be off-book and thus of higher quality. That, to me, was so important because such a venue–outside, amongst potential noise and distractions–could really be difficult if eyes aren’t up, ears open, and attention focused on unity, expression, and sound.  As a result, it made listeners aware that this community’s choruses have high standards.

“Second, it’s just great that the Falmouth Chorale is so proud of themselves and want to do more. To me, it means the singers feel that this is their group (not the director’s). This sense of identity and ownership is very important; it’s rooted in personal confidence, teamwork, and awareness of growth and accomplishment.”

Though it looked spontaneous, the idea for a flash mob came about several months ago, right after the Falmouth Chorale’s Mozart Requieum concert on March 19 and 20.

“For me,” said Kate Housman, general manager of the Chorale, “the Chorale’s performance and the audience reception were on a new level, and I really wanted to be able to share it again we a new (and unsuspecting) audience. Because of timing, it wasn’t going to be feasible to do a flash mob of any part of the Requiem, but the idea stuck and we began looking at a time to do it this summer.

“The book fair seemed perfect venue: John and I were available and there would be a audience of locals and summer residents. The Friends and the Falmouth Public Library were open and excited about the idea.

“With the event scheduled for 4th of July weekend, and this being Falmouth, “America the Beautiful” was the perfect choice for music.

“Once we were sure we had enough Famouth Chorale members who would being coming, we sent invitations to the other eight adult community choruses, telling singers that they could invite other choristers (from church choirs, etc.) so long the event was kept as secret as possible, and people were willing to commit to memorizing the music using the specific version we sent around.”

There was only one rehearsal, from 11 to 11:30 AM on the day of the flash mob.

Asked if this was the first such collaborative event in Falmouth, Kate said,

“It is certainly the first I’ve been involved with in my four years on the Cape. The Falmouth Chorale holds a unique place in this community; our roots are in collaboration (as the former Interfaith Choir, we started in 1964 as a collaboration of church choirs to sing Handel’s Messiah), and while size isn’t everything, as the largest adult community chorus on the upper Cape, we have the resources and connections (through overlap membership, etc.) to bring people together.

“I’m thrilled with how the event went. My goals were simple: surprise the “audience” with a random act of culture, work together with the many choral organizations in Falmouth, and have fun performing music well.  And I think we succeeded on all three accounts.”

I do too. Those present clearly enjoyed the event, even those who kept looking at books throughout.

The man at the end of the video expressed the opinion of many when he went up to John afterward and said, “You made my day.”

Kate related, “There was one woman who started crying, a child looked up at one of the singers and asked her “am I supposed to be singing, too?” A veteran who was standing behind John was moved and very thankful.

“I loved that people started to clap after the first verse, and how surprised some seemed when we kept going. Watching the various videos, I love the people who were smiling, but kept trying to browse the books anyway.

“But what I’ve loved most is the reactions of the singers leading up to the event: the quiet buzz about town (within the chorus community) in the weeks leading up to the event and their genuine enthusiasm before, during and after. For me, this represents why the chorale’s mission is not just to “…present fine choral music,” but to “celebrate.”

“A lot of people (including participants) have asked me if and when we’re going to do this again. Probably, though when and where will definitely be a surprise.”

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