What on Earth is a Flash Mob?

A lone cellist gets the music started.

A lone cellist gets the music started.

When a group of people gets together suddenly and unexpectedly for a purpose (sensible or not) that group may be called a flash mob. These gatherings, appearing to come out of nowhere, have gained some notoriety in the connected digital world — it’s just so easy to arrange them via communication tools and via social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Most often when I hear people talk about flash mobs, it has to do with crime. A large group of people descends on a small store, for instance, and clears off the shelves. Several countries have gone so far as to make flash mobs illegal. But most of these crowd events have nothing to do with crime or criminal behavior.

After a few more musicians join in the conductor arrives.

After a few more musicians join in the conductor arrives.

Most of the flash mobs today are for fun, and may even offer surprised audiences the opportunity to learn something. Interesting “mobs” may include dancers, music, improvisational theatre, poetry readers, or social protesters. Now, as experience with flash mobs expands, another purpose of these gatherings is to promote products

Sometimes a flash mob occurs and the event has nothing to do with digital communication. It becomes a performance  — not at all related to the social media-inspired gatherings encouraged by Twitter or Facebook.

In December 2013, a few of the visitors at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum were surprised by a single musician, a cellist, who came in and began playing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring in the huge main atrium.

Two singers await their cue in the balcony.

Two singers await their cue in the balcony.

The bulk of the visitors did not pay much attention, because musicians playing carols just before Christmas is not especially surprising. But as the cellist continued, a string bass, violins, flutes, a conductor, and eventually most of the Air Force Band and orchestra joined in. The musicians came from the floor, they rose and began playing in the balconies, and sometimes they were in the crowd and simply took off a coat, revealing an Air Force uniform, and began playing right where they were.

By the time a dozen musicians took the floor, the crowds in huge atrium began to quiet down, whipping out their cameras and looking in all directions to see where the music would come from next. Eventually singers form the Air Force Singing Sergeants joined in the production, and later on the trumpeters blazed forth from above. Just about everyone in the area focused  on the musicians.

Trumpeters

Trumpeters!

The video, which I’ve embedded below, demonstrates the changes in the crowd’s attention and finally the concentration of the audience. It also shows the smiles,  the looks of amazement, and the uniform joyousness about the music appearing out of nowhere. I’d venture to say that it was a musical experience that many of the children in the audience — OK adults, too — will long remember.

Below the Air Force video I’ve added links to several more interesting flash mobs.

Enjoy this video!

A Few More Really Good Flash Mobs

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