Flashmobs are passé.
Classical music, do you read me?
In the summer of 2003, Bill Wasik, began an experiment called the Mob Project. Wasik used chain emails to gather “inexplicable mobs” in various Manhattan locations for ten minutes or less. Flashmobs were a social experiment, claims Wasik, designed to illumine a cultural need for conformity and to be a player in the “next big thing.” Flashmobs have been using this framework for years now, spreading the news through social networks, texting, and email. Added to Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary of English, a “flashmob” is defined as “a group of people who organize on the Internet and then quickly assemble in a public place, do something bizarre, and disperse.”
I understand that the rank and file of classical music is under constant pressure to make the genre accessible and engaging. Somehow, I get the impression that classical music is playing the role of the unemployed executive begging for a job at Starbucks. Are we that desperate for people to notice us?
There has been a considerable uptick in Atlantic Region musical flashmobs this last year. There was the BSO/WNO “Brindisi” over at Whole Foods. Then, the Macy’s customers in Center City Philadelphia listened to a rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” a couple of weeks ago. In fact, the “Hallelujah Chorus” flashmob was part of the 1,000 Random Acts of Culture project funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The project has funding for the next three years with the mission to put classical music in front of the public, outside of performance halls.
I will admit to a slight phobia of performance art. Unfortunately, that is not the only reason these musical flashmobs strike me as off-putting. Performance art is supposed to be challenging to its intended audience. It breaks with convention about traditional theatre performance and space. Performance art often strives to convey content-based meaning rather than just performance for entertainment’s sake. However, there is an obvious disconnect between flashmobs and performance art. The rise of the classical music flashmob shows an understanding of cultural memes but a lack of mission communication.
When watching the videos, it is clear that the general public (and even some of the singers) have conflicting feelings about their predicament. Devoid of any distinguishable classical music markers or symbols causes people confusion more than anything else. This is the moment in which communication of mission is extremely important. Classical music institutions seem smitten with the idea of the flashmob marketing angle. But, they are acting as group of people who “quickly assemble in a public place, do something bizarre, and disperse” rather than an organization with a clear message.
My message to you, classical music, is this: even if you take music out of a traditional space it is still a performance. Your passion is not a prank. Your hard work is a glimpse into the enlightenment that culture and the fine arts provide to anyone that sees or hears it. You must communicate that your organization’s commitment to excellence provides uplifting experiences season after season. If you want to go outside the office or the performance hall, go. Just promise you will take your message rather than your understanding of an overdone trend.
 Improv Everywhere was created approximately two years before the first flashmob. They do not consider themselves part of the trend. They are an example only for their well-known name and similar characteristics in certain missions.