FLASHMOBS—THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
I got sucked into YouTube with several flashmobs happening in malls, train stations and other places in different parts of the world. Some of the scenes are worth sharing.
The great attraction to me is the spirit and goodwill of these events. To hear familiar music performed in new environments for an unsuspecting public gives it new life. Suddenly ordinary “shoppers” sing a scene from Traviata or Carmen in a department store. It completely reframes the music for me, as if a great director has turned a mundane world into a work of art. The people who are lucky enough to be near a flashmob are obviously delighted to see these scenes unfold in a familiar place. Suddenly spirits are lifted and everything seems possible. Here is a wonderful example.
The instant connection that is made between these opera characters and the general public really defies the notion that opera is an art form for the elite. When people hear it, they usually love it — as they do by the millions when the MET in New York transmits operas directly to movie screens around the world. The cost is close to a movie ticket. The “elite” label probably comes from the high price of going to an actual opera house, and the formal dress and behavior. Gone are the days when opera audiences booed and threw tomatoes.
Here is more flash-mobbing, which the performers seem to love as well.
The formality of music and dance concerts has always been awkward to me. The same goes for jazz. I especially feel I’m an outside observer when jazz is played in large halls and I’m sitting in a row of chairs instead of enjoying my beer in a club. The jazz musicians probably feel the same way, because they are generally less spontaneous in formal halls.
How can concert halls and opera houses imitate the feeling and excitement of flashmobs? Perhaps this is a question for architects and acousticians to work out — how to connect the public to the performer and remove what is known in the theater as “the fourth wall” and invite the listener in.
If you look at any of the links to flashmobs you’ll see in people’s faces what I’m talking about — curiosity, smiles, laughter, dancing, children waving their arms and jumping up and down, all the signs of happiness. The crown prince of Bhutan, Sasho Wangchuck, has just declared that his country is focusing on the “Gross National Happiness” rather than the GDP. Perhaps he is a fan of flashmobs.