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Culture in a Flash

The Annapolis Chorale takes Messiah to the masses

In the middle of the shopping rush on the last Saturday before Christmas, one Nordstrom customer stopped browsing and started singing. Another 100 voices joined in, singing a seemingly impromptu but suspiciously professional “Hallalujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.

The reason for the effortless harmony: The Annapolis Chorale was adding an enticing fourth performance to the usual three nights of singing the Messiah.

That’s right, Nordstrom Annapolis was Flash Mobbed.

For those without a You Tube subscription, Flash Mobbing is the art of springing performances — vocal, dance, lip synch and more — on an unsuspecting populace.

“Shopping can be stressful,” says the Chorale’s publicity spokeswoman and flash mobber Katherine Hilton. “Our hope was to give a nice surprise that gives people holiday spirit. Flash mobs are frequently called random acts of culture.”

It may be cultural, but it wasn’t random.

Nordstrom local management, though viewing the term flash mob with a bit of disdain, wanted to emulate a similar surprise performance in a Seattle sister store.

The Nordstrom Annapolis manager “was interested in doing something here. It landed in our lap, and we jumped on it right away,” says Hilton of the Flash Mob performance, which came together in 36 hours.

Hilton — who along with 160 other members of the Annapolis Chorale — frequents You Tube, leapt at the opportunity to emulate the videos of flash mob events so popular on the web video site. The speed seemed to spur the group’s enthusiasm.

“It’s kind of the nature of a flash mob,” Hilton explains. “Some of them are more choreographed than others, but the whole point was to be spontaneous. With our ready-made chorus, it was just a matter of meeting with the store to get the logistics.”

The store made the mobbing surprisingly easy, Hilton reports of the large conglomerate, which typically acts only with corporate approval.

“It was kind of a ready-made space to be in,” says Hilton. “That central escalator bay is perfect.”

The singers walked in at high noon, mingling with the shoppers for a few moments and spreading throughout the store. When all were in position among the thronging shoppers, the singing began.

Joined by members of St. Anne’s Choir as well as friends and family, the Chorale halted holiday traffic.

“A lot of people stopped and listened, and were really excited by it,” Hilton says. “People were smiling, a lot of people whipped out their smart phones to take pictures and video. Some sang along if they knew the piece. I was standing next to a lady who said this is really cool!”

Hilton’s husband, Seth Jason, filmed the flash mobbing for You Tube, braving a crowd that had given up bargain hunting to watch the seasonal spectacle unfold.

With the posting of the video on You Tube, the performance has bigger ramifications. At publication 1,202 virtual viewers have seen their performance.

It’s made for great publicity.

“What’s interesting is we’ve gotten a lot of postings from people,” says Hilton. “One person even subscribed to us online. I guess we need to put more things up.”

See for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl2RE3YazDw.