Friday, December 24, 2010


This blog post is more like a true web-log, drawn mostly from the links on Arts Journal’s blog called “Life’s a Pitch,” a review of the music world.

The Sacramento Choral Society was holding what police called a "well-publicized" event to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" in the mall's food court, scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
But less than an hour beforehand, too many people had crowded into the mall.  The police had to evacuate them.   Turns out, the free performance was a bit too well-publicized.

A comment by Maren Montalbano gives background.  "The Hallelujah chorus flash mob idea started in Philadelphia, when the Opera Company of Philadelphia produced a "Random Act of Culture" at Macy's on October 30. Ever since then, there have been dozens of groups pulling off similar things all over the continent, which is incredibly exciting! It's just too bad that things in Sacramento got so crazy."

The Opera Company of Philadelphia video can be found here:

What Philadelphia understood and Sacramento did not was that the idea of a “flash mob” is for the people who are in on the deal to keep it a secret, using cell phone technology to suddenly appear somewhere at the same time for some purpose.  When you see the Phillie tape, you understand how astounded everyone not "in the know" was -- the astonishment was part of the performance.  Self-promotion was not the deal.

Go to “Life’s a Pitch” for the rest of the links.

Of course, if the event could publicize the singing group, PR folks were quick to understand that it could just as easily publicize the location and Nordstrom leapt right to it.  Seattle is Microsoft country, a kind of flash mob for the last decade, all seeking commodification, so  Seattle Symphony Music Director Gerard Schwarz joined forces with Nordstrom to present a version of the Hallelujah Chorus themselves. The performance involved the Seattle Symphony Chorale and over 500 local singers. There's a video linked at “Life’s a Pitch.”

Almost immediately a sit com picked up the "flash mob" idea (this time it's dance and a gay theme is woven in): Modern Family is the sit com.  Linked at "Life's a Pitch."

Then inevitably Messiah became a Nordstrom franchise and there were performances in Santa Anita, California with the LA Master Chorale, and in Dallas, Texas with the Dallas Bach Society. Who knew Nordstrom was such a supporter of random acts of song?  Santa Anita and Dallas are linked from “Life’s a Pitch.”  You CAN go direct to YouTube which has enough versions and discussions to crowd a shopping mall.

The best comments were appended by readers to “Life’s a Pitch.”

By carol:
Whatever brings music into the public domain is a big plus. Audiences for classical music and opera have become almost uniformly gray-haired. Exposure like this is bound to enlighten people and build appreciation for the glories of Western civ.

By Zachary:
I can't help but be reminded of The Messiah, a film by French photographer Willy Ronis. In the film he juxtaposes a production of Haendel's work with images from prisons, Vegas, poverty, Wall Street, and the text of the work which takes on entirely new meanings...America's hypocrisies and suffering against one of the cornerstones of Western creation. How is it that such a wonderful composition now finds its audience, AND performers in...a shopping mall at Christmas? Perhaps I'm playing the role of Scrooge here but I am far less charmed by these events than others may be in terms of potential cultural behavior and "consummation."

So there are your issues:  is the ultimate consideration raising consciousness about the glories of music like this  or should the music be celebrated in the context of social action, the enormous shortfall between what we pretend we are doing and what we are actually achieving -- or even trying to achieve.  NPR, always conscientious, tries to do both and has been pointing out how much of our Christmas silliness is rooted in 19th century bourgeois commodification that wiped out the Puritan idea of Christmas as a time of repentance and fasting, a dark turn of the year when we beg for forgiveness instead of trying to “commodify” the lives of those who don’t have enough the rest of the year.

Here are some wiki facts for you to drop into the conversation at Christmas parties.

"Messiah is an English-language oratorio composed by George Frideric Handel, and is one of the most popular works in the Western choral literature. The libretto by Charles Jennens is drawn entirely from the King James and Great Bibles, and interprets the Christian doctrine of the Messiah. Messiah (often but incorrectly called The Messiah) is one of Handel's most famous works. The Messiah sing-alongs now common at Christmas usually consist of only the first of the oratorio's three parts, with Hallelujah (originally concluding the second part) replacing His Yoke is Easy in the first part.

"Composed in London during the summer of 1741 and premiered in Dublin, Ireland on 13 April 1742, it was repeatedly revised by Handel, reaching its most familiar version in the performance to benefit the Foundling Hospital in 1754. In 1789 Mozart orchestrated a German version of the work; his added woodwind parts, and the edition by Ebenezer Prout, were commonly heard until the mid-20th century and the rise of historically informed performance."

So, the music has been entwined from the beginning with benefits for the poor.  What could be wrong with that?  Oh, I suppose the biggest problem is that it’s a celebration of white male Euro stuff, on which axis much of Victorian middle class life turned, conveniently dropping out the Irish.  The Unitarian Universalist churches that I served loved the Messiah -- they ignored the dogma in the lyrics which are from the King James Bible.  You could do the same.

Slightly abridged alternative Messiah lyrics (not for NPR)  from

Move out the way when I'm passin' through
I got heads to the front an' the back of you
I got the world in my hands, you can have it too
I got two middle fingers an' they're pointin' at you

I'm the Messiah, I'm anti-celebrity
I'm anti-war like John Lennon in the seventies
Dead Celebs are movin', you're the students
It's time to change the world, kids, here's the blueprint

Somethin' 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'
Like Kurt Cobain's ghost came back an' wrote these lyrics
An' forced America to listen
With a million angry Misfits screamin', "Fuck The System”

I'm the pain in Axle Rose's diary
That's why an 'Appetite For Destruction' lives inside of me
I'm not your typical lyricist
Strippin' naked an' sellin' on appearances

This is for those who came to tackle giants
This is the anthem, 'David versus Goliath'
I'm so sick of bein' caught up in your sideshow
I'm the anti-American Teen Idol

I spread peace through a pen like Bob Dylan
An' crash the set of Popstars while it's filmin'
Expose foes for lies an' propaganda
Like dirty cops swingin' batons on camera

Let's march up these steps an' face the fire
Scratch a match an' burn this empire down
So let the games begin
You either turn with the world or you watch it spin

An' if your dreams were stolen by a liar
Then steal it back with your name as Winona Ryder
Don't be afraid, be stronger divide an' conquer
Come out swingin' like Ozzfest concerts

Time's up, I'm callin' you to rise up
No more walkin' blind with your eyes shut
Find the message hidden in these chapters
Like Black Sabbath records playing backwards

I wait for this like it's a violent game
A cross between Grand Theft Auto an' Max Payne
I'm the magic in the hands of David Blaine
Turnin' back time to the days when [Incomprehensible]

Along came a spider spinning webs of hatred
Welcome to the wonderful world of entertainment
Where stars are born an' celebrities tell lies
The revolution will now be televised

I haven’t tried to sing this with Handel's music.  I mostly just sing “hallelujah.”  Because, indeed, new things are born all the time whether or not they’re bought and sold.

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

Bah, humbug. :)

For me, I could say, as a classically-trained musician, that if I never heard "The Nutcracker" again, which is played all over the USA every Xmas, I would be okay. I mean, it's a great piece of music, but it's often been played to death, and badly played. I've often thought if there could just be a ten-year moratorium on "The Nutcracker," after that time everyone could hear it again as if for the first time, and really enjoy. Even me. So I've avoided it for decades.

But even so, I find myself watching this year The San Francisco Ballet's new production on PBS, which actually is very good. And it's nice to hear the entire ballet well played, and not just the famous pieces from the Suite.