People are lamenting the loss of gathering and singing together. We grieve the absence of communal artistic expression and experience in our lives.

Ode an die Freude (Ode to Joy), Symphony No. 9, Beethoven’s last symphony, was written, according to Matthew Fox, “despite depression and impending death as a hymn to freedom and joy for all people”. It is now the anthem of the European Union.

In 2012, the Orquestra Simfonica del Valles and the Cor Amics de L’Opera in Sabadell, Spain, created this flashmob of the piece; the approach was repeated by Philharmonie and Hans-Sachs-Chor Nurnberg, in Nurnberg, Germany, in 2014. It’s been repeated in countries around the world and viewers as recently as 2020 are still wiping tears from their eyes.

As you watch either video, notice the response of the audience/crowd: people gather in curiosity; youngsters climb poles and pillars or sit on shoulders to get a better view; headphones come off to listen; video is taken to share the experience with others and to remember later; kids conduct along with the conductor; dancing and applause ensue.

At one point, the entire audience in the 2012 iteration rises to their feet, as they collectively become aware that they are on holy ground experiencing a sacred moment. There is joy, hope, delight, laughter, relief, and bonding. Community is built.

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Church choirs have been absent from one another for over a year. The Delta variant means gathering restrictions may resume. Whether they do or not, how would it be for your choir, musicians, theater troupe, dancers, etc., to create a flashmob? They haven’t been done much in recent years, and were never a regular thing in most of our smaller communities.

Choose a community event or location where folx gather in numbers outside: a local festival, parade, street dance, movie night, etc.; or create an event for the whole community, but let this be a surprise element.

Choose what you will “perform”: something that speaks to the particular times and contexts of your community will be most effective. Ode to Joy worked in these communities because it was becoming the anthem of the EU: it was experienced as a bonding, hopeful selection of music. What in your community’s experience can your congregation address? How can you share a message of grace, hope, joy, community, love? [See here for the importance of getting out into the community.]

A familiar piece of music may be just right: easy for musicians to learn/memorize, and enjoyable to the audience. However, avoid something trite and be mindful of unintended divisiveness or harm: the national anthem, for instance, is no longer experienced as a unifying piece of music as some feel it has been coopted by a particular segment of society; particular pieces of church music may carry similar baggage. Consult with The Ministry Lab if a creative, joyful concept or piece doesn’t present itself.

Utilize community members, but keep the planning team small for purposes of secrecy. Invite the local theater, dance, band, choir, or other directors to help in planning. They’ll be able to foresee and tackle different logistics, and they’ll be able to connect you with young people and adults who might fill your performing ranks. Add a park or DNR person, if out in a park or the wild, or a Chamber of Commerce member to coordinate with local businesses if performing at a local festive.

Plan in advance: flashmobs can be tricky to coordinate. Keep in mind your sound-system or other technology (if needed); personnel; site permits and restrictions; timing (duration of the event you’ll “mob” and duration of your piece in relation to the number of people you’ll need to add to it); costuming (sometimes this can be used to great effect; sometimes it is kept really “normal” to camouflage participants – it’s up to you!); local considerations.

Once everything is coordinated, add your performers – again, sworn to secrecy. Hold as few well-planned rehearsals as possible: one or two should do it. Since you can’t rehearse in the space (usually) be sure to find someplace comparable so there is as little confusion on the day-of, as possible.

If possible, videotape the whole thing: capture the mood prior to the flashmob, notice the very beginnings, catch crowd responses, etc. A drone might come in handy for some of this, but be sure to get facial expressions and particular performers, as well as the big-picture perspective. Share this on social media as a joyful opportunity your congregation was glad to share with the whole community.

You might have a secondary message to share through the flashmob: an opportunity for the community or guests of the festival to join you in a particular way that addresses a local issue. However, you might also leave this as simply an opportunity to share joy and hope – and let folx know that is your whole intent.

Enjoy the smiles and dancing!