Two musical flash mobs

Some weeks ago YouTube brought me a delightful video of a flash mob performance of Ravel’s “Boléro” (in a town square in Toluca, Mexico). About the same time, my Enhance Fitness class (aimed especially at older and disabled participants) at the Palo Alto YMCA conceived of the idea of converting one of our regular exercise routines — done to the original Billy Ray Cyrus recording of “Achy Breaky Heart” — into a flash mob performance in the lobby of the Y (all this achieved at 5 p.m. on Wednesday September 20th).

Both musical flash mobs were “cumulative” — starting with just a few participants, with more and more added in stages until there was a true mob. Especially effective for the Ravel, which starts with a snare drum ostinato to which a flute is added, and then further instruments, a few at a time, as the piece builds to a crashingly loud finale.

Both pieces lend themselves to a flash mob treatment, and there are a number of YouTube videos for each of them, from various parts of the world. After all, each, in its own way, is fun.

By chance, it happens that each is also a “one-hit wonder”, as described in a posting of mine earlier today.

Flash mobs. The N + N compound flash mob describes a kind of mob (NOAD2: ‘a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence’), but without the suggestion of disorganization (quite the contrary): a mob that assembles “in a flash” (NOAD2: in (or like) a flash ‘very quickly; immediately’). From Wikipedia:

A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.

The term, coined in 2003, is generally not applied to events and performances organized for the purposes of politics (such as protests), commercial advertisement, publicity stunts that involve public relation firms, or paid professionals. In these cases of a planned purpose for the social activity in question, the term smart mobs is often applied instead.

… The first flash mobs were created in Manhattan in 2003, by Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s Magazine. The first attempt was unsuccessful after the targeted retail store was tipped off about the plan for people to gather. Wasik avoided such problems during the first successful flash mob, which occurred on June 17, 2003 at Macy’s department store, by sending participants to preliminary staging areas — in four Manhattan bars — where they received further instructions about the ultimate event and location just before the event began.

So a flash mob is far from disorganized, but it is a disruption in the usual social order.

The Toluca flash mob. You can watch the video here. It shows a flash mob performed in a plaza at the center of Toluca, by the Toluca Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Maestro Gerardo Urbán y Fernández (in, I think, 2014). Some people go about their business, moving through the square as they go shopping or whatever, while others arrange themselves as an audience, reacting to the work with pleasure, taking pictures, even — especially the kids — moving with the music.

Thanks to the fact that the Santory women’s fashion store figures prominently in the background of the video, it’s easy to identify just where in Toluca the flash mob took place. A map:


The orchestra from above, close to the height of the performance:


From a 1/6/16 posting of mine with a section on Ravel’s “Bolero”:

The piece builds slowly, getting faster and faster and louder and louder until it climaxes — musically, but mimicking sexual climax — in a wild, clashing finale. [More important, it introduces instruments a few at a a time.]

The city of Toluca. I don’t recall ever having heard of the city before, so I was at first surprised to see that it had a philharmonic orchestra. But, as it turns out, the city is one of a number of large municipalities within the Mexico City metropolitan area, but not inside Mexico City itself. From Wikipedia:

Toluca, officially called Toluca de Lerdo, is the state capital of State of Mexico as well as the seat of the Municipality of Toluca. It is the center of a rapidly growing urban area, now the fifth largest in Mexico. It is located 63 kilometres (39 mi) west-southwest of Mexico City, about 40 minutes by car to the western edge of the city. According to the 2010 census, the city of Toluca has a population of 819,561 [very close to the population of San Francisco CA]. The city is the fifth largest in Mexico in population.

(I’ll get to the “fifth largest” claim in a while, noting here only that according to another Wikipedia article, there are at least 10 cities in Mexico with a population of a million or more.)

The city has large parklands and an attractive botanical garden (especially interesting because of its stained glass). The iconic Toluca building is the Cathedral of San José, which is colonial in style but not in history:

(#3) Construction began in 1867, but was completed only in the second half of the 20th century

(The city wasn’t much damaged by the Puebla earthquake of September 19th, which caused such devastation in Mexico City.)

Briefly on the size of Toluca. The Wikipedia article listing cities in Mexico has Toluca at #32 with 489,333 in the 2010 census – but it’s #5 with 819,561 in the article on Toluca; I don’t understand these disparities. Mexico City, with a population of 8,851,080, is by far the biggest city in population. The top 10 (all with a million or more):

1 Mexico City, 2 Ecatepec, 3 Guadalajara, 4 Puebla, 5 Juárez, 6 Tijuana, 7 León, 8 Zapopan, 9 Monterrey, 10 Nezahualcóyotl

(Ecatepec?, you ask. Well, it’s another large municipality in the area around Mexico City. Still, I suspect that most Americans are unfamiliar with most of the cities on this list, but would do much better on large Canadian cities.)

For comparison, here’s the list of the top 10 U.S cities (again, all with a population of a million or more):

1 New York, 2 Los Angeles, 3 Chicago, 4 Houston, 5 Phoenix, 6 Philadelphia, 7 San Antonio, 8 San Diego, 9 Dallas, 10 San Jose

“Achy Breaky Heart”. About the song, from Wikipedia:

“Achy Breaky Heart” is a country song written by Don Von Tress. Originally titled “Don’t Tell My Heart” and performed by The Marcy Brothers in 1991, its name was later changed to “Achy Breaky Heart” and performed by Billy Ray Cyrus on his 1992 album Some Gave All. As Cyrus’ debut single and signature song, it made him famous and has been his most successful song.

… Thanks to the video of this hit, there was the explosion of the line dance into the mainstream, becoming a craze. The song is considered by some as one of the worst songs of all time, featuring at number two in VH1 and Blender’s list of the “50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever.”

[Section on parodies here.]

Caballo Dorado [Golden Horse] (Latin Grammy winners for Best Grupero Album in 2009) covered the song in 1999 with lyrics in Spanish, as “No Rompas Más (Mi pobre corazón)”

You can watch the Cyrus original here. Mighty sexy. And you can catch some of the line dance on the video too.

But… the line dance has been choreographed in many ways. There’s an inventive version by Özgür “Oscar” Takaç here, and the version we learned at the Y was different still. (I hope eventually to be able to post a video of the Y flash mob, but it’s still in the editing process.)

On Cyrus, from Wikipedia:

William Ray Cyrus (born August 25, 1961 [in Flatwoods KY]) is an American singer, songwriter and actor.

Having released 12 studio albums and 44 singles since 1992, he is best known for his number one single “Achy Breaky Heart” … Thanks to the video of this hit, the line dance catapulted into the mainstream, becoming a worldwide craze.

In addition to his many recordings and his acting on tv, Cyrus is known as the father of Miley Cyrus: Miley Ray Cyrus, born Destiny Hope Cyrus on November 23, 1992. She pops up every so often on this blog, notably in my 8/28/13 posting “Twerk time”.

But back to “Achy Breaky Heart”. There are many translations into many languages, but the most noteworthy is proably the Spanish translation “No Rompas Más Mi Pobre Corazón” (“Don’t Break My Poor Heart Anymore”). In my opinion, and the opinion of a number of others (English-speaking as well as Spanish-speaking), the song is hugely better in Spanish than in English. And since we’ve had 25 years since it first appeared, there are versions in a number of styles. Three notable recordings:

by Caballo Dorado, with really 90s instrumentation (you can listen to it here)

by Coyote Dax, down and dirty (you can watch it here)

by Caballo Dorado, all Tex Mex (you can watch it here)

Back at the Palo Alto Y: though I rehearsed our flash mob version with the class, doing it all in a chair, I didn’t take part in the actual mob (because of breathing problems and preparations for cataract surgery). But I heard good reports, and I’m looking forward to the film. Stay tuned.


2 Responses to “Two musical flash mobs”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Chris Waigl in Facebook:

    I came across this really lovely musical flash mob the other day, of 2 years ago, by the Heidelberg University choir and orchestra — my people! (I sang in the choir 1990-94.) (Also, they spruced up the Zeughaus student cafeteria quite nicely – I spent many many afternoons there.)

    [AZ: the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — a natural for a flash mob — adapted for a chamber orchestra and chorus.]

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    And now: Randi Bethel and the Enhanced Fitness Dancers video by Maggie Ainsworth-Darnell and the Pali High Film Studio (take that, James Franco!). Screen cap here:
    You can watch the video here.

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