Sustainability Flash Mob and the Magic of Bolero

[Dear Readers. This post shows some interesting videos. And you must find time to watch these videos to get best out of this post. Hope you enjoy the concept of Sustainability flash mob and the magic of Bolero]

A flash mob 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 may appear spontaneous. And ideally, they should, but in reality, they are not. Flash mobs are generally pre-planned and organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.

View video below in case you are not familiar with the flash mobs

To some, flash mobs are not welcomed. The city of Brunswick, Germany has stopped flash mobs by strictly enforcing the already existing law of requiring a permit to use any public space for an event. In the United Kingdom, a number of flash mobs have been stopped over concerns for public health and safety. The British Transport Police have urged flash mob organizers to “refrain from holding such events at railway stations.

Flash mobs have become immensely popular in India, especially on the university campuses, railway stations and the malls. Flash mobs are also organized in the offices – perhaps to destress. Most of the Indian flash mobs focus on dancing on the Bollywood music. Flash mobs that end up with a surprise marriage proposals are also getting common.

Flash mobs in Europe are more sober so to say and appear more natural and spontaneous. They build gradually, involving the people who are watching.   See the video below dancing Zorba the Greek. The flash mob begins with only one dancer and then grows into a large crowd participating spontaneously. Perhaps, the beat and simplicity of Zorba makes the difference.

Several flash mobs in Europe are driven by orchestras where music is played by the  artists, sometimes accompanied with folk or traditional dances. These flash mobs are rather soothing, and make the occasion as a family get-together with children standing by and enjoying.

Professor wanted to develop a flash mob on sustainability.

“Flash mobs for Sustainability! Is there such an interest Professor?” I asked as he was driving with me to see the Mayor of Mumbai City. I wasn’t sure.

“Oh Yes, Dr Modak, there are flash mobs that address issues related sustainability. Yale Divinity School Sustainability organized a surprise flash mob to promote its event “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” and introduced more reusable mugs to the community, significantly reducing the daily waste created by disposable cups.

UWS Comm Arts Students and A-Live Entertainment presented a flash mob for Climate Change. Hundreds of young people took part on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, dancing as a creative protest at the Power Shift 2009 youth climate summit. Three demands were made: Green Jobs for generation, a Power Shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and 50% by 2020 carbon pollution reduction targets for Australia.

A huge Eco-Flash Mob gathered at a shopping mall in Quebec to promote recycling. Part of the performance was to plant an empty bottle near a bin while people were waiting for a good recycler.

With a mission to make sustainability sexy, the fashion czar Modavanti teamed up with Aushim Raswant of 3vNYC to create New York’s first flash mob fashion show. Bystanders eating lunch or taking a break in each park were delightfully confused when Modavanti’s posse took over each space, bringing a giant green carpet, fashion friendly music, and a crew of twelve models to each site. Like any fashion show, the models walked the make shift runway, smiling and posing, and giving the public a taste of sexy sustainable fashion.

I was impressed.

“It’s a good idea Professor that we encourage India’s youth to hold flash mobs to sensitize people and communicate sustainability instead of just limiting to dancing on Bollywood music” I said.

“Oh,  don’t get me wrong. We have had some interesting flash mobs in India that are socially oriented too. But we need more, and we need to be creative” said the Professor as we parked the car in the porch of Mumbai Mayors bungalow.

When we reached Mayors office, we were asked to wait for a while as the Mayor was busy with someone.

“So, what’s your plan Professor?”

Professor didn’t speak and instead gazed outside the window.

Later he explained his plan to the Mayor. He wanted to launch a campaign of flash mobs in Mumbai that would play a soothing and warm music and inspire the Mumbaikars. While the music will be played with a gradual increase in the tempo and building of the orchestra, images/silent video clips of the sustainability heroes of Mumbai will scroll on a large screen. People will watch these images/videos to see these heroes doing waste recycling, conserving and reusing water, using solar energy and protecting biodiversity. People will learn and get inspired while the orchestra is playing the music. Some of the sustainability heroes may well be present in the mob and they will walk to the center as the orchestra plays the climax or the closing piece.

Large screen showcasing Cities Sustainability Heroes

The mayor was simply impressed with this “design” of the “sustainability flash mob” and extended full support to get necessary permissions.  Mayor liked the idea of campaign and suggested that we hold flash mobs over a month and at different locations of the city.

“The music that the Orchestra will play an important role” Professor said this while lighting his cigar when we returned and reached his study.

Professor said that he will speak to A R Rehman to come up with something Indian and blended. But since Rehman was busy and travelling, he will use Bolero to start with.

What is Bolero? I asked.

Bolero is a one-movement orchestral piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). Originally composed as a ballet commissioned by Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, the piece, which premiered in 1928, is Ravel’s most famous musical composition.

Apparently, while on vacation at St Jean-de-Luz, Ravel went to the piano and played a melody with one finger to his friend Gustave Samazeuilh, saying “Don’t you think this theme has an insistent quality? I’m going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.”

Maurice Ravel

And Bolero became Ravel’s most famous composition, much to the surprise of the composer, who had predicted that most orchestras would refuse to play it. Bolero is now played in flash mobs. According to a possibly apocryphal story from the premiere performance, a woman was heard shouting that Ravel was mad. When told about this, Ravel is said to have remarked that she had understood the piece.

The melody of Bolero is passed among different instruments. After an opening rhythm on the snare drum (a rhythm that continues unabated throughout the work), the piece opens with a solo flute followed by solo clarinet, solo bassoon (high in its range), solo E-flat clarinet, solo oboe d’amore, muted trumpet and flute, solo tenor saxophone (an unusual inclusion in an orchestra, that brought flavor of jazz), solo soprano saxophone, French horn and celesta, quartet composed of clarinet and three double-reeds, solo trombone and finally  high woodwinds (growing more strident in tone) as the climax. The sequence almost emulates how crowd joins to watch the flash mob.

The first piece of flute is going to be very important Professor said. And I have found out that the great flutist Jeanne Baxtresser is passing through Mumbai. He said with pride.

“Wow” I knew about Jeanne. Noted for her “absolute perfection, refined style…and a ravishing sonority” this remarkable flutist has held the position of principal flute with the New York Philharmonic for 15 years. She also continues to pursue a career as concert soloist, chamber player, recording artist, author, and teacher.

Jeanne Baxtresser

The first flash mob was planned at the VT station featuring Jeanne. Professor invited some of Mumbai’s  sustainability heroes to attend. Video clips and images were collated to make a screen show of their good work.

We were at the VT station at 4 pm. I saw that Professor was a bit tense. He was  making a few phone calls.

The Bolero started with snail drumming and just like the video you see below (and I will urge you to please view this clip), a woman appeared from behind the pillars.

Oh, but she wasn’t Jeanne Baxtresser

What happened? Some last moment glitch? No wonder I saw Professor tensed.

This strange woman was however right on the spot and played the flute with all the emotions immaculately. And she had all the grace and maturity needed to “drive” the Bolero as other instruments and artists followed.

The flash mob with combination of Bolero and exposition of the sustainability heroes made the desired impact. The crowd surged towards the sustainability heroes after the last piece of climax was played. They all wanted to be like them, emulate them and live life sensibly and sustainably.

We came out of the VT station.

As a token of appreciation, Professor was buying large sized dark chocolates with almonds for the musicians of the Bolero orchestra.

“Give me 19 chocolates”, He told the shopkeeper

“How come 19 Professor? We are twenty; eighteen  musicians and two of us” I said

Professor smiled “You know Jeanne got sick and couldn’t make it today. But the Gods were kind, and on my request sent an Angel to fill in her place”

I just couldn’t believe in what he was saying.

“Didn’t you notice that strange and wonderful woman who played the opening piece of flute of Bolero, flew away in the sky- right after the concert”  He said this so casually.

I looked at the sky and saw someone in the cloud, Was she the angel he was referring to?

I thought that Professors design of the sustainability flash mob was so tempting, reflecting his sincerity and creativity, that even the Angle from the sky couldn’t resist coming down.

Or was it the magic of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero?

I leave it to you to decide.


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