It's getting to the point where flash mobs are becoming almost commonplace, which is a crying shame; but still and all there are times when sheer joy and an almost reckless magnificence can take people off their guard. (Musicians, of course, know that this is not just dumb luck; even the unfolding of a flash mob sequence has to be carefully orchestrated...)
And so it was that, about a week ago, I was able to behold an event that went viral on NPR over the holiday season. The unsuspecting crowd was in the magnificent lobby of the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC; those to blame for all the musical commotion were the amazing musicians and choristers of the United States Air Force Band and Choir.
What happened in that lobby I hope to describe as best I can. But if you want the video experience of the event first, click here. Then read on for my humble take.
It began almost like a murmur. Overwhelmed by the lobby noise of that huge gathering space, a single cello player intoned the notes of Bach's beloved "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Innocuous enough... he could've been a busker, save for the fact that he was in uniform. But then he was joined by another, this time the double bass – and then more: various woodwinds like the bassoon, oboe, flute and clarinet. One anxious listener moved hastily away, but the rest of the crowd began to be drawn in, focusing their attention on the small group that was growing bigger by the moment.
Soon it was a band, and at that point the audience had grabbed whatever electronic devices they could (the enemies of good listening, these things are!) to record the event. By now they knew something was up.
Suddenly, a duo of beautifully matched sopranos, who at first were incognito in the mezzanine, doffed their winter jackets and took over the melody from the strings. The mob had now grown, morphed from instruments to the human voice, and hopscotched from the ground level to the level above. The wonder on the assembly's faces could not be contained – larger and larger the sound grew, going from vocal duet to four part harmony, a small choir now being heard out of nowhere.
And THEN, just when one might think this joy to be complete, the arrangement went ambiguous for a moment, almost as if it was wondering what to do. But this was all intentional, for in the blink of an eye the last surprise emerged from the balcony: an entire cavalcade of brass players! The choir quadrupled in size, the modulation caused every heartbeat to accelerate, and lo! the entire lobby broke forth in acclamation: "Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come!"
It was this moment, one that had been carefully prepared by the music that preceded it, that made me fight back the tears. It was as if the ensemble was saying: "See! Just when you thought your joy was at its greatest, we have not even begun to make our music for you!"
Now what does one do with all of this? To the ears of the cynic or the non-believer, it is merely entertainment. But to the eyes and ears of the believer, what took place in that lobby is a foretaste of heaven.
We sing about this, we Christians. We sing about angels and we actually sing about what it means to sing:
Hark, the glad celestial hymn! Angel choirs above are praising,
Cherubim and Seraphim, in unceasing chorus praising.
Fill the heavens with sweet accord: Holy, holy, holy Lord!
There are rare times on this earth when the angelic, when the sweet accord of heaven, bursts in upon our earthly cacophony. Oftentimes it comes on the wings of song – song which is the enemy of hopelessness and discord.
And on a winter day in our nation's capital, in a huge room festooned by trophies of mankind moving through the heavens, mere humans showed that the fastest and most exhilarating way they can move through air and space is to raise their hearts and voices in common praise of the Source of Love.
If any of you know of someone in the Air Force, please pass this along. They did both their country and their branch of the Armed Services proud.
And if any of you ever need proof positive of the Cherubim, Seraphim, or the angels that move in our midst – do some research on flash mobs. Or maybe turn to this video of the Air Force, which illustrates the amazing powers that truly do fly around us.
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Location:Crestmoor Dr, Boone, United States