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Mall mob sings 'Hallelujah' in a flash

Holiday shoppers cheered by uplifting message

December 18, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Warren Wolf signs the close Saturday of a flash mob performance of George Friderick Handel's 'Hallelujah Chorus' in the food court at Valley Mall. Wolf is a sign language singer for Hagerstown Choral Arts.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

HALFWAY — It began with a single voice, rich and powerful — then another and another and soon the food court area of Valley Mall was swelling with exultant song.

Eating came to a stop, shoppers hurried down the hall to hear the familiar strains and some people cried.

It's unlikely that George Friderick Handel envisioned his "Hallelujah Chorus" being sung in a public dining area, where loud conversation competed with orders of pizza and burgers.

But regardless of location, the result was the same. People rose to their feet, many sang along and, in the end, showed their approval with thunderous applause and cheers.

About 50 choristers from various area churches entertained mall shoppers Saturday with a spontaneous performance of "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah."

The spectacle was inspired by similar flash mob performances that have become this year's viral phenomenon on You Tube.

Daniel Weatherholt, choir master and organist at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Lappans, watched one of the videos several weeks ago and instantly came up with a plan.

"I posted it on Facebook, several choir directors saw it and we decided we should bring this to Hagerstown," he said.

Weatherholt said he contacted Valley Mall for approval and then watched the idea grow.

On Saturday, participants began arriving at the food court area 30 minutes before their unannounced performance, sitting among unsuspecting diners who were taking a respite from holiday shopping.

At noon, when the first notes of taped music resonated through the mall, the choristers rose, one by one, and began singing the best-known anthem from Handel's "Messiah."

From the look on their faces, the surprised shoppers didn't seem to mind.

Instead, many joined in while others took photos with their cell phones and cameras.

Mall security estimated more than 1,000 people gathered in the food court area to hear the music.

It was the result Weatherholt was hoping for.

"It's one of the reasons I wanted to do this," he said. "Music is such a powerful way to bring people together as one."

Weatherholt said the performance was not being organized to promote any specific church or religious group.

"It's a way to send an uplifting message," he said. "With the world the way it is with a tough economy, unemployment, war and political gridlock, good can still be found."

Among those participating in the surprise performance was Debby Weaver, a member of Christ Reformed Church in Middletown, Md.

"When I heard about it, I knew I had to come and be part of it," she said. "I'm glad I did because it was incredible. I had goose bumps while I was singing."

Weaver was accompanied by her friend, Nolly Gelsinger, who traveled to Valley Mall from Westminster, Md., with her 8-year-old grandson, Nathan.

"I just love music and voices raised in song," she said. "I read about this on Facebook and wanted to be here to see this. I wanted my grandson to see it, too. It was very special."

"Who knew you could come to the mall and be treated to such beautiful music," said Helen Johnson of Hagerstown. "The first notes had hardly started and I was dabbing my eyes. It was so moving. It's something I won't forget."

Minutes later, a second surprise performance was presented by the group at the mall's Center Court in front of The Bon-Ton.

"Very powerful," said Sandra Woods of Greencastle, Pa. "I had tears running down my face. It certainly was the high note of my day."

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