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November 3, 2010

A little musical relief, thanks to a 'Random Act of Culture' in Philadelphia Macy's store

A little trend earlier this year had singers breaking into opera in the middle of public spaces, an unusual attention-grabber, to be sure. Young artists from Washington National Opera tried out the shtick at a grocery store in Baltimore to promote a concert with the BSO, for example; and members of the Opera Company of Philadelphia had similar fun drawing attention to its activity with a spontaneous vocal eruption at an Italian market. 

Last weekend, that same Opera Company of Philadelphia put together an even bigger musical surprise with the help of 28 other organizations. This event, one of the "Random Acts of Culture" being spearheaded by the Knight Foundation over the next few years, brought together more than 650 choristers who mingled with shoppers at the Macy's store in Center City Philadelphia (the grand building's ancestry goes back to the 1870s, when it opened as Wanamaker's original department store).

At noon on Saturday, the famous Wanamaker Organ could be heard breaking into the opening measures of

the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah," and those hundreds of choristers located all over the place chimed in right on cue, startling the heck out of unsuspecting customers. A very cool, feel-good venture that I thought would be well worth sharing with you right about now:

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:53 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Clef Notes


That's great. Thanks for linking to it, and I love the Knight Foundation's sponsorship of this. Don't forget--it's also Bellini's birthday today. Another good respite from midterm burnout.

Ah, Bellini. Glad you reminded me. I'll seek solace there. TIM

In addition to being a "Random Act of Culture," the Opera Company of Philadelphia's fabulous event was part of National Opera Week, where over 100 organizations around the country provide fun, free/low cost opera activities for the public:

I want to organize one of these in Las Vegas. Does anyone have any suggestions or want to help?

"I want to organize one of these in Las Vegas. Does anyone have any suggestions or want to help?

You'd have to contact enough civic choral groups and church choirs to get maybe upwards of 400 people participating. You'll notice at the end of the video they mention that there were 600 participants in this event. So depending on your proposed venue, it might take that many or more. There would have to be several rehearsals, because none of the singers were using libretti, but relying on the conductress solely.

Absolutely glorious! So moving, loved watching "the audience" reactions. Priceless. The musical choice was perfect as familiarity is essential to the success of such a "random" act.
Was it promoted at all, or announced in any way?
Ah, the possibilities here...bravo to the creator of "random musical acts".... we need more!"

Spontaneous, fantastic, fun!

This was a random act of genius, to hear 600 some choral persons spontaneously sing Handel’s Messiah’s Halleluiah Chorus against the fabulous sounds of the Wanamaker organ. Even though I was not there, I’ll bet it was glorious and exciting for the shoppers to experience. Just listening to the video was cool! I even understand that the choral folks didn’t even have music with them which was to everyone’s surprise. We need more of this type of culture in all our communities!

Amen. TIM

Oh, please, I beseech you, come to Washington, D.C.!!! If there is ANYWHERE we need a "random act of" wonderfulness, its here.... I was absolutely blown away; what a joy, joy.

Baltimore could use it, too. TIM

Wow! and Wow again! Marvelous! Thank you so much for your selfless act of random culture. Please come to Omaha, NE. Your act raised my spirit and transported me to heights of great joy!

What a tremendous blessing this was to me! Tears and praises filled my spirit. May God bless every person who participated in any way. Thank you ....thank you....thank you. Keep those wonderful surprises coming.

My Seminary teaher had them on a website. I laughed tears when I saw the dance in Belgium to Do-Re-Me. How wonderful!

Do you have CD's ?

I am also sadden that there was violence.

Keep it up. It was great

Can you come to San Francisco ?


I want to be there, must be an amazing feeling singing there.. but I'm far away in Ireland, maybe someone likes to organize this in Stevens Green Shoping Centre..I'll be there!

I imagine Ireland could REALLY use something like this right now. Good luck with that economy! TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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