It is late spring 2012 in the bustling Catalonian city of Sabadell. The day is drawing to a close; bells sound out the hour of six in the evening. And in Plaça de Sant Roc small groups of people walk and cycle in the square, criss-crossing in front of the stately town hall. Then a young girl stoops to place a coin in the hat of a busker – and nobody could have anticipated what happens next.
The musician, although unusually well attired, is perhaps a common sight in the central square – once the home of the bank that bears the town’s name. Before the busker even strikes a note, in fact, he has gathered a small crowd, who are no doubt curious to see what he will have to offer. And his audience certainly could not have imagined what would follow.
To begin with, the musician stands as still as a statue – until the young girl steps out of the audience and approaches the hat upturned in front of the busker. The girl then drops the payment into the receptacle and steps back, waiting to hear a tune. And that’s when the man starts to play the first notes of a melody that will unexpectedly flower into something quite remarkable.
As a video posted to YouTube by Banco Sabadell reveals, the man has a quite striking appearance. Tall and slender with not a hair on his head, the bespectacled musician sports a tuxedo and cuts a distinguished figure as he stands alone in the square right in the heart of the Catalan city, which is located in the north-east of Spain.
Sabadell is in fact a busy industrial site a dozen miles to the north of Barcelona. Once important for its textiles production, the area still features as a prominent center of industry – ranking fifth among Catalonia’s cities. The lure of jobs in Sabadell therefore likely allowed people from all over Spain to make it home. And today more than 200,000 people live there.
A good number of people seem to have been drawn by this curious bowtied figure, too. The man is wielding a double bass of all things, and he strikes up a melody that at first possibly only a few can recognize. Yet the small girl who paid for the performance seems entranced by the haunting notes, written by Beethoven.
Then the girl’s attention is drawn to a woman who is approaching carrying a cello. The newcomer then takes a seat on a foldaway chair a couple feet from the bassist. She begins making herself comfortable while the busker winds his way through the evocative melody that he is playing. And when he starts a new bar, the cellist joins in.
When the cellist picks up the melody, what emerges is a tune familiar to lovers of classical music everywhere. It is the music chosen in 1972 by the Council of Europe to be adopted as the continent’s own anthem. Unsurprisingly, then, more passers-by stop and listen, seemingly attracted by these familiar notes.
The music is “Ode to Joy” composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1824 to close his Ninth Symphony. The piece, initially inspired by Friedrich Schiller’s eponymous poem, doesn’t include all of the poem and has some novel parts. This is all moot for the European anthem, though, as it does not include any words.
In any case, the crowd in Plaça de Sant Roc is enjoying a purely instrumental version. And as the two continue with Beethoven’s music, more and more people are stopping to listen. Among them, a couple of youngsters, entranced, kneel to get more comfortable as they seemingly try to figure out what is happening in front of them.
Things then take a turn when a woman exits a nearby building holding a curious tubular instrument. It’s a bassoon: not the sort of thing you see every day – unless you regularly attend orchestra recitals. Yet by the time the bassoonist has taken her place next to her fellow musicians, a couple of violinists are shaking hands before they too add to the swelling wall of sound.
It’s safe to say that the people of Sabadell appear to be captivated by the glorious music emanating from the ever-growing ensemble. Heads are turning, and a woman apparently rushing by pushing a buggy slows and then stops to listen. Some bystanders have begun taking photographs, too, clearly feeling that this is a moment that they will want to remember.
The double bassist smiles at his fellow musicians as he coaxes the sweet melody from his instrument. Meanwhile, more violinists are emerging into the square, ready to swell the already magnificent rendering of Beethoven’s work. And as they do, the crowd grows ever bigger, as both older and younger inhabitants of the Catalan city gather.
One young fellow clearly feels that he needs a better view of proceedings, though. In fact, this rascal has shinned up one of the ornate lamp posts in the square for an improved look at what’s going on. And as the camera zooms out, we too begin to realize that what had started as a handful of people curious about a busker is now a fairly large crowd enjoying the melodies coming from all around as more musicians approach.
Now the full, rich sound of a violin section has been let loose. A couple of men then tentatively inch towards the hat, ready to drop in their own coins. As they do, though, violinists come to take their place, already playing along. The camera also catches sight just briefly of a man in a T-shirt who seems to be gesturing to the assembled musicians.
Yes, there are now enough musicians in the square that the services of a conductor are required. So the man keeps time for the players, his movements gentle and graceful. Meanwhile, people apparently enjoying an evening drink have become curious at the ever louder music and are leaving their seats to come and have a look.
Suddenly, the whole of the image onscreen consists of a grandma who is utterly enraptured by the music. She clasps her hands for joy as she listens with a huge smile. Then the footage cuts to show movement at the edge of the square. A large group of people are coming, each of them holding a brass element of an orchestra.
So more and more musicians come to join the group in the square, some of them having to push through the crowd that has come to listen. We are about to learn that this is not just any old crowd, however. It turns out that some of the people who are attending did not just come to watch.
For the first few minutes, you see, this has been a purely instrumental occasion. It started with a single double bassist in a tuxedo, and now we have seen the musicmakers swell into a full orchestra. Yet Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony represents the first time a top composer had included voices in a symphonic work.
So in a stirring moment a sizeable chunk of the “audience” bursts into song, and the words of “Ode to Joy” fill the air. Now Beethoven’s work has truly taken flight. It seems that at least one whole choir has smuggled itself into the square and now adds its voices to the glorious music.
And as the choir sings, the conductor kicks up a gear. He is now directing the orchestra and choir with some panache. His work is not going unnoticed, either. At the back of the square, two small girls – neither yet in double figures – have found something to stand on that lifts them above the crowd, and they are also waving their arms, giving the conductor some help.
The youngsters in the crowd seem to be loving the music, too – not least one tiny fellow who finds himself held aloft by his dancing dad. And they’re not alone: a woman tentatively sings along as she sways to the swelling music of the choir. The young boy who climbed the lamp post is also contributing.
That scamp is actually another wannabe conductor, waving time for the orchestra – until he realizes that someone has seen him. He’s then left smiling and blushing. Meanwhile, the proper conductor is leading the recital with flourish and vigor. As the camera pulls back, though, we notice that somebody is standing beside him.
Remarkably, in fact, the small girl who kicked off proceedings is still standing right in front of the orchestra. She remains motionless, perhaps not quite believing that her generosity to a street performer has blossomed into an impromptu performance of one of the world’s greatest orchestral works. For while Beethoven’s Ninth is often played, it’s arguably never before been performed in quite such a fashion.
Then, for a short while, the music hits a lull. The conductor’s movements become restrained, and a young man gestures to a woman accompanying him to indicate the beats that drive the now-gentle melody. All around the square, people are snapping photos, entranced by the magical moments provided by the flash orchestra.
But then the conductor leads the players into one more rousing rendition of the chorus. The opening lines – “Freude schöner Götterfunken” – ring out, and a man spins round, amazed at the wall of noise. Now the music is reaching a huge crescendo, the choir smiling as they express the joy in Schiller’s words, the musicians raising up a tremendous racket.
And that joy is vividly expressed by at least one uninhibited listener. Yes, a youthful urchin capers across the flagstones, arms waving like a demented scarecrow in the breeze. But he’s not even the youngest of the fans that have gathered. A mother in fact swings the arm of her infant, only a few months old, who welcomes the music with a cheeky smile.
Finally, the choir finishes the words, and the orchestra is left to play the last few helter skelter bars. The incredible pace and verve of the tune still manage to get a man dancing, though, his daughter clinging on as she sits on his shoulders. And then, to the evident delight of the conductor, he brings the piece to a close.
The watching crowd erupts into applause. All around there are smiles as the orchestra takes its bow. We see the audience – young and old – show their enjoyment to the players who without warning treated them to the exhilarating music of the European anthem. And as the video ends, a man raises his son to the sky, and we are left with the message “Som Sabadell” – “We are Sabadell” in Catalan.
But what on earth has just happened? Well, it turns out that the orchestra had been part of a celebration arranged by Banco Sabadell. The bank had in fact decided to mark its 130th birthday by doffing its cap to the city in which it originated with its “We Are Sabadell” campaign. And this was the result.
The flash orchestra performance was an enormous success, too – and not just on the day. You see, nearly 82 million people have enjoyed the YouTube video, with almost 350,000 clicking “Like” to show their appreciation. The most-liked comment of the more than 16,000 that it has garnered says simply, “This is the only video that I want aliens to see of our species.”
The flashmob itself actually comprised performers from local groups. The orchestra, based in Sabadell, is the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, named after an old county of Catalonia. It’s more usually seen in concert venues in Sabadell, Barcelona and other nearby spots. Meanwhile, the Amics de l’Òpera, Lieder and Coral Belles Arts choirs provided the singers.
The Amics de l’Òpera are no strangers to collaboration with the symphony orchestra, either. In 2019, for instance, they will perform Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola together. This will be in the more conventional surrounds of the Teatre La Faràndula, though, rather than in the open air. Then in the next year they’ll be back to do Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata at the same venue.
Yet although this counts as a very successful classical flashmob, it’s by no means the only example. For instance, in 2011 passengers at Copenhagen Central Station would have spied an intriguing proposition, captured in a YouTube video that would go on to be seen by more than 11 million people. To begin with, a conductor is beating time for a lone drummer.
That conductor, Jesper Nordin, usually leads the Sjællands Symfoniorkester, or Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra. And the beats that he is marking are familiar to music lovers as the entry to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. But if there were any doubt, the flautist who wanders up makes it clear by playing the lilting melody.
Before long, then, a small crowd has formed to watch as musicians wander up and add their instruments to the mix. And as people look on rapt, a full complement of players give their all to the music. Clarinetists, bassoonist, more percussion and violinists are just some of the orchestra creating a glorious swell of melody.
As the video unwinds, too, it becomes clear that the crowd is enjoying the output of brass as well as wind. There’s even a harp – all combining to make a noise that an appreciative crowd seems to be really enjoying. Certainly, the end of the performance brings a storm of applause and cheers. And then the gathered music lovers go about their day as though nothing has happened.
Other impromptu classical performances have included George Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus from Messiah played in a food court in Canada. In another, Leeds Youth Orchestra shared Hans Zimmer’s score for Pirates of the Caribbean at the Trinity Shopping Centre in Leeds, England. And the Copenhagen Phil was at it again in 2012 when it treated metro passengers to Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt.
Yet perhaps topping them all was the flash mob arranged by conductor Kent Nagano. He brought a whopping thousand musicians, 950 of whom were amateurs, to a Berlin mall. And having sneaked into the center, the performers surprised shoppers with a full program of music from the likes of Wagner, Bizet and Verdi.
We can’t tell you about upcoming flash orchestras, though. After all, the whole point is that they remain secret. All we can tell you is that if you happen across a tall, bald busker with a double bass when walking of an evening, perhaps you might stop and pay him a dollar. You never know what treats might lie in store for you…
As it turns out, everyday life is full of these mesmerizing surprises. Take this dance troupe from Texas, for instance, who suddenly collapsed to the floor during their performance. But the move that the group pulled off next left their audience totally enchanted.
The Emerald Belles dance team were performing at the Crowd Pleasers Dance Contest when they suddenly fell to the floor. To the untrained eye, it looked like that might have been the end of their performance. But after the dancers returned to their feet, the ensuing magical moves left the crowd captivated.
For Melissa Page, it appears that dancing came just as naturally as walking. And the Texas native has been busting moves since she was just three years old, in fact. She became a head cheerleader in school, furthermore, and then was part of dance teams throughout her time in college. It’s therefore little wonder that Page has carved out an award-winning career for herself in the industry.
Indeed, since 1997 Page has helmed the Emerald Belles, a top dance team based at Carroll Senior High School. The school in Southlake, Texas, is known for its impressive athletics record. That’s right: students have triumphed in 20 state competitions across a series of sports in the space of just over 40 years. And the achievements of Carroll’s dance teams are just as notable.
Texan dance teams are different to the ones found in most other states, as they have hierarchies that mirror those of the military. Furthermore, in keeping with this regimented theme, Texas troupes tend to prefer a drill style of dancing, which features very precise movements. Traditionally, they are usually all-female, but males have also recently started taking part in the sport.
During Page’s time as director of the Emerald Belles, she has overseen the team as they’ve stormed to victory to claim numerous trophies. The Belles have also delighted audiences aboard Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruises. And to top things off, they’ve even performed at Fiesta Texas and Disney World.
Given the success of the Emerald Belles, many former team members have gone on to dance at their respective colleges. These include the University of Southern California, Southern Methodist University and the University of Arkansas. Moreover, some ex-Belles have even become professional dancers and performers.
One such success story from the Emerald Belles is Lacey Munoz, who has been a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys since 2014. Another of Page’s protégées is Lexy Hulme, who’s since become a dancer on TV and film. Among Hulme’s achievements are, for instance, dancing in Glee with Gwyneth Paltrow and featuring in a number of movies. And the alumni additionally appeared in season two of NBC drama Smash back in 2013.
What’s more, in recent years the Emerald Belles have extended their reign over the dance world from Texas to the whole of the United States. In 2014 the dance troupe attended their debut national contest, which took place in Fort Worth, TX. And their performance bagged the top prize and saw them become MA National Drill Team champions.
And that wasn’t the Emerald Belles’ only success at the competition. They also came out on top in the lyrical and high-kick categories and were runners-up in the jazz section. “This is the first time for the Belles to go to a national competition, and I’m so proud of their accomplishments,” Page told My Southlake News at the time.
The Emerald Belles have earned even more national prizes in the years that have followed too. And as a result, the team have made a name for themselves in the wider world of dance. Their popularity has also been confirmed by the attention that the Belles’ dance routines receive on YouTube. Two of their videos have each amassed more than one million views, in fact.
One of these most-watched Emerald Belles routines was actually filmed at the Showmakers of America Dance Competition. But when the dance team attended this event in 2018, they in fact showcased at least two incredible performances. Both of these spectacles were later posted on YouTube for our enjoyment too.
The first of the two dances that made it online from the Showmakers of America Dance Competition is a lyrical routine. In it, dozens of Emerald Belles can be seen moving softly, in rhythm with romantic music. Despite the sheer size of the group, though, the dancers move in perfect synchrony, gracefully matching their motions to every beat.
As the tempo of the music increases, so too does the sophistication of the Emerald Belles’ expressions. And the impressive results have proved popular on YouTube. Since being posted in February 2018, in fact, the footage has clocked up over 24,000 views. However, it’s still not close to being the most popular video of the Belles taken at the Showmakers of America Competition 2018.
That’s because the other clip from the event has managed to reach an even wider audience on YouTube. The video captures the Emerald Belles’ high-kick routine, which they performed to a mash-up of Daft Punk hits in a visual style influenced by the sci-fi movies Tron and Tron: Legacy.
And the high-kick style is popular with dance teams the world over – although it isn’t easily perfected. That’s because it demands a difficult blend of flexibility, balance and posture. Nonetheless, in their three-minute routine, the Emerald Belles proved that they possessed all these qualities by the bucket-load.
The video starts with the Emerald Belles standing arm-in-arm to create a triangular formation. As the dancers leap into action, it’s clear that the group are perfectly in tune with one another. They perform their moves in synchronization, you see. Before long, the team fall back to create a rippling effect, leaving just a single dancer – with one toe stretched towards the ceiling – center stage.
What follows is a series of what are clearly painstakingly choreographed dance moves. And the grace with which the Emerald Belles perform the kicks, flicks, splits, rolls and twirls somehow makes the feat look easy. Moreover, the routine goes down a storm in the room and did so once again on YouTube.
Yet the clip of the Emerald Belles’ Daft Punk routine is still not the best received of the group’s videos online. That’s because the dance team’s high-kick display from the 2017 Crowd Pleasers Dance Competition has been viewed even more often. Indeed, the performance has continued to mesmerize audiences just as it did when it was seen live at the event itself.
The Emerald Belles were no strangers to the Crowd Pleasers Dance Competition, having performed there on a number of occasions. In fact, a year prior – in 2016 – the group performed a Victoria Secrets-themed dance, taking inspiration from the company’s famous runway shows. And in the sort of detail that the troupe are known for, there were even fluffy pink-and-white angel wings.
At the 2017 Crowd Pleasers Dance Competition, though, the Emerald Belles competed in a number of categories, including the jazz, production and high-kick divisions. And while all three of those performances were acclaimed, it was once again their efforts in the kick section that most helped them stand out from the crowd.
According to the Crowd Pleasers Dance website, production pieces are “typically a themed performance utilizing staging, props and/or back drops that extends longer than the three-minute time limit.” And in this category, the Emerald Belles performed to the music of Jennifer Lopez – using a pair of steps and a range of outfits to tell a story through dance.
In the jazz category, the Crowd Pleasers judges were looking for “an upbeat style of dance where the focus is on technical skills.” For their performance, the Emerald Belles chose a retro theme. Yes, they channeled 1940s pin-ups such as swimming sensation Esther Williams and the works of Busby Berkeley – a choreographer famed for his elaborate, synchronized dance scenes.
But while the Emerald Belles’ performance and jazz routines were both well received at the Crowd Pleasers contest, neither of them killed it quite as much as their high-kick display. The event’s website states that such routines should be “performed with an emphasis on kick technique and height.” And on those terms, the Belles definitely delivered.
For their kick routine, the Emerald Belles donned matching beige jumpsuits with black detailing, which would serve to fully show off their flexibility. And the display was set to the 1980s Eurythmics classic “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” A fitting song, since the dance was reportedly inspired by lucid dreaming and fantasies.
At the beginning of the performance, which can be viewed on YouTube, the Emerald Belles stand in small clusters. The team are scattered across the gym floor that’s serving as their stage. As the intro starts up, so too do the dancers who execute a number of stretches. Meanwhile, one Belle in the center is lifted into the air by her teammates.
The Emerald Belles continue with their individual yet orchestrated actions for a few seconds, until the first musical beat of the backing track drops. It’s then that the Belle being carried is lowered to the ground and begins tiptoeing towards the crowd in time with the music. At first, the other dancers are deathly still. But after a few head-spinning twirls from their teammate, they too stir into action.
As the girl in the center of the action continues to command the attention of the crowd, the rest of the Emerald Belles rise up. They then start marching purposefully into formation as the iconic electro riff of “Sweet Dreams” blares out for the very first time. Now finally in a group, the team embark on one of the exquisitely executed synchronized routines for which they’ve become renowned.
At first, there’s a simultaneous movement of limbs, until the Emerald Belles have seamlessly placed their arms around one another. From there, an almost can-can like kicking of legs commences, which is interspersed with jumps and ripple movements. Demonstrating their impeccable balance, they then each stretch out a leg, allowing the dancer next to them to recline sideways. Thus they mimic the action of falling asleep – in keeping with the theme of their routine.
Next, the Emerald Belles softly fall to the ground before springing up into bridges and performing a short floor routine. They then return to their feet and merge into circles of increasing sizes, which soon enough turn into a kicking composition of legs. The sight has a captivating effect on the audience.
Once that kicking section is complete, the Emerald Belles unfold into three separate groups, each of which performs different – but equally enchanting – routines. The team then come back together as one to form a square. And the four quarters of the shape function both together and separately to achieve a dramatic effect.
The Emerald Belles continue to dance as a square for a little while – until they suddenly reverse away from the audience. However, their retreat doesn’t last for long. Soon they’re spilling forward, arms flailing, looking almost reminiscent of something from your deepest, darkest nightmares.
As the spooky crawling actions conclude, the Emerald Belles once again gather around a single girl, who waves her arms like she’s conjuring a spell. Then, without warning, darkness descends on the dance team, as a large black cloak is suddenly cast over the gym. When the dancers reappear on the other side, they’re back in formation and ready to complete their kick routine.
Towards the end of the display, the Emerald Belles dissipate into a looser, now rectangle-shaped formation. Next, they clasp arms with one another to perform their most impressive kicks yet. The dancers separate into three groups one last time and then unite for their awe-inspiring finale.
United in the center of the floor, the Emerald Belles twirl and kick before the majority of the team fall into splits – leaving just a handful of dancers standing. The girls who remain on their feet perform one final lift and then they’re joined by the rest of the Belles to finish in a huddle. And as the dancing concludes, the roof of the gym is practically lifted due to the rapturous applause.
The reception that the Emerald Belles’ routine received was almost as enthusiastic when their “Sweet Dreams” routine landed on YouTube. And that’s because the video, which was posted in 2017, has since received more than 3.3 million views. What’s more, this wasn’t the only attention that the captivating clip attracted.
After all, later on in 2017 the Emerald Belles were chosen as the “Best Dance Team” by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. And their winning entry consisted of their kick routine from the Crowd Pleasers Dance Competition. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the happy news was celebrated in a post from the Carroll Independent School District’s Facebook – a page for the area in which the Belles’ school is located.
As reports of the Emerald Belles’ newly earned title spread on social media, they were inundated with well wishes. Former dance team member Michelle Baker was one of the many who felt compelled to share words of encouragement. “Oh! Goodness! Well deserved!” she wrote. “Remembering many happy memories with the Belles in the ’90s!”
Since 2017 the Emerald Belles have continued to compete – often successfully – and have also performed during half-time at a number of sporting events. And even though it might seem that things couldn’t get any bigger for the school dance team, 2019 could perhaps be their most high-profile year to date.
Indeed, in March 2019 the Emerald Belles took to Twitter with some special news. The tweet in question read, “We are excited to announce that we auditioned for America’s Got Talent today. Stay tuned for the season premiere in May!” The team were of course referring to the hit TV talent show that airs on NBC.
The Emerald Belles gave no inkling as to how they fared when performing for the America’s Got Talent judges. However, looking at their past routines, it’s certainly hard to imagine them failing to impress. Only time will tell if the Belles’ TV careers will take off, mind you. But if their iconic kick displays are anything to go by, they’ll soon be flying high.