Brock takes spotlight in mall ‘flash mob’

Hugh Gayler, centre, in the Seaway Mall flash mob

Hugh Gayler, third from left, sings in the "Hallelujah Chorus" flash mob in the Seaway Mall in Welland.

He’s a long-time Geography professor and expert in urban geography and urban planning.

But this week, Hugh Gayler has a different claim to fame: he was part of choral flash mob that has become an Internet sensation.

As vice-chair of Chorus Niagara, the Brock professor was in the thick of a surprise rendition of “Hallelujah Chorus” that broke out in the food court of the Seaway Mall in Welland on Nov. 13.

Some 84 Chorus Niagara members masqueraded as diners, shoppers and even janitors, only to break into song to entertain unsuspecting mall patrons.

Cameras and cell phones flashed throughout the four-minute performance. Some spectators were moved to tears. The video has gotten more than a million hits on YouTube, and news of it has appeared on nationwide news casts. Chorus Niagara has gotten emails from around the world from people who were moved by the video.

The flash mob video was a promotional video for Alphabet Photography, which organized the event. Alphabet Photography is co-owned by Sam Blakeley, who works as a senior administrative developer in ITS.

“We are always looking for new innovative ways to reach people and we thought that a flash mob would be fun to do and a great way to spread Christmas cheer,” he said.

The performance was initially going to be at the Pen Centre in St. Catharines, but the Seaway Mall was more spacious, Gayler said. The choral singers rehearsed over two weeks, then arrived at 6:30 a.m. that day to choreograph their surprise performance.

“It was spontaneous, but it was switched-on spontaneity,” Gayler said.

Chorus Niagara is Gayler’s love outside of Geography — his “other side of the brain.” He joined the local chorus shortly after he came to Brock in 1969. The two worlds have only crossed paths once when on a Chorus Niagara visit to England, Gayler found himself leading a London walking tour similar to one he’d give his students.

Gayler has been singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” since he was eight years old. He speculates people were moved to tears by the emotion of the piece. Hits to the Chorus Niagara site have increased by 140 per cent compared to this time last year. The publicity has even translated into potential new members.

“This whole thing about YouTube and Twitter is new to me,” he said. “It’s a new kind of instant publicity worldwide.” He admits that he’s cynical about avenues like Facebook, where there are hundreds of so-called “friends,” but “I do appreciate the power of this sort of thing.”

Other Brock community members involved in Chorus Niagara include Dramatic Arts professor Virginia Reh and Norris Walker, past chair of Brock’s Board of Trustees.

Chorus Niagara will perform the “Hallelujah Chorus” again in December as part of their seasonal performance of Handel’s Messiah. The performances are Saturday, Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Mountainview Christian Reformed Church in Grimsby and Sunday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. at Calvary Church in St. Catharines.

Gayler looks back fondly at his flash mob experience.

“It was fun and everybody regarded it as fun,” he said. “When it was over, we went back to eating and drinking and talking. We just simply got on with our lives.”

Posted on November 25, 2010

4 Comments

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brock University, mygradguide. mygradguide said: RT @BrockUniversity: Brock professors take spotlight in mall ‘flash mob’ http://ht.ly/1aa3Eq [...]

  2. Olga says:

    Hi, I am a nursing student here at Brock as well. I also had the privelage of taking part in this video that went viral! We will be hosted on Canada AM this Wednesday the 8th of November at the Seaway Mall again. Would be nice to see a follow up mentioned through Brock….Thank you!!!!

  3. The video was indeed very moving and even today (having viewed it 25 times I am certain), I am still moved to tears. There was a very special energy in that perfomance. But my total surprise was that it was from the Seaway Mall - near my home town of St.Catharines. Drove by there on Christmas day.

    The internet is truly the great leveler. Great talent can longer hide in the obscurity of small towns as the YouTube hits indicate.

    Congratulations all

    With appreciation
    Carolyn

  4. Allie Ward says:

    I really prefer the Black eyed peas flash mob!

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