By Fangzhou Liu
“You never know when Flashmob is going to strike,” said Stanford Flashmob Orchestra founder Akshay Dinakar ’19 gleefully.
The orchestra’s surprise tactics, best seen in their impromptu rendition of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida one Friday evening, belie the effort the group has put into planning.
The Stanford Flashmob Orchestra is a group of classically-trained musicians that meet once a month to improvise an arrangement for a popular song. The following day, the group storms a public space on campus, plays a song or two, and then disappears just as quickly.
It’s a sneak attack that has been long in the making. Dinakar was drafting his grand plans for the orchestra throughout the summer, getting together with musicians he had yet to meet via his year’s admitted student Facebook groups.
“I just thought there’s so much potential here to spread happiness to a larger group of people, so starting this orchestra was my dream even before I came to Stanford,” said Dinakar, describing his long-standing interest in impromptu performance.
By the middle of the tune, a crowd of fifty-odd students had stopped mid-step for the music, a tough feat for a Friday evening. Some pulled out iPhone cameras to capture the moment, but most just swayed to the beat. The flash mob coincided with the Stanford Happiness Collective’s ‘World Kindness Day’, creating the interesting juxtaposition of music and granola bars being handed out to passerby students.
The joyous mood on Friday masks the skill required for improvisation.
“I actually played it a bit safe, I was definitely nervous I wouldn’t sound so good the first time. But I’m looking forward to taking it a bit further next time,” said Lizzie Frankel ’19, a classically-trained viola player.
Making spontaneity work takes some planning. Though they have yet to be recognized as an official student group, Dinakar is already recording performances with aspirations to go viral on YouTube.
And if combining one musical saw, brasses, woodwinds and violins is not enough to make their sound unique, it’s not the only thing the SFmO is doing differently. Their focus on accessible pop songs and innovative arrangements aims to make each performance joyous for both musicians and audience members.
“My orchestra is the lowest time commitment orchestra,” Dinakar enthused. “We’re different from the other chamber ensembles — you can bring a kazoo if you want; every time we play it’ll be with a different mix of people. We’re an experiment in making sound, an experiment in spreading happiness.”
On Friday, the SFmO buzzed with an exuberance that overcame any false notes. Munching on almond-coconut granola from Kindness Day and swaying gently to “Viva La Vida,” the audience ate and was happy.
Contact Fangzhou Liu at fzliu96 ‘at‘ stanford.edu.