Singing Bach in the Subways

Yesterday I participated in a flash mob singing the Dona Nobis Pacem Chorus from the Bach B Minor Mass. A video of us will be released on YouTube on March 21st, Bach’s birthday, as part of the Bach in the Subways movement.

Our event took place on the downtown platform for the A train at West 4th Street Station. It was the best possible way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Thank you Harold Rosenbaum, who pulled this together! I just have one small suggestion for future flash mobs. We sang in voice part sections and we had a little bit of a problem which showed why this might not be the best way for groups to sing together. We were spread out up and down the platform and the sections couldn’t always hear each other. As a result the rhythm was a little jagged.

When you sing with all the voice parts mixed up, this not only forces you to really know your part, because you can’t count on being surrounded by a sea of voices singing your part, it’s a more glorious way to sing, to be in the harmony like that. You can hear all the other voice parts because they’re standing right next to you! This helps establish group rhythm. You’re more aware of what the other parts are doing and where you fit in.

I’m just nit-picking, though. Maybe the rhythm was perfectly okay overall and just the tiniest bit jagged where I stood. So thank you again, Harold Rosenbuam! I really had a fabulous time and wanted to sing it again and again. I could have happily sung the whole mass down there. I can’t wait to see the video!

Bach Flash Mob, New York City

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

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3 thoughts on “Singing Bach in the Subways

  1. Hi, Stacy, nice to meet you. If you haven’t seen it, there’s a video accompanying this article in DNAInfo that includes the opening of the performance:

    It was taken by the author of the article, not the official videographers, although I don’t know if they lent her any footage. I was there, BTW, singing the piece with my 9-year-old son. I believe he was the only child singing (the boys visible in your photo weren’t).

    I think the sound hangs together reasonably well, and the separate voice parts helped reinforce the polyphony for our (outnumbered) audience. I wouldn’t have risked singing mixed with this ad hoc group. My only musical regret was that Harold didn’t include two trumpets for the spot where the fugue expands to six voices in its amazing 13-entrance stretto. Purists will notice a slight lull in the energy where the trumpets would have provided two of those entrances.

    That’s a quibble, though. What a blast this was!

  2. Thanks for the link, I must post it! And I agree that singing mixed with this group might not have worked. I hadn’t considered the fact that that many people who never sang before might have trouble with it.

    Oh wait, isn’t today the day the video will be posted??

  3. Hi Stacy,
    I was there as well, probably not far from where you were standing based on your photograph. I’m a soprano, who was standing in the midst of a group of altos, which made staying on pitch and coming in on time a little challenging. From the video on the site, it sounds pretty good, though.

    It was great fun though and I hopefully will be able to do it again next year.

    I’ve also been waiting patiently for the official video to come out – so far nothing. The Bach on the Subways Facebook page has a post indicating that it is still being worked on.


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