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.
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.”