They materialized a few at a time.
Most in matching green T-shirts with sheet music taped to the back, and carrying instruments. About 60 in all.
They were members of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, literally drumming up public support at Sundance Square’s plaza on Friday evening to the tune of Ary Barroso’s samba-infused Watercolor of Brazil.
The event preceded an official concert at Bass Hall, but this “flash mob” performance was planned by the musicians for another purpose — to raise awareness of their ongoing contract negotiations with FWSO management.
The problem was that the five-minute performance was assembled on private property — Sundance Square’s plaza — and without permission. Not missing a quarter-note, the musicians segued to the sidewalk when they were asked to leave the plaza.
On social media over the weekend, commenters criticized Sundance officials for moving the musicians and for playing country music loudly during the performance.
One Facebook user named Sarah-Omar Esquivel posted to Sundance Square’s Facebook page that the musicians were screamed at and “physically assaulted” by Sundance personnel. It was reposted to a Facebook page called Musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Since Saturday morning, the post has elicited more than 200 “likes” and dozens of comments, including threats to boycott Sundance Square-area restaurants and attractions.
When asked if there had been screaming or force used, Scott Jessup, a union spokesman, sidestepped the question, saying the musicians have no control over what people post on Facebook.
Sundance Square’s spokeswoman denied any use of force.
“I did tap someone on the shoulder,” said Tracy Gilmour, the company’s marketing director and spokesperson.
Esquivel’s post went on to say that “when none of these tactics worked, the ‘canned’ music was turned up as loud as possible to drown them out.”
Gilmour said that while a streaming Pandora station did start blaring from the plaza’s outdoor PA system, it was coincidental. It had been turned off for the Lone Star Film Festival and a Tarrant Area Food Bank event.
Sundance Square was quick to comment on the Facebook post, writing, “Sundance Square is private property and all performances must be approved and coordinated in advance through the marketing department. We host musicians weekly and are happy to schedule and organize a performance through the correct procedure.”
In conjunction with the performance, musicians handed out fliers to explain their take on onging contract talks with the orchestra management, which wants to cut three paid weeks, while the union wants a hefty raise to make up for an earlier cut. Their three-year contract expired July 31.
Talks are scheduled to resume Nov. 17.
“We will continue to find creative and expressive ways to communicate this message,” Jessup said.
Before one Bass Hall performance this fall, musicians walked off stage; Jessup read a statement to the audience before another concert.
A flash mob is a seemingly spontaneous musical performance or gathering that often takes the public by surprise. Often well planned and recorded, some are commercial publicity stunts. Others are done for sheer entertainment or to push a political or social agenda.
In another comment on the same string that followed Esquivel’s Facebook post, Sundance Square officials wrote: “We have worked with the musicians in the past and they are aware that we need to be contacted in advance for performances. A flash mob can still be a surprise to the visitors, but we have to know in advance to inform the security team and others. Sundance Square is private property that is open to the public. We do, however, have rules and regulations that have to be followed for the safety and understanding of all patrons.”
Gilmour said someone from the union did call a Sundance security office Friday morning about a flash mob, but the person never followed up when told the union had to get permission from the marketing department.
If the person had, Gilmour said, it is unlikely that permission would have been granted. Musical groups are often permitted to perform on the plaza, except if the purpose is religious or political, Gilmour said. Any union proposal for a plaza performance would be considered, but she added: “If it puts Sundance Square in a position of being on a side, [making it] look like we are endorsing something, the answer would be no. We just stay neutral.”