PLATTSBURGH — Curious crowds gathered when members of the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir broke into song Saturday afternoon at Champlain Centre.
Choir members carefully assembled in a surprise "flash mob" at about 2 p.m. and quickly filled the Food Court with music, bringing smiles to the faces of unsuspecting mall patrons.
Shoppers of all ages watched intently as one choir member began a solo that was quickly joined by 40 other members of the gospel group.
"It scared me at first," said Thomas Crouse, 13, of Tupper Lake. "But then I realized it was a flash mob."
Like many other members of the crowd, Crouse decided to capture the excitement on his cellphone.
"I'm going to put it on Facebook," he said.
Crouse was enjoying lunch with Kylin Strader, 8, of Tupper Lake when they noticed choir members setting up sound equipment.
They both said they had no idea what was going to happen.
"I thought it was awesome," Strader smiled.
Debi Pettit of Plattsburgh was shopping nearby when she heard music coming from the Food Court.
"I wasn't sure what was going on, but what I heard was really beautiful," she said.
Pettit was among many shoppers who stopped what they were doing after hearing a loud chorus of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" echoing through the mall.
The group worked hard to make sure the performance was pitch perfect, said Dexter Criss, music director for the Gospel Choir.
"We had been setting up and putting stuff together for about an hour beforehand," he said. "But it took some planning."
Besides teaching organic chemistry at Plattsburgh State, Criss directs the diverse chorale group, comprising about 60 students and community members. It is a job he has been doing with great pride since 2001, he said.
Criss wanted to make sure all corners of the Food Court were covered and strategically placed choir members throughout. Some held brightly colored flags that were choreographed into the choir's performance by student members.
Everyone was equipped with powerful voices that resonated well in the bustling Food Court.
"I wasn't sure how it was going to sound, but I see a lot of smiles. I see a lot of hyper people," Criss beamed afterward.
The group used the opportunity to spread the word in the community about their annual Gospelfest, scheduled for Saturday, May 5, at the E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium.
"We did it (the flash mob) for the surprise, for the unexpected," Criss said. "But the purpose of the event was to promote our concert."
He praised gospel music's ability to bring people together as an important expression of what is in the spirit and the soul.
"Gospel, in particular, brings it out. It can reach everybody," Criss added.
CLOSE TO TEARS
Kris Daley, a community member of the choir who travels from Vermont to perform, said she was fighting back tears as the group came together during the surprise performance.
She has been with the group for about 20 years and credits the students and Criss for their success.
"I really love working with the students," Daley said. "They are so enthusiastic."