Beethoven & Transformation: On Singing the Ninth Symphony

 ETSO Chorus at dress rehearsal for Beethoven 9th Symphony

I've been a musician all my life.  In, fact I came very close to choosing music as my profession.  Music has always filled my heart and soul with joy, and it is through music that I have had some of the most meaningful experiences of growth and accomplishment in reaching for and attaining something big, glorious and transcendent ~ something bigger than myself.  In the process of making really great music, I've experienced many opportunities to find and express the highest and best, most highly evolved expression of who I am.  These kinds of experiences with music do that ~ they are a crucible for soul-transformation.  This is why I am a musician.  This is why music brings joy to my Soul.

So it was with great excitement and anticipation, that I auditioned this past January to sing 3 choral masterpieces, most notably Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with it's famous final movement, "Ode to Joy", with the local symphony. 

Volumes have been written about Beethoven and what is generally believed to be his greatest work.  It has been analyzed, critiqued, theorized and used in film scores, including a Disney movie. 

What is it about this "central artwork of Western music, the symphony to end all symphonies" * that is so enduringly inspirational and monumentally moving?

Beethoven's personal life was in sharp contrast to the moving transcendence of the Ninth itself.  He was a man who deeply wanted love and family, and yet never married.  He was physically abused by his task-master father.  He himself was a hard man; he had serious conflicts with other people throughout his life. And he was going deaf though a condition that in this day and age could have been medically corrected.  The passion and pathos of his music comes from his life.

The Ninth Symphony was the last one Beethoven wrote. By this time he was profoundly deaf.  At the conclusion of the premiere, backstage he held his head in his hands and wept, because this great work was a great offering born from his troubled heart, and he thought the audience rejected it.  Then an orchestra member turned him around to see the thunderous applause.

"Celebrated to this day for its ability to heal, repair, and bring people together across great divides, the Ninth has become an anthem of liberation and hope that has inspired many around the world:

At Tiananmen Square in 1989, students played the Ninth over loudspeakers as the army came in to crush their struggle for freedom.

In Chile, women living under the Pinochet dictatorship sang the Ninth at torture prisons, where men inside took hope when they heard their voices.

As the Berlin Wall came down in December 1989, it collapsed to the sound of Leonard Bernstein conducting an orchestra of musicians from all over the world, playing Beethoven’s Ninth as an “Ode To Freedom.”

In Japan each December, the Ninth is performed hundreds of times, often with 10,000 people in the chorus." **

In the small city where I live, we have an orchestra conductor who has a big heart and big vision, and who understands what music can do to heal, to transform and uplift human beings to what is greatest and highest in us.

The concert was everything and more that I anticipated it to be. Before a performance hall filled to capacity, we brought this great work to life.  Singing with this choir, under the direction of our outstanding symphony choir director was a musical peak experience of my life and one I am sure I will always treasure.  

 Beethoven's 9th symphony score close up

Beethoven's greatest work ~ that begins in the first movement with the music of creation moving over the waters of the deep, through the energy, pathos and clashing of the scherzo second, through the beautiful lyricism of the adagio third movement, and concluding with the monumental "Ode to Joy" to universal "brotherhood" and harmony that brings joy and is the daughter of our Souls' reaching for our ultimate potential and destination ~ is a musical experience of the Heroine's Journey. 

 The Ninth Symphony expresses this Journey in music more vividly and with more emotional connection than any other means I know of.  It resonates for us on a deep level, because we recognize this journey, and we feel it stirring and calling us forward and upward, through the Soul Work of our Journey, reaching for our highest and best most evolved expression of our True Selves.  Whether we can express this in words or not, we feel it and we resonate with it. 

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony helps us each awaken to who we really are , why we are here, and what we are here to do.  It was and is the great gift, the Hero's elixer and "kiss for all the world" as the poem says, given to the world by this great master, toward the end of his life.  It was his magnum opus.   Of everything he could have chosen to express through this monumental work, he chose the themes of "brotherhood", unity, harmony, joy, love, reaching our highest potential and destination;  he chose transformation and transcendence.

It is very meaningful to me that this gift was given to the world by a very human genius, who knew heartache and sorrow, and experienced personal challenges.  Some might say he wrote the Ninth in spite of his personal experiences. 

I say his personal experiences and life lessons were the alchemical fire that birthed his genius and empowered him to leave the world this profoundly moving and enduringly inspirational greatest work ~ his kiss for all the world.

We feel this in our hearts and Souls; it resonates in our very bones.  This is why Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is so enduringly inspirational and monumentally moving.  Beethoven was a very human being who took his Hero's Journey and fulfilled his destiny, and in so doing, has changed the world. 

What about you?   Will you take your Heroine's Journey to fulfilling your destiny, and transform the world as only you can?       


* From  "Symphony Guide:  Beethoven's Ninth ('Choral')  Tom Service, 9.9.2014.  The Guardian.
** From the movie trailer for "Following the Ninth", a documentary about the Ninth Symphony.