As many of you know, I have been singing with the Seattle Symphony Chorale for more than 11 years. This season has been one of our busiest to date, with three full weeks of daily rehearsals and performances between December 1 and January 8, culminating in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and its iconic "Ode to Joy".
I have to admit that "B9", as we affectionately call it, is not my favorite piece of music. For sopranos, in particular, it requires long stretches of sustained singing at the very top of our range, which is vocally taxing. But it is undoubtedly one of the masterworks of the Western classical music repertoire, and is best known as an enduring symbol of human unity.
As with all symbols, of course, context matters. A blog entry in The Guardian points out that:
The Ode to Joy tune – which Beethoven composed as a motto for the whole world to take to its heart, to become a national anthem of humanity itself [...] has been adopted as a the motto of dictatorships as well as democracies. As Beethoven’s most recent biographer Jan Swafford says, “how one viewed the Ninth […] depended on what kind of Elysium one had in mind, whether all people should be brothers or that all nonbrothers should be exterminated”.
And as I was looking out at the audience, on its feet after the last note of our performance, I could not help but marvel at the power of music to bring people of all colors and creeds together, regardless of whatever else may be going on in the world.