I wrote most of this after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The devastation has continued and only grows worse. It almost masks other conflicts and “cleansings” around the world but this one has the potential of a nuclear disaster.
It’s strange I didn’t mention the bronze sculpture Let Us Beat Swords Into Ploughshares by the Soviet artist Evgeniy Vuchetich illustrating the verse from Isaiah (2:4), “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and…neither shall they learn war anymore.” It was gifted to the United Nations by the USSR on December 4th, 1959:
It’s both ironic and sad.
They say music can lift one’s spirits. I’m guessing we can all use a major uplifting. And perhaps nothing is as major as Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (OK, it’s in D minor), especially the last movement, his setting of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” – a poem and a prayer that mankind would someday be able to live in peace. Beethoven was able with this music to bring down the Heavenly Sparks of Godliness that would empower people to live together as brothers! (I paraphrase the poem.) Beethoven died on 3/26/1827 and we can celebrate his music and life by listening to one of many recordings available.
The symphony is overpowering, building again and again to the moment the Chorus stands for the last movement. For almost 4 minutes we’re teased with the theme being stated again and again: basses, bassoons, oboes, flutes, all wanting to be the first to sing out – JOY! Crying out for the magical power to emerge and bind together brother and brother.
Then, another increase in intensity before the strings sing out again, soon followed by the bassoons, woodwinds…more and more instruments joining until the full orchestra and then – now after 6 minutes – the trumpets signal it’s time for our voices all to rise up. No! Not yet. At 7 minutes a pause. We must really mean it – want peace with all our hearts. Rise up. And the Bass cries out: Oh, friends, not with these sounds… but with more pleasant ones, more joyful ones. The Chorus follows: Freude, Freude – Joy! Joy! And calls for the heavenly fires to descend, to empower mankind so that they can live together as brothers.
I find this music a most sublime prayer for peace. No matter the trumpets and timpani, the almost deafening cries the chorus. Here’s a link to a wonderful performance of the full symphony on YouTube with Daniel Barenboim conducting:
But for that extra uplift, here’s another link to the last movement with 10,000 performers!!!
Listen. It makes my day to think of so many people coming together to make sounds so beautiful:
The ODE and music sing of a friend being a friend to his friend. None of us are invincible. We all hurt and are incomplete. We need one another. It’s important to be a friend to a friend. To be there when you’re needed. Be present and accounted for. This is a battle we can fight locally, bloodlessly, that will give honor to Beethoven’s death.
And sometimes it’s the little things, the acts of kindness we can all do – even on a bad day. Smile. Pick up the phone and say hi to someone you’ve been meaning to call for months. Or, if you’re the tall, dark, and silent type – send an email with an emoji with a smile to someone in your contact list.
This may sound stupid – but it isn’t. If you’re out for a walk and see litter, don’t let it bother you – think of it as an opportunity. Pick it up and dispose of it properly. Someone else will feel better. And if you’re out for a ride, drive kindly – don’t be aggressive. Look out for the other person. Let’s all try to provide those sparks of Godliness so that we can all live together in peace – an Ode of Joy of our own making.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at email@example.com.
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