Lessons From Beethoven

I thought he was crazy. Me? Sing with a symphony? Right.  The North State Symphony was set to perform Beethoven’s 9th symphony, complete with soloists and a choral section.  My husband was encouraging, no nagging me to go try out.

Now, I don’t have any illusions that I’ve got an amazing voice.  I have my moments, like in the car or the shower, but there won’t be any record producers knocking on my door and I’m certainly not going to audition for American Idol, but the idea of standing on stage in the middle of a huge choir AND a symphony sounded a lot like a once in a lifetime opportunity for someone like me.

So I went.  And the week after that I went again. After all, they hadn’t kicked me out yet so I figured it was okay to stay.  Our first task was to learn and perform Carl Orff’s Iconic Carmina Burana, which is a collection of baudy (at least they were in the 15th century) drinking songs written by a bunch of monks.  It actually went over quite well, and our choral group of about 60 singers had the opportunity to get our performing feet wet.

 

"The vibrations on the air, are the breath of God. Speaking to a Man's soul. Music is the language of God. Musicians are as close to God as man can be. We hear his words.  We read his lips. We sing his praise. As musicians, if we are not that... We are nothing."

“The vibrations on the air, are the breath of God.
Speaking to a Man’s soul.
Music is the language of God.
Musicians are as close to God as man can be.
We hear his words.  We read his lips.
We sing his praise.
As musicians, if we are not that…
We are nothing.”

Next it was time to tackle the beast! Beethoven first performed his 9th Symphony in 1824. It was his last symphony and quite possibly the one that he worked on the longest. He based the work on a poem written by Freidrich Schiller, with a few modifications he wrote himself. We don’t actually hear the words until the 4th movement, which has become known as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”  It is an amazing piece of music even if you don’t like classical music.  And here’s the kicker – the bulk of the work on the piece was done while he was profoundly deaf.

No one knows what caused Beethoven’s deafness, but he was determined to keep composing in spite of it.  This is probably something many of you reading this may have known as an odd little fact, only useful when playing trivial pursuit or something, but when you actually have the opportunity to hear the complete symphony performed live, and then consider this fact its impact takes on a new meaning.

Walking on the stage for the first time to rehearse with the entire orchestra and the soloists, I was overwhelmed by the place. I couldn’t help wishing my husband, a lifelong symphony lover, could be there with me.  There I was; a girl who never really had anything spectacular about her, being handed the chance to be a part of something truly spectacular.  I just had to send a little thank you up to God; the one who takes the ordinary and does the extraordinary every day.

So what did I learn from this experience besides the meaning of ‘molto fortissimo?’ I learned that the world may see a disability and dismiss the owner of it, but God sees that same disability and uses it to make himself known to us. I can’t help thinking that Beethoven was meant to be deaf so that his music, inspired by God, would give us overwhelming, beautiful, and undeniable evidence of his existence.  I also can’t help wondering, if God can take a deaf man and write a symphony, what can he do with me, a middle-aged church secretary with fading eyesight and bad hearing?

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