A little known fun fact about me. I grew up playing piano. And when I was in middle school I learned to play the pipe organ at our church. Around that same time, I remember going to Radio City Music Hall and sitting up in one of the many balconies listening to the Christmas music. I saw the organist moving both feet and hands on multiple pedals and keyboards while manipulating various stops as he created such beautiful sounds. Powerful and strong, gentle and tender. I was amazed.
Once a week, I was able to practice on the pipe organ at church in preparation for my lesson. On more than one occasion, I would climb up on to the bench, open up all the stops and do my best to blast the roof off the church building. Oh, what power. And on the occasion I was able to play a piece well (it took a LOT of work for that to happen!) it had an impact on me. Each foot moving in a separate direction, hands on different key boards and eyes taking it all in. Music touches me deeply. All kinds of music.
But one song in particular was Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. I came across this YouTube video on facebook. The part I enjoyed most was the transformation of the faces in the crowd…from uncertainty to understanding to pure joy. And you could see the sense of joy in the musicians as well once the piece was done. A shared experience amongst strangers. A gift of song.
A bit about the history of this piece:
The text for the hymn was written while (Henry) van Dyke was a guest preacher at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It is said that one morning van Dyke handed the manuscript to the college president, saying, “Here is a hymn for you. Your mountains (the Berkshires) were my inspiration. It must be sung to the music of Beethoven’s “Hymn of Joy.”
The tune is from the last movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s great Ninth Symphony, “The Choral”. In this great work Beethoven combines the sounds of the orchestra with a full chorus and soloist. The choral finale uses Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” as its text. It is hard to believe that at the time of composition Beethoven was totally deaf. At the premier in 1824 the soloist had to turn the great man around to acknowledge the thunderous standing ovation, which he could not hear.
Joyful, Joyful we adore thee. God of glory. Lord of Love.