I was born on December 21st, which is often a turning point in the wheel of the year; more darkness than light. One of my small, quiet holiday traditions is to light candles.
For me, for many, an unexpected darkness arrived early in November and is still here. A cloud over the spirit. The threat of terrible storms. The fear of planetary disaster. Specters come to life, full-blooded and shockingly familiar--neighbors, colleagues, friends and family.
This month, in Japan, there will be hundreds of performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, most famous for the fourth movement, where soloists and chorus sing a version of Friedrich Schiller's poem, "Ode to Joy." You know it; you can probably hear it in your head right now. For some reason, even though it is a song of joy I always weep when I hear it.
I know about the performances in Japan because a couple of years ago I saw a beautiful documentary film by Kerry Candaele called "Following the Ninth." The film examines how Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has been used for support, and healing and inspiration--in Tianamen Square and in Chile during the Pinochet regime. It is a heart-opening reminder that we are all connected and that music transcends whatever we perceive to be our differences.
"Following the Ninth" is going to be my holiday film this year. I lent my copy to a friend and they haven't returned it, so I ordered a new one.
This is what I wish for all of you: that you can find a way to see this film. If I could I would buy a copy for each and every one of you. But if you can't see the film, then find a way to listen to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony sometime soon. It's usually No. 1 on WQXR's end-of-the-year classical countdown, and the New York Philharmonic will be performing it in early May 2017.