Shirley and I were fortunate to catch a screening of Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony at the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library in San Jose in June.  The screening was presented by The Beethoven Society and was hosted by the director, Kerry Candaele, who was kind enough to give an informative Q and A session at the conclusion.  Five years in the making, the film is a documentary that tells the story of places and moments that Beethoven’s final Symphony was used for great political and social purposes.  Moments that will stay with me:

  • Student dissidents in Tiananmen Square, tasting freedom for the first time in their lives, re-wiring the loudspeakers in order to play a cassette of the Ninth, giving themselves courage in the face of the Chinese Army.
  • In Chile during Pinochet’s cruel dictatorship, groups of women gather outside torture prisons to sing the Spanish version of the Ode to Joy, called El Himno de la Alegria, giving the prisoners inside the hope to survive another day.
  • An emotional telling of the fall of the Berlin Wall from the point of view of a young East German woman.  In Berlin, shortly after the Wall fell, Leonard Bernstein famously changed Schiller’s Ode to Joy to an Ode to Freedom.
  • A Sumo arena in Tokyo during the annual Daiku season, where an audience of 5000 enjoy a performance of the Ninth with a matching chorus of 5000!  Candaele pointed out how lucrative it is for the vocal coaches, conductors, and soloists in the months leading up to the yearly festival of renewal in Japan, as countless amateur singers prepare for their chance to be part of the Ninth.

During the reception in the Beethoven Center, Kerry Candaele was signing books (the companion book to the film is called Journeys With Beethoven: Following the Ninth, and Beyond, co-written with Greg Mitchell).  When Shirley and I spoke with him and asked to have our copy signed, Mr. Candaele cracked a smile and asked what month it was – a sign of a true artist!