An Ode to Joy

When coming up with things to write about for this lovely thing I call Fishrocks, I decided that I would write about the things that interest me, and if anyone was crazy enough to read them, great!  If it became just a way to sort out the voices in my head, a sort of external monologue of my internal thoughts, that would be fine too.

But to my utter surprise, most of my blogs have had a fair amount of readers, and some, like the last one I wrote about religion, which you can see here, got a lot of views and the most comments I have ever had. It seems to have touched a nerve, and I received comments that agreed with me and liked that I had written about some things they too were struggling with, or, on the flip side, that I had totally missed the point about what a worship service is supposed to mean, and that I was a clueless cretin. I probably agree more with the second point than the first, but, to be honest, I’m probably somewhere in between. I do think that I have missed the point of what a worship service is supposed to mean, but I also think I absolutely nailed the main point of the whole blog. And that is this. There are a bunch of people out in the world that used to be regular church goers that are simply no longer attending.

Anyway, for all my faithful readers out there, and to some of you new ones, thanks for reading and giving me feedback.

I haven’t written in a while not because I couldn’t think of anything to write about, but because I have so many things swimming around in this big noggin of mine, and I wasn’t sure how to put it all down in one blog. But, after everything that has happened in the world in the last few weeks, hurricanes, national anthem protests, Trump tweeting about everything, politics, and finally, the horrible and devastating news from Las Vegas, I have decided to go off in a different direction.

John Cleese, if you please.

And with that, I’ve decided to do a music review. And not just any music.  Beethoven!  No, silly, not the dog from the 90s kid movie that I’ve seen somewhere around 30 times. Ludwig van!!  Yes, I recently discovered this little known 18th century composer, and I’m here to tell you, the dude wrote some seriously good stuff. But just a word of warning. This review is gonna get kind of technical, so I would suggest that you at the very least have an appreciation of music, or, at the very least, have taken Music Appreciation, so you can keep up with the rather technical terms I’m going to use. Without further ado, here we go!

When listening to Beethoven, I’ve discovered that I really like his symphonies, in particular the 1st and 4th movements, because those movements have a lot of stabby notes that run up and down and all over and involve the whole orchestra playing really loud and dramatic stuff with a whole bunch of other notes crashing into each other like the Big One at Talledega Motor Speedway. Lots of sound, lots of music, lots of awesome notes swinging all over the place. The 2nd and 3rd movements tend to have a lot of notes that just sort of slide into each other, or “slidey notes” that sound like the way classical music is sort of supposed to sound like. More slidey, less stabby. Kind of like the music you would want to ice skate to.

Which brings me to the symphony I really like. The Nineth. I capitalized it because it is so important.

The 1st movement is wonderfully stabby, lots of musical flourishes and rises and falls, a typical Beethoven 1st movement, except that it’s better cuz it’s the Ninth Symphony. Every movement is better in the 9th. Beethoven was mostly deaf while he wrote it, which somehow made it even better. And the 9th also has Ode to Joy in it, which most people know. But that is getting ahead of myself.

The 2nd movement is so dramatic, I want you to try something for me.  Play the 2nd movement and then do something, like clean the bathroom or empty the dishwasher. With the music playing, it will feel like the most dramatic toilet scrubbing you’ve ever done. The 2nd movement makes you feel like you’re in a movie, and whatever you’re doing seems really cool. Lots of stabby notes, quiet parts, and minor keys that feel weird and spooky. It could be your life’s soundtrack. That is, if your life was really dramatic and dark and you were struggling with some sort of existential crisis whilst you were working in your kitchen.

The 3rd movement is mostly slidey notes, and sounds like old school, dancing in a big ballroom type of classical music. Normally I’m not big on this style, but here, it totally fits. After the drama of the first two movements, and knowing what is coming in the 4th, I think Beethoven gave everybody a break, letting the musicians, the conductor and the listener relax a little. After all, not everything can be dramatic. So he chills a little. And it is quite beautiful.

Ode to Joy

As a cancer survivor, I’ve learned that you have to find the joy in the little things in life. A normal day that ends with an incredible sunset. A rain shower that comes out of nowhere to cool a hot summer day. The muting quietness of gently falling snow on a cold winter day. The laughter of friends and family. The love of a dog. And, for me, the appreciation of music that touches my soul. The 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony does that for me.

It starts quietly, with just a hint of what is to come. The movement slowly builds, until you hear the first familiar notes of a tune that we all know. I think one of the first songs that you learn to play on every instrument is Ode to Joy. It is simple, mostly scales running up and down, that makes it easy to learn for the beginning player. But that simple tune, which starts with basses and cellos, brings in violins, and eventually the rest of the orchestra and the soloists and choir, builds to such a level that it takes your breathe away. I’m not a choir guy. I’m also not a soloist singing guy. But the singing, voices blending with soaring vocals and amazing harmonies, is exquisite. And the whole thing is sung in German, and it doesn’t matter that I can’t understand a thing they are singing.

I was walking Zoey on a 95 degree day, listening to the 4th movement, when the whole orchestra and the whole choir kicked  in to give this incredible crescendo of sound, pulsing through my headphones and slamming into my brain like a runaway freight train. I looked down at my forearms, glistening from sweat on a ridiculously hot autumn day.  I had goosebumps and the hair on my arms was standing straight up.  I smiled and laughed. Joy!  Unadulterated, simple joy. It made a normal, rather warm Wednesday into a special day, because I had found a little piece of joy in the mundane.

I’m gonna end this blog with a YouTube clip from a flash mob in Germany that gets together and plays Ode to Joy. While you watch, notice the faces in the crowd, and the faces of the performers. Pure joy. And my overall message is this. Life gets pretty ugly sometimes. The past few weeks have certainly shown us that.  But whatever is happening in the world, take a little time in each day to find your joy, in whatever form that takes.

Thanks for reading.



2 thoughts on “An Ode to Joy

  1. Thank you, Dan, for the reminder to find joy‼️ Have you ever seen the movie about Beethoven’s life, “Immortal Beloved”? It really tells the story of how he created joy and beauty through the terrible struggle of his life.
    Your thoughts, so wonderfully expressed through your writing, are profound. 👏

    Liked by 1 person

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