How many times have you sung along to a song, not completely certain of the lyrics? A few hundred at least? Yeah, me too. When you do find out the actual lyrics it sometimes changes how you feel about the song. Or it just makes the song make more sense.
Three and a half weeks after those first ominous days of uncertainty after her stroke, I watched my Mom sit down at a grand piano in a quiet wing of the hospital cafeteria. Her occupational therapist sat nearby as she put both hands on the black and white keys and played a simplified version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
Surely orchestrated by some angel in charge of perfectly timed moments, for me that brief experience felt like serendipity! That song played within an hour of arriving at the hospital, captured my emotions at finally, blessedly being with Mom after so many weeks of enduring the tug and pull of needing to be in her physical presence.
Page 12 (right) of Ludwig van Beethoven’s original Ninth Symphony manuscript. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Every time I’ve heard “Ode to Joy,” especially the final movement when the chorus joins the symphony and raises the roof with Schiller’s German poem put to music, my heart has soared.
Imagine how my heart felt then, hearing my Mother, a pianist all her life, play the piano again, albeit, hesitantly. Relief, at her ability to read music and have it translate from eye to brain to hand to ivory, flooded through me. Surely as more healing takes place, as more therapy trains and retrains synapses and connections, she’ll be able to sit down and enjoy playing the piano with ease and confidence again.
I’ve never known the translation of the German lyrics. I only knew that my head and heart responded to the music with a sense of exultation and energy.
Surely, I thought, as I watched Mom struggle through some other simplified piano music, the lyrics to “Ode to Joy” must be very powerful to lend themselves so strongly to the impact of the music. Of course, I looked up the translation and wasn’t surprised.
Sorry to say it wasn’t a poem about the joy of a mother and daughter reunited. But it’s not far off. It’s a song of brotherhood, of relationships, of the joy that can occur because of those connections.
Honestly, the whole of humankind is a family. The potential for joy astounds when looked at that way. But of course, we personalize and take things in small bites. We learn how to interact in family groups and then let that translate out into the world.
That’s just my take on the music and lyrics.
But don’t take my word for it. I’ve included the English translation below. And I also want you to be able to feel the joy in this music, so, of course, I’ve included a phenomenal flashmob link for you to click on. I recommend having tissues nearby.
Now that I know what the lyrics are, it changes how I feel about the music. From here on out it will remind me of my mother, of my family, of those most important of connections. Those permanent bonds of love and caring bring more joy than anything I know.
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join in our song of praise ;
But any who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.
All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift ;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can fell contentment,
And the cherub stands before God !
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He set on their courses
Through the splendour of the firmament ;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
As a hero going to conquest.
You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world !
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions ?
World, do you know your Creator ?
Seek Him in the heavens !
Above the stars must He dwell.