Ode to Joy (Freedom)

Friedrich Schiller was a German poet and philosopher. Much of his creative work focused on freedom. Most of us know the work of Schiller through the final movement of the Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. He used Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy as the basis for the final movement.

The choral rendition of the Ode to Joy has become a protest song around the world. Citizen protestors sang it to protest against the Pinochet regime. Chinese students broadcast it during the freedom demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. It has been performed as an expression of freedom in Japan, Hong Kong, France, and other countries.

Perhaps the best known use of the Ode to Joy is a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On Christmas Day, Leonard Bernstein led an orchestra of the greatest musicians from around the world in the performance of the Ode to Joy. Three choirs accompanied the symphony, one being a children’s choir. It was more than a concert; it was a joyful expression of freedom. You can relive part 1 of that performance here.

It’s hard to suppress yearning for democracy when the quest is placed in a hypnotic, unforgettable song. How can you keep people from keeping a song in their head and heart?

That the song began as a poem shows how the various arts are often a force in democracy movements. Schiller called his poem Ode to Joy because he knew it would not survive despotic regimes. Thus joy became a surrogate for freedom.

The arts create indelible images which can’t be eliminated from people’s minds. You can’t destroy that image even though despots may try. The arts stir emotions. The words of autocratic leaders may create loathing for a while, but that loathing quickly leads to personal shame. The emotions created by the arts are long lasting and form hopeful visions of what might be.

Just imagine how your emotions have been stirred by a song, a painting, a poem, or other forms of the arts? Just imagine how you have formed hopeful images from the arts? Just imagine how the arts have survived challenges from those who would try to suppress the freedoms the arts represent?

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“Music, because of its specific and far-reaching metaphorical powers, can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable.” – Leonard Bernstein

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.