The Brotherhood of Man

The Brotherhood of Man 




I love Beethoven's 9th. Period. Always have and always will. I mean, we've all grown up humming that tune, right? It's like it's been put in our DNA somehow and we just know it. But I first remember really encountering it in college. When understanding and discernment really began taking hold in  my life. And I listen to it every year ever since. Sometimes more than once a year; you know, some years are tougher than others.






Not everyone knows of the tremendous connection between Beethoven and the Transcendentalists of America. It was Goethe's writing in Germany that influenced Emerson and Thoreau. Ludwig van loved Goethe, too. Woven into Beethoven, Goethe, and their American counterparts is this irrepressible optimism of our inherently good nature, in spite of the overwhelming evil of the institutions around us. Ours is to decide to trust our own voice, and recognize the outrageous power of an individual to say, "No or yes” on purpose. The conscious decision to say, “You are my brother." To stand in the face of overwhelming odds and obvious defeat and say it anyway. "No more" the voices cry out in unison, and we become bigger, different...better because we witness it.


This is Goethe’s gift for all those who hear its call of kinship.



Fascinated by this new literary movement and philosophy, this philosophy of hope in a world so dark with corruption and a life so beaten with betrayal and loss, Beethoven was able to witness Napoleon siege his beloved adopted city of Vienna and respond with something better: brotherhood. Who does not feel their blood quicken at such a story? From the horrors of Napoleon comes the Ode to Joy! What audacity! 



Transcendentalists are married to amazement (which is why Mary Oliver loved them so much, too) and artists who are drawn to this philosophy (as Beethoven was) willingly search their whole lives for that one great expression of their truest voice, their “barbaric yawp” as Uncle Walt called it. “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield…” wrote Tennyson. Though it be a fool’s errand, “Who more foolish than I?” asked Whitman. 



Some say it took Ludwig van half his lifetime to complete the 9th. Who wouldn’t give a dozen lifetimes just to have this occupying space in their heads and hearts?  And who wouldn’t give a thousand lifetimes to catch even a glimpse of that sublime moment, let alone the chance to give it expression. To be peculiar yet familiar. Whew


And that legacy, that quest for the sublime in ourselves compels us to seek, to find, and not to yield. The point for the Transcendentalists was not to become Beethoven; but to be bound by duty (because we are having this human experience) to find and make use of our own voices. I know I am not saying anything you don’t already know. But I want to say it anyway. Maybe I am saying it for me. 

Shallow Focus Photography of Pink Flowers · Free Stock Photo



I do confess that I write to figure out what I am thinking. Clarity comes into view gradually. 



I just wanted to offer you one of the purest expressions I have ever witnessed of transcending the horrific because of the hope of connection, the power of brotherhood and music. I just wanted to share this link with you because you shared your yesterday with me. Music, brotherhood, and nature, when they come together are more powerful than the horrors and betrayals they overcome. I know you know that, too. 



For Conan the Barbarian, it was the riddle of steel. He found no peace in songs 










For me, it has always been the riddle of music and nature. I have no use for the sword.










We read Beethoven's story and watch the video and listen to the music and immediately realize we are in the grip of something...better. Each note, each moment of recognition that commands your full attention, each expression becomes a mirror for our own and transports us to a magical place, a better place. Between the tension and release of the music and confused recognition of the feeling of sudden awe, we are one moment closer to the sublime. Tom Petty was right: “Music is the only true magic.” It overcomes us. As something sublime must.



All the while, we remember that Beethoven strove half his life to give voice to creation that he never got to hear. Oh, how this "Ode to Joy" helps not only us, but the tortured man who carried the tune. I mean, to succeed and never hear a note! At the final crescendo, when the silence in the theater was restored, No one was the same. No one was unchanged. But the audience barely mattered. Or maybe they did matter. I wonder what that deaf man heard, thought, felt? Goethe said, “Call it what you will…the feeling is all.” Perhaps, it is enough to be grateful for the gift.



Yesterday, two of my favorite things collided: nature and the brotherhood of music. We shared that brotherhood on stage for 24 minutes while nature flowered in the hills all around us. Where the ocean meets the shore a short walk across the Pacific Coast Highway PCH. The whole experience with its peculiar perfume. 

I have shared stages and natural venues in many places with many different faces. I am grateful for everyone I have been with and everywhere we have shared the magic of music and nature together.


All the best to all of you,

Tom Alfera


Leave a comment