The lives and music of the great masters can hold inspiration for all singers.
While attending a conference of singing teachers in Vienna, Austria, I discovered just minutes away from the conference venue was the same house where Beethoven wrote his 9th symphony. Coincidentally, I happened to be there for the 195th anniversary of this famous work.
Beethoven was an extraordinary man. As I thought about his life and music, I recorded 3 important singing tips to inspire all singers with resilience and confidence.
Today is May 6th, 2019 and on this day, 195 years ago, in the city of Vienna, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (D-minor) had its first public airing. This very building where I am standing was owned by a coppersmith 200 years ago and Beethoven rented out the top floor where he is said to have locked himself away and worked on that very symphony.
Now, what does all of this have to do with Total Voice TV? I think there is always inspiration we can find in the great artists and so, inspired by the life of Beethoven – his music and his triumph over incredible personal hardship – I want to leave you today with 3 tips to take your singing further.
Today, we are discussing the symphony, Beethoven – his life and music. The symphony was a popular form of music during the 19th and 20th century. The definition of a symphony is a large scale work written for the orchestra. Typically, a symphony will consist of 4 contrasting sections that we call movements.
Many composers, including Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, all put their hand to writing symphonies. However, Beethoven is considered the ‘father of the symphony’ because of his skill in writing symphonies and the fact that he elevated the form of the symphony beyond an everyday occurrence to something that was unique and demonstrated the skill of the orchestra to the highest degree.
In total, Beethoven wrote 9 symphonies and his last symphony that we’re discussing today is considered by music critics to be one of his greatest masterworks
In writing his 9th symphony, Beethoven took an incredible amount of risks. First of all, he scored the symphony for almost double the normal size of orchestra. And not being content, just with a larger orchestra, he wrote voice solos AND a choir part into the final movement.
I can imagine how electric the atmosphere must have been at the premiere of this symphony 195 years ago where the choir and vocalists where sitting down doing almost nothing for the entire symphony. Only in the last minutes, do they stand up and deliver what’s now known as the Ode to Joy melody.
Which brings me to the first point of our talk today: As artists, we always have a choice where we can either be safe, or take risks The famous educator and psychologist Abraham Maslow once said: “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth, or to step back into safety”
Another famous quote that has always stayed with me from Albert Einstein is this:
“A ship is safe in the harbour, but that’s not what ships are built for”
By taking risks, Beethoven was able to redefine how the symphony was viewed forever and he pushed through to become one of the greatest composers of all time. Similarly for you, learning to sing may feel a little unsafe. It may feel scary at times and, if it doesn’t, you’re probably not doing it right.
As the last note of the 9th Symphony sounded in 1824, I can imagine that awkward moment of silence, and then almost spontaneously, the audience rose to their feet. They were cheering, clapping loudly, waving their hats and handkerchiefs in the air and their hands were outstretched
Music critics and historians have recorded no less than 5 standing ovations. The only problem is Beethoven was still conducting the symphony. He hadn’t realised that the orchestra had stopped and he couldn’t even hear the applause.
It’s now known, at this stage of his life, Beethoven had become profoundly deaf and, in fact, Beethoven’s career as a concert pianist had been cut short by his progressing deafness.
I can’t think of anything more debilitating for a composer, than to be losing your hearing. We know it caused Beethoven a lot of depression, suicidal thoughts, and that he became a recluse. He hid himself away, and buried himself in his work. The top floor of this building is one of the places where Beethoven did his best work.
What Beethoven originally thought was his greatest weakness, actually became a source of strength. It’s during this period of exile, that Beethoven was able to complete some of his best work.
So that brings us to my second takeaway message. Singing can be a very scary pursuit at times. It forces you to confront yourself. So, my second takeaway message is to push into your vulnerabilities and accept your weaknesses and frailties. In the same way as they were for Beethoven, I am convinced that you will find your strength in those areas.
The impediment to your action, whatever you feel is holding you back as a singer, is the very action you need to take. Without friction, without something to push against, without something holding you back or stopping you, many of us will not find the motivation that we need to achieve greatness.
So if your journey to grow as a singer is difficult at times, take inspiration from Beethoven, who pushed into his areas of weakness and discovered some of his greatest strength.
So, the last point to leave with you today, is that just like Beethoven, you may not know, what the result of your actions may be and how those results may influence other people.
Certainly, Beethoven didn’t know it at the time, but the melody he composed for his final movement – the same melody that he couldn’t hear – has gone on to become one of the greatest and most-recognised melodies in music history.
It has been quoted by composers in their works. During the Cold War, when Germany was divided into two nations – East and West – and they didn’t have one single national identity, this melody was used as their National Anthem during the Olympic games. In 1907, a famous Presbyterian minister wrote words to that: “Joyful, joyful we adore thee” and it became known as one of the great hymn tunes.
In 1972, the European council, now known as the EU, adopted this melody as the official anthem for the European union. I hope we can all find inspiration in Beethoven’s life – his music, and his triumph over adversity.
So that’s all I have for you today. I bid you farewell from the Beethoven house here in Vienna, Austria on this 195th anniversary of Beethoven’s most famous work, his 9th and final symphony.
Do you have thoughts about how we can be inspired by Beethoven’s life and music? Please, leave them in the comments on the YouTube video. If you have any suggestions for future episodes of Total Voice TV, I’d also love to hear them in the comments.
Please, like this video and subscribe to my channel. Until I see you next time, be well and remember, YOU were born to sing.