Ode to Joy with Spokane’s Symphony Orchestra

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By John Hancock

New Year’s Eve Special: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Dec. 31 7:30 PM

I’m blessed by the chance this week to sing in the Symphony Chorale.  The Symphony’s New Year’s Eve performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony has become a glorious annual tradition in Spokane, as in cities throughout the world.

In performances throughout my career, as horn player and now as singer, it has become an inspiration to me about joy and world brotherhood.

Beethoven’s despair, after 10 years of profound deafness and depression, may have led him to the solace of Schiller’s Ode.   Never before had a chorus and soloists been featured in a composition called a symphony.  Here’s the text:


Joy, bright spark of divinity,

Daughter of Elysium,

Fire-inspired, we tread Thy sanctuary.

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;


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.


Gladly, like the heavenly bodies

Which He set on their courses

Through the splendor 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.


For the chorus, it’s a high-wire act of strenuous German vowels, stratospheric transparency, gut-busting persistence, and sublime emotion.  And for the orchestra, it’s rich and demanding of precision, because many listeners know this music very well.

After nearly 200 years, people are still seeking confidence in a loving Father, and reaching for the joy of that blessing.

This idea gets to me every time:

Thy magic power re-unites all that custom has divided,

All men become brothers under the sway of thy gentle wings.

I love it when the orchestra, the singers, and the audience all go crazy at the end.  Care to come along?


About John Hancock

John Hancock had a first career as a symphony orchestra musician and was a faculty member at University of Michigan. He has advanced degrees in music performance from Boston University and U.M.

Arts management was his way of problem-solving and expanding the public participation. He was orchestra manager of the Toledo Symphony, executive director of the Spokane Symphony and the Pasadena Pops and chief operating officer of the Milwaukee Symphony.

Currently he’s an Eagle Scout, a Rotarian, a liberal libertarian of an Iowa small-town self-sufficiency and was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. A childhood Methodist, he now instead pursues ideas of commonality among religions and philosophies.

Volunteerism in civic, political and social services work draws him to town from his forest home outside Spokane. Since 2006, his Deep Creek Consulting has aided non-profit organizations in grantwriting and strengthbuilding.

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