College students react to “Following the Ninth”


Part two of Kerry Candaele’s Beethoven trilogy is under way. I pledged $35 for the Kickstarter Project which ends on May 19th, 2016. The way this crowd funding works is that if the goal is not reached, the fundraiser gets nothing. It’s my sincere hope that my friends and readers click on the above link and preview the next film in the making. It’s about Beethoven’s only opera – Fidelio.

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Kerry Candaele at Middlebury College, July 2015

Director Candaele’s “Following the Ninth” is a powerful documentary on the impact of Beethoven’s last symphonic movement – the Ode to Joy. Since getting the DVD, I have shown this 78-minute film in an introductory class to classical music at a community college each semester.

I require the dozen to 15 students to do preliminary research to listen to all four movements of the ninth symphony, read the English translation of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” and learn about the events that predate most of their lives: Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, and Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. This assignment continues my own personal journey, for each time I watch the movie I get new insights.

I select interesting extracts from the spring semester 2016 and insert them below the assignment here.

Answer the following questions in standard format, minimum 2 pages.

  1. Read the introductory essay by the director. What is the director’s relationship with Beethoven, his music, and the places he selected to make this documentary?
  2. What were the three main takeaways you got out of watching this documentary?Support your choices.
  3. Who was Billy Braag? Why did the director choose to open and close the film with Billy Braag?
  4. The film is divided into four sections, corresponding to each of the four movements of the Ninth  Symphony. Why do you think this was a good way to structure the documentary? Would it have  been easier to go “around the world” and focus on one event at a time?
  5. How are the events where the “Ode to Joy” was used in the movie similar? How are they  different?
  6. Why is “Ode to Joy” considered an anthem of hope?
  7. The Ninth Symphony was premiered in 1824. Was Beethoven present for it? What happened? How was it received?
  8. Why did Beethoven use a choir in the symphony, which is traditionally without the human voice?
  9. How has familiarizing yourself with the Ninth Symphony helped you with writing this film review?
  10. In your opinion, students and scholars of which other disciplines would also benefit from watching  this film? How so?
  11. If you could ask the director three questions, what would they be?

The idea that struck me the most powerfully however was the fact that in times of turmoil, humans, regardless of age or nationality, were able to unite under the banner of the Ode to Joy.

The three main takeaways that I got from this film was music can promote peace; it gives hope; and it can use as a political reform.

From the film, a main takeaway of mine was that other humans have inflicted human suffering for centuries. The need to oppress and other populations of existing humans to assert dominance is a story we hear time and time again. There is what seems to be universal culture of appreciating classical music, where we can all feel fulfilled and be given hope, even in extremely dark times.

The three main takeaways I got while watching this film were determination, courage, and power: determination on the part of individuals willing to change the world, and defending what they believe in, in China, Chile, Germany, and Japan.

I believe Candaele chose Braag as the person to begin and end the film for it shows how the song has changed others and how others have changed the song to embody what it represents to them and others; a different take on the symphony.

Bill Braag, a guitarist in his 50’s starts and ends the film. The director uses this as an example of how an artist on stage today can still bring people together using the Ninth Symphony and rejoice in it.

The director of this film, Kerry Candaele, had not just stumbled across Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony one day and decided to make a film about it. No, he had been studying Beethoven and his works for years, and was more in tune with his music than your average director. He had an emotional, sentimental connection with the music, so making this movie was not a simple matter for him.

Students anywhere would be so wise to watch this film to motivate themselves to always be involved in political and cultural matters. Scholars, specifically teachers, have an obligation to show their students what is important and why they should care.

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