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When film maker Kerry Candaele agreed to send me a link to his new documentary Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven's Final Symphony, he was worried that "watching the film is much better as a communal experience."  Nevertheless, I watched it on my little computer screen (but with good headphones), having no way to see it in a theater, out here under the starry October skies of Western Massachusetts.  But he is right  This film is about connecting with all of humanity, and what better way to do that than to experience it with others -- friends, family, and complete strangers -- stuffed into a big theater under the big screen?

If you live in or near New York City, you may want to seize the opportunity to see the special preview screening at Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center on October 29th. (Or later, atThe Quad in Greenwich Village).

As for me, classical music, including Beethoven was part of the sound track of my life growing up. The sound pouring out of his study on weekends. So I was so surprised, late in adult hood to learn about the powerful role Beethoven's Ninth has played around the world, especially what it has meant to pro-democracy and human rights activists.  Maybe, as conductor George Mathew says in the film, Beethoven's Ninth "gets in your blood and transforms you."  

We come to be who we are for many reasons than we can know. And transformations  in our life can come from many sources. But it had never occurred to me that this extraordinary piece of music could be one of them.  If you are like me and this had never occurred to you, you will come away as convinced and inspired as if it was something you had somehow always known, but never really understood.


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This film is s a labor of love six years in the making (and persistent fundraising) across twelve countries on five continents. People from a wide range of political points of view will appreciate it.  As the film blurb states  

'Following The Ninth' is the story of four people whose lives have been transformed and repaired by Beethoven's message in his Ninth Symphony: Alle Menschen werden Bruder (All Men Will Be Brothers).

-  At Tienanmen Square in 1989, students played the Ninth over loudspeakers as the army came in to crush their struggle for freedom.

-- In Chile, women living under the Pinochet dictatorship sang the Ninth at torture prisons, where men inside took hope when they heard their voices.

--In Japan each December, the Ninth is performed hundreds of times, often with 10,000 people in the chorus. And now, with a concert for the victims of the earthquake and Tsunami.

-- The Berlin Wall, symbol of division and oppression, comes down in December, 1989, as Leonard Bernstein performs Beethoven's Ninth as an "Ode To Freedom".

Part road trip, part adventure story, 'Following The Ninth' is an inspirational film about Beethoven's Ninth, the power it has to liberate us, to shield us against suffering, and to provide hope and resilience for us in dark times.

All these stories are told with remarkable archival film footage. Among others, we meet the Chinese student leader who thought of playing Ode to Joy over loudspeakers to drown out the government propaganda, tell his story story as we see him addressing crowds in Tienanmen Square. We see and hear the Chilean women singing Ode to Joy outside the prison where a surviving prisoner explains that for him, the singing of Ode to Joy meant that even in "the deepest darkest hole, there was hope."  

Joining Candaele at Lincoln Center will be Nation magazine contributor Greg Mitchell, who co-authored a book with Candaele on all this and has been writing about it in The Nation for several years; and conductor George Mathew, a noted human rights activist who has staged benefit concerts at Carnegie Hall including a performance of the Ninth for earthquake relief for South Asia and Requiem for Darfur.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 07:03 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets , DKOMA, and New York City.

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