Are Ten Thousand Too Many?

Every year in December in Japan there are performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Apparently in Osaka they do the last movement – the “Ode to Joy” – with ten thousand singers. Is that too many? Is that really over the top? The annual performance is part of a celebration called Daiku. From what I can gather it is a tradition with roots going back to World War 1. It has to do with alliances between Japan and Great Britain, the capture by the Japanese of German soldiers, impoverished musicians.

Every now and then we sing a song at First UMC Burlington – “Ten Thousand Reasons“. The song speaks of the attributes of the God Christians worship – attributes like “rich in love” and “slow to anger” and “kind of heart”. Even with the qualities mentioned in the tune, it is a far cry from “ten thousand”.

We human beings like to “go big”, don’t we. Whatever you think of his politics and antics, Donald Trump does represent that super-size way of doing things that we admire. As individuals and as a nation we like to think of ourselves as the most powerful military, the largest economy, the most resilient people, the most generous country, etc.

I will admit that I can’t listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony without weeping just a bit. The dream of it; the sheer immensity of it! But ten thousand singers?

The problem with “big” is that it can become the absurd (i.e. Donald Trump). Whether we are talking ego or architectural plans, Hollywood cinema or musical extravaganza, sometimes “Yuuuuge” rings hollow. On the other hand, it is amazing what the inertia of considerable mass can accomplish – whether for a social movement in a nation or a fourth movement in a symphony. “Huge” can take a thing through absurdity to new levels of urgency.

In Matt Redman’s worship song – Ten Thousand Reasons – we might say that even if we only count the stars in the heavens, a number that dwarfs ten thousand, we would only have just begun to consider the miracle and immensity of creation.

I have listened to that ten thousand voice amateur choir singing and, if my ears don’t deceive me, there are times when they aren’t quite in tune. I wonder if some of them can even hear the orchestra! But being “in tune” might not be the most important thing in this case. Being in touch with the spirit of the piece, with a history that hoped for alliances that would lead to unity that reached across borders – maybe exuberance trumps (used intentionally) musical mastery or technical proficiency in this case. Maybe this is one time in which the measure of the results is less than the sum of all those voices, joining with instruments – Japanese musicians singing with a decent German accent; a maestro waving his arms for all he is worth as if he could muster the forces necessary to usher in a new world order of peace and justice!

The 2011 Daiku as performed in the link above took place after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. People were singing their hearts out, perhaps not overly concerned with intonation as much as simply singing with one voice about joy.

Are ten thousand too many to sing of hope, of healing, of peace, of justice … of joy? Ten thousand times ten thousand would still not be too many … and not nearly enough. Sing it if you can today. Sing with all your heart. Sing joy!


Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.