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Beethoven’s Genius on the Other Side of Silence and Lessons for the Pandemic

What greater tragedy could befall a man whose entire life, and livelihood, revolves around music than losing the ability to hear sounds? Ludwig von Beethoven began having trouble with his hearing at the age of 28 while he was working to establish himself as a composer and concert pianist. By the age of 45 he was stone deaf. And we think we have challenges trying to get our work done!

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Beethoven experienced much quiet desperation in his life, but he left an unparalleled musical legacy that includes some of the most famous and beloved compositions ever written. The opening bars of his fifth symphony became the theme song for victory in the Second World War while that symphony’s fourth movement heralded the fall of the Berlin Wall more than thirty years later.

In his biography Beethoven: The Universal Composer Edmund Morris wrote: “A distinguishing characteristic of the creative mind is that it can accept reversals of fortune without emotional damage – indeed, process them at once in something rich and strange.”

Not since the Great Depression and World War 2 have we as a nation experienced the level of emotional damage that has been inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout. While we will all most certainly be glad to see the year 2020 disappear into the rear view mirror, what awaits us in 2021 can only be seen through the glass darkly.

The final chapter of Morris’s biography is titled “The Other Side of Silence.” Beethoven’s most magnificent compositions were created despite his deafness, on the other side of his silence. Indeed, some scholars believe that the silence of his outer world helped to open for Beethoven an inner world of astonishing beauty.

At the 1824 premier of his 9th Symphony Ode to Joy, members of the orchestra were instructed to ignore the baton of the composer and instead follow the lead of a second conductor. Beethoven was still furiously conducting when the work ended. The young soprano soloist gently took him by the hand and turned him around so he could see the uproarious applause that greeted his masterwork.

Today the first covid19 vaccines were administered. We all hope and pray that this will herald the light at the end of the tunnel for the coronavirus pandemic. But there will be another tunnel – helping people cope with and recover from the emotional and psychological trauma that has been inflicted by the coronavirus. This includes the thousands of caregivers who have given so much of themselves to serve others during this crisis. Here are three lessons we can take from Beethoven’s way of coping with deafness and apply to the way we cope with the aftermath of covid:

Stay strong in the face of adversity: In a letter to a friend Beethoven wrote that he was determined to “seize Fate by the throat; [deafness] shall certainly not crush me completely.” Several years later he wrote this note to himself in the margins of one of his musical sketches: “Let your deafness no longer be a secret – even in art.” He went on to produce art that astounded the music world.

Improvise your way around barriers: As his hearing left him, Beethoven sawed the legs off his piano so that by putting his ear to the floor he could sense the vibrations as he pounded on the keys. He had concave metallic resonator constructed that could be placed on top of a piano to deflect sound back as a sort of hearing aid for improvising on the keyboard.

Keep your vision on a better future: When told by a pianist that one of his sonatas would, if played as written, destroy a piano, Beethoven responded that he had not written it for the fragile pianos of his day but for an instrument yet to be created. 

One more thing: Watch any video recording of a Beethoven symphony or concerto and you will see as many as 80 musicians working together to deliver a single stunning performance. As we leave this calamitous year behind us, can we once again come together as a nation to help heal the emotional damage that’s been inflicted?

Stay Strong For Us Project

The Covid19 crisis has brought out the best in caregivers in hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics around the world. It has also left many battered and exhausted – and the fight is not yet over.

That’s why Values Coach is launching the Stay Strong For Us project next month. This eBook and website will include messages of hope and encouragement from healthcare leaders and thought leaders plus great strategies for personal resilience and recovery.

We are covering the entire cost of this project – there will be no charge to organizations or individuals. If you would like to be notified when we go live simply contact me at with Stay Strong in the subject line and I’ll take it from there.

Because we still have miles to go before we reach that light at the end of the tunnel, we need you to stay strong for us!

Everyday Courage

Courage, Perseverance, Resilience, Hope

Energize and motivate your staff with an ongoing infusion of inspirational ideas and strategies. Now, more than ever, investing in your team will help them navigate today’s challenging world with courage and determination.


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