It's only a few more days before we can recover from the annual Month of Holiday Music that afflicts arts organizations in Seattle and the entire country. Benaroya Hall becomes almost wall-to-wall tinsel; theaters are all figgy pudding, all the month. But there's only so much Christmas elevator music you can play. New traditions are needed. What about Beethoven's 9th? How did this turn into a New Year's uplifter? Consider this illuminating letter we received from one Harrison Ryker: On the Dec. 24 Opinion page of The New York Times is a piece by Slavoj Zizek entitled "'Ode to Joy,' Followed by Chaos and Despair." This is about the "Ode to Joy" finale in Beethoven's 9th Symphony. I found it provocative and enlightening. The Seattle Symphony has just begun its umpteenth annual, end-of-the-year traversal of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. No one seems to know where this practice began or why it is done. The powers have decreed it, and thus it happens. In the process, the 9th Symphony becomes little more than a longer version of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer," which gets trotted out on a regular schedule and put on display at this time of year. I imagine that Beethoven is spinning rapidly in his grave over this commodification of his music: especially this one work, which clearly meant a great deal to him. To paraphrase Barack Obama, I am not against all traditions; I am just against dumb traditions. And this is, musically speaking, one of the dumbest of all. Zizek, a European humanities scholar, makes the point that Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" has become "an empty signifier," into which any meaning can be imported. The use of the 9th Symphony for big celebrations was first popularized in Japan, he observes. He goes on to note that when the solemn hymn to joy appears, it is promptly undermined (bar 331) with a goofy parody march in Turkish style which some have compared to flatulence and others to the rowdy voice of peasantry, real people overlooked by the phony sentiments of the Ode. Maybe it's just Beethoven laughing at the way his final symphony has been turned into holiday champagne?