and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
March #3

Song of hope and renewal needed now more than ever
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alleluia, alleluia, (repeat).

Pachelbel's "Canon in D major"

And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"

From the "Hallelujah Chorus" in Handel's "Messiah"

I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya ...
Well, maybe there's a God above
but all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya;
It's not a cry you hear at night
It's not someone who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah ...

From Jeff Buckley's version of the 1984 song by Leonard Cohen

I sang my first Alleluia as a member of the Sacred Heart church choir. During Holy Week, the organ in the choir loft was silent we sang a capella on Good Friday and during the Saturday evening vigil service. Then, on Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead, the organ vibrated with triumphant melody, and we sang "Alleluia, alleluia," our young voices joyous, rising.

We didn't use an "h" and never sang Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," but we were saying the same thing: Rejoice. He has risen. God shall reign.

A century before Handel, Johann Pachelbel wrote a gentler Alleluia. I heard the New Age recording by Robert Grass for the first time in Salem's Pyramid bookstore; couldn't get it out of my mind and bought it a few weeks later. I play it when I am recovering from surgery; on the rare occasions when I can't sleep; and, of course, on Easter morning. It's a soothing chant, with no lyrics but the repetition of this single life-affirming word.

I'm told I could have heard Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on several of my favorite TV shows: "House," "The West Wing," "Lost," "Roswell" and "Cold Case." But the first time I noticed it was when the chorus was played at the end of "Numbers" one Friday night.

For days, I hummed the tune at friends, trying to identify it. Finally, I tried my family in Nevada. My son didn't know it, but the then-5-year-old twins told me it was from "Shrek." They gave me that DVD for Christmas, and sure enough, "Hallelujah" is the movie's theme. I put it on my iPod, along with the k.d. lang version; it's my favorite song.

And I am not alone. Recently, it was sung by an "American Idol" contestant, and I was surprised to hear both Simon and Randy identify it as their favorite, too. That week, it became the most-downloaded song on iTunes. Last week, Geoff Edgers wrote about it in The Boston Globe, quoting Tom Calderone of VH1 saying, "We need more songs that are inspirational."

That startled me somewhat, and my "tell the truth" gene kicked in with its evolved cynicism.

The "Hallelujah Chorus" is inspirational; as you can see, above, Cohen's Hallelujah is almost a sarcastic use of the word, noting love gone wrong. The full lyrics do begin with stories from the Bible, but tell of the adultery of David and Bathsheba and the betrayal by Delilah of Samson, before going on to detail the modern singer's loss and pain.

And yet, and yet. The song is unearthly beautiful. It soothes, like Pachelbel's canon.

"The minor fall, the major lift," seems to reflect life itself. My friend Sara, who sang with me in the choir, and who has known terrible loss with the death of a child, told me that this Hallelujah is one response to the bad things that happen. She said she'd heard different lyrics than mine that touched her own sadness.

I went looking, and found this additional lyric, waiting for me and for our times:

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to ya?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah.
Hallelujah, hallelujah.

So it's Holy Week, 2008: There's war in the Middle East, genocide in Africa, repression of the Tibetan revolt by China; national recession, incomprehensible national and personal debt; governments failing in their missions; Islamic terrorists murdering Israeli students; a black minister screaming racist hate; child, animal and elderly abuse; the resurgence of diseases once thought to be controlled; and new germs evolving.

We can give in to fear and despair, escaping into distractions and apathy; or, as spring arrives and Easter dawns, we can face our challenges, celebrating that so many of us diverse human beings love the same song, and sing yet another discovered verse:

Hallelujah, hallelujah...
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool ya
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.
Alleluia. Hallelujah! Hallelujah ...

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.