You know how it is when a song gets kind-of ruined for you from being overplayed? It was a few years ago now, not long after Alexandra Burke repopularised the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah, that it happened for me, with that song. My daughter, who was busy doing her singing exams and preparing for various school concerts and festivals, chose it as one of her pieces and it was all we ever seemed to hear, being sang at the top of her lungs all around the house day and night. Or on our so-called “peaceful” walks in the countryside. In fact anywhere and everywhere. For months. Actually, it spilled out into years as she just seems to have to hear the opening bar and she’s off again, to this day. So for a long time, whenever it came on in my hearing, I would have to dash to switch it off. My husband would virtually run from the house shouting “Noooo” (in fact, we both would, in comic unison) and plunge his head into a bucket of water to block off his ears…OK I exaggerate but you get the idea. We’d had enough of it.
So you’ll have to forgive me if I never quite got around to really examining the words, apart from that ear-worm refrain; until yesterday, that is, when something made me curious (after, guess what, it came up in that way it does) when, for once, I didn’t reach for the volume button.
Only then could I perceive its absolute perfection as a “hymn” for our times (just make sure you read all the verses, not just the abridged version that is so often sung). I gather it was a deeply personal song that took several laborious years to write but isn’t that the real beauty; that what is most personal, heart-rendered and gritty is, generally, also most universal? Yet “Its a cold and its a broken halleluja” are not lyrics of despair, however Cohen intended them (art has this way of birthing through us, as its vehicle, only to become its own “person” with an agenda all its own too). Far from it…they help reunite us with ourselves.
Because we arn’t pristine and our spiritual aspect isn’t this polished-up, high-note thing kept for Sunday best (in fact I dislike that word “spiritual” for the way it seems to shut the door on so many people’s ears for sounding too much like something separate from this world when, really, it’s an intrinsic part of everything). Divinity is a perfectly imperfect thing that we get to wear every day and we should be getting it out of the closet and doing that right now; it’s what this up-gearing of eras is all about, so we can evolve our world into a whole other paradigm to what we’ve been through before.
When we regard our divine aspect as something pristine, we hold onto the belief system that says that we have to be perfect before we even allow ourselves to come close to it, to touch it with idle curiosity, to imagine ourselves to be associated with it, to try it on and, yes, to become it in the flesh…and so, most of the time, we simply don’t go there. It becomes like that “thing” you’re always going to do “one day” when the “time is just right” and all your “circumstances are just so”…and so, like the sunday best you never wear, it stays in the closet, never even looked at. What Cohen did to bring that idea crashing down into the harsh, messy reality of our world was imperfectly beautiful. No wonder (a certain unsung part of) so many people seemed to gather to his lyrics like moths to a flame; hungrily, though they hardly know why. From the recording studio to the school concert repertoire, it must be one of the most repeated songs of our era.
So my perfectly imperfect twist in the tale was that all that holding of those lyrics at-bay meant they were there for me, like an unopened gift left behind after the tree has gone, when I needed to most pay attention to them; perhaps to share these few words.
Akin to everyone else, I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and yet I know myself to be divine, which is the knowledge that has upgraded my experience of everything in this world, and then some, and I wish only for everyone else to know this about themselves, too….however “cold” and “broken” they may seem. We are all holy and realising this is what makes us whole again.
I’m certainly not some cookie-cutter parent who treats every utterance from a child’s mouth as manna from heaven and who gushes praise and encouragement at every turn. For the record, I’ve done plenty of that when its felt from the heart…but my well-rounded daughter declares she is oddly relieved that we’ve always been very “real” and a little bit “irreverent” as parents; it’s what makes us feel most solid and trustworthy to her, in every possible kind of circumstance. She’s got over the teasing about that song…and she still sings it anyway; I expect it will play at her wedding (possibly as part of the humourous speech given by her father; he’s been mentally planning it for years)! And I’m so very far from perfect in just so many other respects that I would be here all day listing them all if I tried but I’ve come to love them all as uniquely me, knowing them to be part of my divinity in human form…and that’s the point. In fact that’s the whole point, for every single one of us. Well, hallelujah.
This evening, my eye fell upon a very favourite piece of music on Spotify that I hadn’t played for a long time so I did. Its Jocelyn Pook’s “Desh” (Homeland), a score written for dancer Akram Khan. First track up (of course…though I had forgotten this), a very different “Hallelujah” but oh so beautiful (described by one critic, for The Times, as “so beautiful it could break your heart” ). The same goes for the rest of the score, which is exactly the kind of cross cultural musical experience I seem to be drawn to, liberally mixing sounds recorded in the streets of Bangladesh with lyrical chants and hymns, reminding the listener that it’s all the same stuff, really….all just expressions of our shared humanity. You can listen to it here if you’re curious. If you do find it, make sure to listen to Ave Maria off the same album, its one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard and never fails to send me off into rapture.
Isn’t it great that our daughters can sing. My daughter has also sung that song but it was songs from Phantom of the Opera that we mostly listened to over and over again!
She doesn’t sing in any divine way – she just sings for the joy of singing. Mind you some of her songs send shivers down our spine. We can be very proud of them.
Here’s a link to my post, written around Christmas time, where you can hear a few of her songs …
Just a beautiful moment in time …
Apologies for my tardy reply Clive, apart from my mad morning writing excursions, Ive been living outside in this lovely heatwave and didnt have a chance to sit down and listen to your link until now. Wow, what a lovely and confident voice your daughter has, having done the rounds of all the concerts and festivals Ive heard all sorts and she’s amazing! My daughter prefers pop and music theatre to classical too and never stops in the house, she’s struggling with that at uni as she doesnt feel she can do it anymore in her halls of residence and its getting her down a bit because its like breathing to her. What talent these kids have and as you say, when its for the sheer joy of it you can really tell because it conveys to the listener. Thanks so much for sharing, enjoyed very much.
Thanks for your lovely comments Helen. I’m sure your daughter will find a way of singing even in “Halls”. And if she’s sharing maybe the others will join in. Singing brings so much joy to the world – the first song my daughter sang solo, publicly, was the ‘The World in Union’ (Hayley Westenra) at the Bangor Uni ‘New Music Festival’ when she was about nine! Good luck to your daughter and tell her to keep on singing …
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They sound like peas in a pod…my daughter was so painfully shy we moved her to another school but within 6 months was on stage singing solo, age 7. She went on to get lead parts in musicals and win all sorts of festival prizes, doing all the singing and music theatre grades etc., not to mention bringing more than a few tears to peoples eyes. It helped her confidence enormously through all the ups and downs of school. I hope that, at some point, she has the time to take it up again in a more formal context than the shower. I hope your daughter still manages to sing too, we need to hear voices like that.
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Wow she sounds amazing – do you have any songs of hers you can share or links to any YouTube videos of any of her performances – we’d love to hear/see them. My daughter was/is painfully shy and lacks confidence so just knowing that someone else has made it through – helps. Thank you.
PS. We too have musical showers!
We’ve always kept them out of the public domain as you hear so many stories about trolling etc though I have snipets of video here and there stashed up on various storage devices (and which, one day, I must sort out into some sort of order). Of course the best performances were at the sort of festivals where recording was banned. We never went to a pro recording studio as you did though I seem to remember suggesting it once, think she felt embarassed but wish we had now.
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Mmmm yes the Internet can be a bad place – I took the gamble in the hope it would boost Bea’s confidence. She’s just getting back into singing by doing Karaoke Nights at a local pub. Oh well it’s something. Many studios will produce a CD of tracks from material sent to them on-line. We have two well regarded studios here in North Wales that will master them this way – you probably have some in your neck of the woods. Saves embarrassment – but Bea actually loved the experience …
So sorry I missed this reply from you clive. I didn’t know studios could do that, its one to remember. For the time being, my daughter’s mind is so full of her coursework that singing has taken such a back seat, she wasn’t picked for the uni choir as the standards were so very high and classically oriented so its the first time she’s not been in a choir for 13 years but I hope she finds her way back to it in the future. Guess we just have to trust them to find their own way.
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