I'm obsessed. Let's start with the compellingly mysterious lyrics. Here is the first paragraph, which is about musical–or perhaps any–creation as spiritual quest (for full lyrics click link):
"Now, 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 you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah."
Then there is the music itself, which fits the haunting, melancholic and bittersweet emotion of the lyrics. Taken together, they create a soul-wrapping spiritual description of love, attachment, faith, disappointment and sacrifice. I could listen to it again and again, trying to crack the meaning like an unbreakable egg. The words baffle me, but I totally get the artist's intent.
My mood post-election, Leonard Cohen's death on November 7, 2016 and the coming holiday season have all made his "Hallelujah" my perfect December anthem. I play downloaded sheet music from Scribd on the piano in the morning. I write while streaming different covers of "Hallelujah" from Spotify. I read web articles and quorums arguing who has the best cover (contenders include K.D. Lang, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Buckley, Willie Nelson, and of course Cohen himself).
The new album, "A Pentatonix Christmas" (October 21, 2016), was released a month before Cohen died but presciently includes a completely spirit-lifting and more hopeful a capella version of the song. I love it. If you don't stream music, I'd suggest ordering that. While you're at it, get the two-disc "Essential Leonard Cohen," which has the gold standard of the song (I love all the covers, but I'd argue that nobody does it better than the gravel-voiced Cohen himself.)
I heard Renée Fleming sing a heartbreakingly memorable "Hallelujah," at the Aspen Music Festival in July (mentioned in my blog post, November 10, 2016). It is on her album "Dark Hope" (2010) and you can listen to it on YouTube here.
Fleming has also sung many of the great solos from the master of the original "Hallelujah," aka George Frideric Handel. Composed in 1741, Handel's "Hallelujah" is unconflicted and triumphant in expressing praise for the Lord. It's pure joy and faith in music form.
I don't need snow at Christmas but I do need to hear at least one live version of "Messiah." Otherwise, it doesn't feel like the holiday season to me. Extra points for singalong or boy's choir. But let's face it, I'm always surprised by how, er, shall we say complete the full-length version is at a listening time of two hours plus. Truthfully, I'm a Pavlovian dog just sitting and waiting for the choir to ring its "Hallelujah" bell and I can't think of much else. Same with "Ode to Joy" in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in D minor, Op. 125. What, you too? Hallelujah!
Now, back to Cohen, and Kate McKinnon's rendition on "Saturday Night LIve" as the perfect complement to post-election mood. Cohen's final stanza is about trying, failing, but not giving up:
"I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah"
And so I won't. And you shouldn't either.