Hallelujah! Building a community of faith, hope & resilience.

From the Principal Wednesday, 20 July 2022

How often have you mused on the Book of Judges? For almost every member of the community I'd suggest the answer is, 'not very often'. The truth though is that almost everybody who is reading this has, and the way it got to you is a great lesson in how messages about faith can sneak into our every day.

Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen wrote 'Hallelujah' in 1984. 'Hallelujah' means, 'Praise God', and the song as initially written was a long study of the biblical King David. It is said that Cohen wrote as many as 150 draft verses. It was on an album that did not sell very much, the single wasn't promoted very heavily, and unsurprisingly not many people heard it.

The song itself though was heard by a few influential people. One of these was John Cale, who was very famous as a founding member of 1960s legends The Velvet Underground. In 1991, he slowed the song down half a tempo, picked his favourite verses, and released it. THAT version was put on a free compilation CD of Leonard Cohen songs - the kind you'd pick up in a bargain bin of a record store. Then, in 1993, whilst babysitting for friends in New York City, emerging singer Jeff Buckley got bored and played that album, and heard Hallelujah for the first time. When he released his first album, he included a version of the song, and it boomed.

Now, it has been performed by literally hundreds of people (there are at least 300 versions known). Its inclusion in the 2001 movie Shrek has made it even more familiar to a huge, younger audience. So, without having full insight into the depth of the song, a whole generation of children swayed along and sang 'Praise God'.

When Cohen, who was Jewish, first recorded the song, he described it as "rather joyous", and said that it came from "a desire to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way, but with enthusiasm, with emotion." He later said "there is a religious Hallelujah, but there are many other ones. When one looks at the world, there’s only one thing to say, and it’s Hallelujah".

What I love about this story is the resilient endurance of the message. There are so many joyous accidents that mean the song didn't disappear. Cohen almost didn't record or release it. He was 50 and he was not seen as a marketable musician. Cale asked Leonard Cohen for the lyrics, and Cohen faxed them - 30 pages in total... what if he had refused? What if Jeff Buckley had not have been babysitting in New York, or had not been bored and dug out an old CD from the family's collection?

I feel the message it sends about faith, legacy, and hope is really compelling. Cohen wrote something that echoed well beyond where he could have imagined. As community members responsible for the aspirations of the children in the College, we should pray for the same.

Chris Gabbett