In my previous blog, Music to Build Bridges, I shared a message about man-made problems that divide the human race and cause needless suffering. Problems include such things as non-communication, prejudice, greed, racism, sexism, and so on. Human problems are largely about disconnection, first from ourselves and then from others.
How is music able to “bridge differences”; that is, create connection? First, by providing an inner bridge that gets us out of our heads and into our hearts.
(Music is processed by the heart, not the mind.) The heart is where we feel our feelings, the thing that makes us human. No person anywhere, no matter the culture, race, creed, etc., is immune to sorrow or joy, hope or fear, kindness or cruelty.
When we are consciously connected with our feelings, especially the kinder ones, we’re more able to understand the feelings of other people, even people seemingly very different from ourselves.
With my Music to Build Bridges blogs, my plan is to share popular music that goes straight to the heart, and the deeper, the better. The popular music will be from different cultures and countries. (I am open to your suggestions, please!) Last time I shared the beautiful Japanese song “Ue O Muite Arukou,” known as “Sukiyaki.” Though sung in Japanese, this song made it to #1 in Canada and the USA a few decades ago, revealing that the universal language of the heart doesn’t have to use spoken words that we understand.
This time I’ve chosen a song written and recorded in the early 1980s by Canada’s Leonard Cohen. Since its release in 1984, Hallelujah has moved millions of listeners and inspired 100s of cover versions. A tidal wave of tear drops–might this help describe the power of this heavenly piece of music?
To me, Hallelujah stops time. It lifts and transports listeners, not away, but rather into their heart of hearts, where the deepest of feelings reside, including those of love and bewildered loss.
Yes, love and loss has been a theme, a universal theme, since humankind came to be. King or pauper, it matters not.
Hymn to a Broken Heart
The song is about a guy who’s passionately loved a woman who has awakened his heart and soul. He experiences their love as sacred, and their love-making as an act of divine reverence.
The intensity of the man’s emotion is so great that it seems to leave him powerless, perhaps like King David who becomes enamored with Bathsheba, another man’s wife (2 Samuel 11). “You saw her bathing on the roof/Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya.” King David acts in a less than noble way and pays a great price. The man in Cohen’s song is compared to this “baffled king composing Hallelujah.” (King David wrote many of the Old Testament Psalms—that is, songs to God—including the 23rd, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”)
The man in Cohen’s song is also compared to Samson (the strongest man in the Bible), who foolishly allows himself to be outwitted by Delilah. Samson reveals the secret that his hair is the source of his immense power (Judges 16), whereupon Delilah betrays him, rendering him powerless, at least for a time. “…she broke your throne and she cut your hair/And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.”
In Cohen’s song, the woman, for her own reasons, leaves the guy, which breaks his heart and leaves him in a state of bewildered grief.
One must be Broken to become Whole
The essence of Hallelujah is the broken heart. A broken-hearted person can choose to open and feel or shut down and become hardened. Does the guy in this song open up and feel? Yes. (Many listeners of this song find themselves doing the same; that’s why the song resonates with them.)
The opening up suggests opening to the truth, having illusion taken away, hence being liberated, albeit painfully.
An “average Joe,” the man seems to need this jolting experience to wake up. With his heart gaping open comes the thanks, the “Hallelujah.” The thanks is for the love he once had. He is able now to learn more deeply about himself and about love.
In experiencing his vulnerability, he can have a greater appreciation for his strength, one not based on his ego self but on his spiritual Self.
Also, by consciously feeling his feelings and not indulging bitterness, he will likely be a wiser, kinder person. Once broken, he has the opportunity to become whole.
Singer of the Song
As mentioned earlier, there are 100s of cover versions of Cohen’s Hallelujah. Among the great versions are those by : John Cale (used in the movie “Shrek”); Jeff Buckley (brought the song to world attention 10 years after Cohen recorded it himself); Rufus Wainwright (used in the soundtrack for Shrek). My personal favourite is Canada’s KD Lang, who has been a winner of multiple Juno and Grammy Awards.
Nothing short of angelic genius emerges when these two musicians–KD and Cohen–merge their phenomenal talent. Here is KD at Canada’s 2005 Juno Awards. When your soul becomes your voice…
When asked to perform his own song at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Leonard Cohen deferred to KD because the song was “hers” now. For that version, please click here. In his view, KD (Kathryn Dawn Lang) performs the song to “its ultimate blissful state of perfection.”
In 2006, when Leonard Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, KD sang Hallelujah to honour him. At the end of her performance, she left the stage to greet him in person. To see this performance and their beautiful meeting, visit here.
I am curious. What effect does Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah have on you? What specific songs touch your heart and soul? What do you think of my view that: On a heart level, music can help bridge differences between people who may seem radically different from one another?
If you’d care to share your reflections in the comments section below, you may well make my day! And if you have suggestions of songs for me to include in upcoming blogs (songs from different countries, in different languages, that reach the deepest of places in the heart), please do tell!