By Michael Lashley
When I listen to Angela Burke sing out her heart and soul in her rendition of Hallelujah, when I see the video of that glorious performance, I fall under the spell of the power of music and the power of lyrics.
The power of music and the power of the love of music become one.
To illustrate that enormous power in its many forms, here is my first quotation from the lyrics in which faith in “God above” is merged with faith in love:
“Well, maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who’d outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not someone who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”
Those words filled with apparent cynicism about the validity and the value of both God and love should not be taken as either blasphemy or hopelessness. They are the heartfelt, honest and frank expression of one person’s reaction to her life experience.
Constant repetition of the word hallelujah throughout this beautiful song is in itself a constant reinforcement of the inner strength and inspiration that she draws from life. The repetition of hallelujah, which means “praise be to God”, is her way of recognizing and steeping herself in the glory of her faith in two aspects of life (God and love) as they relate to her struggle for sanity and self-preservation.
With the power of that version of faith, she takes to another source of inspiration. In the song, there is a merger of ancient biblical stories in which love and / or sexuality are used to defeat political and military power:
“Well, your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah.”
This is a creative combination of the sagas that include King David, Samson and Delilah, as well as Judith and the Assyrian General Holofernes.
The beauty of the music and the uplifting performance by Burke remind me of another famous piece of music: The Hallelujah Chorus is part of The Messiah, the famous oratorio composed by Handel.
It is not by chance that this masterpiece has become a cornerstone of Christian music. It is popularly sung at Easter time in celebration of the earth-shattering article of faith according to which the risen Christ (after his crucifixion and death) becomes the symbol of the salvation that is wrought by his sacrifice on the cross.
Music as salvation, as a renewal of life, as a higher form of life.