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A Christmas Hallelujah - Remembering All who have been Lost to Violence

New Hallelujah Offered

Sandy Hook Elementary - in MemoriamSandy Hook Elementary is forever emblazoned on our memories as a place of suffering and mourning. 

"A Christmas Hallelujah" is a new work celebrating the birth of Jesus but written within the context of pain.  We remember all those who have died at the hands of violence.

Based on Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, "A Christmas Hallelujah" retains the original melancholic tune and song structure but adds new lyrics. 

Five verses span the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection with an emphasis on Christmas.  In the sadness of verse 4, the crucifixion, the anthem reaches out to everyone who has lost a loved one to violence and especially to those whose lives have been forever altered by December 14.   This work is also part of the continuing celebration of the 150th anniversary of Pilgrim Church.

The story of "A Christmas Hallelujah" follows.

Sandy Hook Massacre

Sandy Hook Elementary School is located in the rural and family-oriented community of Newtown Connecticut.  Though the community is considered safe by all standards, the school had recently upgraded its security protocol to include visitor documentation and the school doors were regularly locked at 9:30am. 

Not more than five miles away, Adam Lanza lived with his mother, Nancy Lanza, in the Bennetts Farm section of Newtown.  Some time before 9:30 a.m. EST on Friday, December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza took guns belonging to his mother, including a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, a 10mm Glock 20 SF handgun, a 9mm SIG Sauer handgun and a .22 Marlin rifle.  He then shot her four times in the face with the Marlin as she slept and drove the ten minutes to Sandy Hook Elementary.

Pres Obama at Memorial Service 12/16/12Although the doors at the school were locked, Adam easily used the Bushmaster to blast his way into the building.  Within minutes, he had killed 20 children between the ages of six and seven, all first graders from two classrooms as well as six adults.  As the first responders arrived, Adam shot himself in the face with a single bullet.

Event reporting generally focuses on the deaths of the twenty-six children and adults in the school and neglects the full count of 28 including Adam and his mother, Nancy.  That anyone would die for no apparent reason is cause for serious alarm and action to stop what must be called a horrendous evil working its way through our society.

Media words used to describe what happened included massacre, atrocious mass murders, traumatized, clueless, targeting the most vulnerable, the scope of the horror and the deep pain in our hearts.

In his speech at the Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil in Newtown, Connecticut on Sunday night, December 16, President Obama quoted the following biblical passage:

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
~ 2 Corinthians 4:18

Many people reached out to the community and to the families who had lost their children and their loved ones.  Teddy bears, flowers, mass signings of internet cards, prayers, food, donations and many other gifts were sent to Newtown.  People drove from many miles away to just show up and help. 

Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

Leonard CohenComposer Leonard Cohen’s stated goal in 1984 was to write a song that gave a nonreligious context to the expression of "hallelujah" or praise.  He labored over his writing, penning some 80 verses in the process.  And while some verses have Biblical references, overall the song is not intended for a sacred setting.  What brings memory to the sound of the music is its line by line climax to the hallelujah moment of each verse as well as the soulful melancholic refrain of the four hallelujahs. 

Cohen saw his song as joyful but this belies the brokenness and complexity of the words.  Indeed the ears of the world have heard otherwise and the song is now sung at weddings, funerals, school concerts and all manner of religious services, the chorus lifting it into the realm of the spiritual.

The strength of the composition in sustaining its own relevance over three decades is reflected by how many singers have reinterpreted it. Jeff Buckley’s guitar recording was more romantic and yearning than the reflective original. The song’s inclusion on the “Shrek” soundtrack, its repeated replaying on VH1 after the 2001 terrorist attacks and 2010 versions by lang at the Winter Olympics and Justin Timberlake at a telethon for Haitian earthquake relief were other key moments for its visibility.

Cohen's Hallelujah is malleable.  Verses can be dropped or given greater emphasis depending on the interpreter and the setting.  Indeed, the very simple melody is what carries the moment.  What people remember is plaintive singing (chant in the Cohen rendition) - the words not very important - and a build up to the cry of hallelujah and the chorus.

"The Voice" Honors the People who Died at Sandy Hook

The Voice singing HallelujahIt is no wonder with the song's history that “The Voice,” an American reality talent show on NBC, made a decision to open their December 17, 2012 episode on a somber note.  Judges, hosts and contestants from Season 3 began the final live performances with an emotional tribute to the victims of the tragedy just three days before.

Their performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was both beautiful and upsetting.  The lyrics were distributed among the many singers on the candlelit stage, each voice waking us to a new reality while the camera panned the singers' hands holding in memoriam the name and age of each of the 20 children and six adults that were killed.  Truly, a moving performance and a timely acknowledgement of the tragedy.  Singers from The Voice selected two of the original Hallelujah verses.

Click here to listen to The Voice sing Hallelujah.  http://vimeo.com/55894302

Hallelujah for Sandy Hook

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

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
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

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Pilgrim Church Plans a New Hallelujah

HallelujahPlanning for the Pilgrim Church Christmas Eve service, to be held still in the wake of sentiment for the loss of so many lives, recalled Cohen’s Hallelujah and its use at bridging sorrow. 

The cries ringing out of Newtown could be heard even in Uphams Corner where in 2011 seven people were murdered, six of them by gunshot.  For the pastor, Rev. John Odams, or the Music Directory, Nancy Conrad, to ignore this moment was not right.  New words were needed to match Cohen’s tune, retaining the original song structure, and yet appropriate for the joy of Christmas, the memory of those lost everywhere and the offering of prayers for healing.

"A Christmas Hallelujah" tells stories in verse about the life of Jesus from the prophecy through the birth and the sorrow of the crucifixion.  The final verse celebrates the joy of Christmas because the death of Jesus was shown to not be in vain. 

Surely the survivors of Sandy Hook are somewhere close to the tomb of Jesus, still wondering why, still bathed in the tears of sorrow.  Through this Christmas anthem, we offer them comfort and solace and, one day, a semblance of joy.

A Christmas Hallelujah 
Lyrics:  Nancy Conrad, Copyright 2012

Verse 1
Prepare the coming of the Lord 
To spread God’s love and Holy Word
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
Like a shepherd with his flock of sheep
Yea, one missing lamb will make him weep.
God’s arms protect us alway.  Hallelujah.

Verse 2
By law decreed, the journey made
To Bethlehem, their taxes paid.
The heavens gave them haven in a stable.
‘Twas a rose in bloom, the bride of God,
Young Mary’s faith and Joseph awed,
The newborn baby crying: Hallelujah.
Verse 3
They journeyed, led by an eastern star,
The Magi traveled from afar
Each bearing gifts to give to infant Jesus.
“He was born,” they said, “the King of Jews
And brings to all the world Good News.”
They bowed in prayer to worship. Hallelujah.
Verse 4
From Jesus newborn in manger bed
To Pilot’s court by traitor led
“Thy will be done,” he prayed unto his Father.
From suckling child of Mary born
To one crucified, the world forlorn,
What happened to our cries of Hallelujah?

Verse 5
God sent his only Son below
The empty tomb gave proof to show
New life for all, our Lord in resurrection.
With new Christmas songs of joy and mirth
To celebrate our Savior’s birth
We thank You and we shout out: Hallelujah.
Refrain (after each verse and three times after verse 5)


Thanks to Ms. Jordan Lloyd who sang "A Christmas Hallelujah" at the Pilgrim Church Christmas Eve service.  Ms. Lloyd studied classical voice at the Boston Arts Academy and is currently studying Art History and American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.


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Posted: December 27, 2012  Nancy J Conrad

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