This Sunday marks the end of a long Epiphany season and a chance to relish the word “alleluia”, before it disappears from our prayers and hymns until Easter. As it happens alleluia is one of the most perfect words for singing. The vowels float on your breath, the only consonant is one of the easiest and most comfortable to sing, and it’s almost impossible to sing the word incorrectly – unless you’re from a part of the country that renders it into “alleluyer”!
Hallelujah is the same word, though with more consonants that imply a bit more bite to the sound (Handel’s Alleluia Chorus?) This word in various forms exists in all three of the Abrahamic traditions, which is a lovely thing to think about at a time when we so often put more effort into finding differences between faith traditions. The word hallel in Hebrew means joyous praise, to boast in God, or to act madly or foolishly, though Hallelujah is usually simply translated as “Praise Yahweh”.
Randall Thompson may well have known the Hebrew roots of the word Alleluia when he was asked to write a choral fanfare for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center in Massachusetts by the conductor Serge Koussevitzky. But it was July of 1940 and possibly Thompson felt the country was not in the mood for a fanfare of joyous praise. Instead he wrote a somewhat somber piece that exhibits a steady strength. The music soars, but not madly or foolishly. This now very famous and often sung Alleluia might serve as a reminder that joy has many aspects, and that introspection isn’t just for Lent. Perhaps this music might lead you to an appreciation of those quiet places within you where joy is found and where praise is sung.