Monday, August 29, 2011

"Hallelujah"; A Beautiful Version of a Beautiful Song, and Religious Language

The song I’m writing about today isn’t a Tim Minchin original. It’s been done many times by many people. This recording of this version was taken, it looks like, by some amateur audience member, of what appears to be a somewhat impromptu performance (they are holding printed lyrics) of “Hallelujah”, by Tim Minchin and Geraldine Quinn. In addition to the poor video, and sound quality, and people crossing in front of the camera, and an audible rude comment from the audience, Tim and Gerry seem a bit intoxicated. In spite of all this, I absolutely LOVE this video.

It looks like they are having a blast. I realize they’re a bit drunk, but their felicity just makes me smile. I also think it's cute when he says, "shush now" after she says, "I love you", at the beginning. I think her singing voice is really powerful and beautiful. Maybe it's just me, but this performance almost seems ...erotic. When he sings, "remember when I moved in you, and the holy dove was moving too, and every…breath…we drew…was hallelujah", his voice is so passionate, and they are both, kind of rocking, rhythmically. I think it's downright sexy, and probably evokes the sensual emotions those lyrics were meant to, more than any other version I've heard, including him singing it live. Both times I have heard him sing it live, it was amazing in a different way. It was serious, and almost reverent. Can something be reverent and ironic at the same time? I think he likes the dichotomy, and has said, “I love getting a crowd of 95% atheists to sing ‘hallelujah’.”

I won’t drone on about the lyrics or meaning of the song. It would just be my interpretation of the song, anyway, as I’ve never researched it or anything. To me, it is a song about the passions and sorrows of a relationship, couched in religious language. I often like religious language, and don’t mind describing experiences as spiritual, even though I’m not sure what “spirit” means. I don’t believe in a “soul”, but sometimes feel I’ve been affected there. I like going to a “church”. However, I usually replace “prayer” with “good thoughts”, and I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the word “worship”.

I’ve gone to a UU church for many years and we have Sunday Worship Services. Not all UU churches call their services “worship”. I don’t have much experience outside my own church, so I’m not sure what the discourse about this has been in other congregations. I’m sure there has been a lot of it. I’ve always kind of bristled at the term, but have never really asked anyone about it. I still have lots of questions and things I’m learning, and just haven’t gotten to that one yet.

The issue is addressed in a curriculum I am looking at, to possibly use this fall with our youth group. It says the word “worship” comes from the Old English “weorscipe.” That is a combination of two words, which mean worth and -ship or shape. Hence, the English term worship as a title of respect. As a verb, the word meant to ascribe worth to – or to give shape to that which we find worthy.

I can interpret this as “to articulate what is meaningful”, and maybe see some value in using this term. But it is a stretch. I think most of us think of worship with the common dictionary meaning:
–verb (used with object)
to render religious reverence and homage to.
to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).
–verb (used without object)
to render religious reverence and homage, as to a deity.
to attend services of divine worship.
to feel an adoring reverence or regard.

For many UU’s, these definitions don’t fit. Maybe the last one, “to feel an adoring reverence or regard”, but only on certain occasions (like while watching Tim Minchin’s “Hallelujah”). It’s not for everyday Sunday services, at least not for me. There’s a time and a place to use religious language to powerful effect, but I prefer not to “worship” in church. I guess with our churchy definition of worship, to give shape to what we find worthy, this blog is my worship.


  1. Hi Mary - I'm making my way through your blog starting with the earliest posts, because Hi, I'm Your New Stalker ;-) (pls take that with the humor intended!)
    It's been ages since I've watched this video, so thanks for reminding me of it. Wow. I mean, I was blown away by it the first time I saw it too (your description of "erotic" is, I think, very accurate) but moreover I'm so interested to see now how much his singing of this song has changed since he's done it so often in front of audiences now. Bill and I were at the Roundhouse in Camden in Jan 2009, which was (he claimed) the first time he's sung Hallelujah in front of an audience. While sober. ;-) In my memory, it was much more like this video - much more impassioned. But, I think it was also because he was feeding off the audience, who was singing along loudly, cheering him on, much like in this video.
    When I've seen him perform Hallelujah in the US, it's always a lot quieter. Is it because he's just evolved the song into a quieter version? Is it because the audience is quiet and respectful of the song (and his singing of it?) I mean, most of the audiences DO sing along, but it's always been... reverential rather than ecstatic, if that makes sense.
    I'd very much love to see him perform it as passionately as he does in this video. Perhaps he just needs the right kind of audience. Or perhaps he really does just need to be drunk!

  2. Hi, new stalker! I think I have read in various places about the Roundhouse being THE BEST Hallelujah ever. It sounds amazing.

    When I've seen it here, he has dimmed the lights. Maybe that has something to do with the more quiet effect? I think a lot of people just don't know how to take it either. Especially when he first started doing it here. I think we (myself included) can just be way too serious sometimes. (This whole blog is probably a perfect example of that!)

    Seeing it on the Californication set was a bit different though. It was the opposite of reverent, with people milling around and walking in front of him, and holding up the child actor to his face. The stained glass images were really pretty, and it was such a beautiful night, and we were starting to get tired, but I think that crowd was way more energetic and that performance was just a bit chaotic. I loved it.

  3. So now I've been perusing the 'tubes to see other instances of audience/Tim singing Hallelujah, and I came across this one recorded in Feb 2011 at the Green Man Festival (Wales) and I'm thinking it's definitely a matter of feeding off the audience- THIS audience (link below) really gets into it, has high energy, and Tim does a much more impassioned version (much more like how I remember the Roundhouse was.)
    I think you're right in that often US audiences take the song more seriously - or aren't sure if it's "allowed" to sing loudly (as normally that's considered rude behavior) so we're more timid. It's an interesting thing.

  4. That Green Man version is a nice one! Maybe US audiences also don't know all the words. :-?