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Hallelujah! The Power of the Word

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A minister I knew once questioned the depth or “the soul” of a song I wrote because it was ” a song of largely just Hallelujahs”. Today I’d like to take a moment on this issue and look at the word “Hallelujah” in some depth.

Its etymology is from the Hebrew and means “Praise Jah” or “Praise God”. Interestingly enough, it is a word that circumnavigates the globe and spans most languages. When translated, the word “Hallelujah” (or sometimes “Alleluia”) remains the same: In Spanish it’s “Aleluya”, in Finnish and German it’s “Haleluja”, in French it’s “Alleluia”, in Estonian it’s “Haleluuja”, in Icelandic it’s Halleluja, in Slovak it’s “Aleluia” and on and on like that. So it’s a word whose four syllables mean the same thing to most of mankind. Say the word almost anywhere in Africa and they know how you feel. Very few words translate that way. Consider even the word “God”. Even this word changes dramatically in its pronunciation and spelling in translation. “Hallelujah” is truly universal.

I know of no other word in language or song that carries such joy, such celebration, such depth of spirit and soul. With its four open vowels, it is a gorgeous utterance to sing and when sung alone or surrounded by itself and repeated over and over it is the epitome word of celebration in human language. I find that when I’m writing a sacred song and I am most filled with the spirit of God, these are the words that spill out of me over and over as the melodies pour through me from God. Over and over again, “Hallelujah”. It happens so often that I have to rewrite the lyrics into other words, otherwise most of my songs would sing nothing but “Hallelujahs”.

A man named George Fredric Handel used it to musically summarize his penultimate tribute to the birth of Christ in the finale of his “Messiah”. Who has not sat in wonder at the singing of this great gift to mankind as the same word cascaded from the choir?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

In no way comparing myself to Frederic Handel, I too used these words to great effect in a song that opened the performance of The Jenny Burton Experience which ran to sold out audiences for over seven years here in New York City.

Let’s start with a Hallelujah

Let’s begin with a Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

There is music in our lives

There is music in the air all around us

There’s a spirit in our lives

And the music and the spirit are one

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

A simple statement, but with the weight and power of this amazing word you can be sure the audiences knew exactly where we were going with the inspirational intention of the performance. It set the spirit of the evening in stone and launched us cleanly and clearly into the realm of spiritual thought.

What is a word but a symbol for an idea. These sounds that come out of our mouths represent concepts large or small. Say the word “streetcar” and we know exactly what you mean. Say the word “God” and you will have as many definitions of that word as you have listeners. But say the word “Hallelujah” and the world is suddenly all on the same page and in some way feeling and knowing the light that you are experiencing. It is a word that bears repetition, no, in fact, clamors for repetition, for to say it once is not enough. It must be repeated and repeated in the wonder of God’s grace and power, love, soul, and spirit. It is the penultimate word in the human language in praise of God.

When life is at its best, in the moment when no other words suffice, for most of us here on this planet, out pops the word “Hallelujah”. This elegant and universal utterance captures the essence of celebration and is immediately understood deeply in the soul of all.

~ Peter Link

For more inspiring music you can download and information about Peter Link, please visit WatchfireMusic.com

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Mitchel Turner

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I’m a journalist from Oxford specializing in hip-hop and culture.