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Alleluia!

Yesterday was Music Sunday at my church. It's an annual event, with lots of choral pieces all centered on a common theme. The theme this year was "Alleluia"; this being a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we naturally had an eclectic mix of "Alleluia" pieces. Our introit was the traditional Hebrew round "Havanah Shirah". We closed with a medieval French piece named "Alle Psallete Cum Luiya", where we were actually expected to sound like we were singing through bagpipe chanters. In between these bookends, we threw in an African traditional Alleluia along with brief excerpts from the works of Berlioz and Mozart.

Our main work, though, was Randall Thompson's Alleluia. I'd never heard the piece before we started rehearsing it. It's a very challenging piece (at least for an amateur such as myself); each of the four vocal parts weaves in and out, the dynamics range from barely audible to full blast, and the lyric is simply "alleluia" constantly repeated! (Which, of course, meant that I couldn't cue off the text when I got lost.)

During rehearsals I was far too busy trying to master the bass line to really wonder why it was so slow and wistful. The one really energetic part of Thompson's Alleluia seems more defiant than ecstatic. The joyous celebration of Handel's famed Hallelujah Chorus is completely missing from Thompson's piece. But it wasn't until I heard the sermon, where our minister told the story behind the piece, that I understood why.

Randall Thompson wrote his Alleluia in July of 1940 - bare weeks after the Nazis smashed their way into Paris and chased the Royal Army into the Channel surf. The collapse of France shook Thompson badly, and it clearly affected his composition. Yet - instead of an elegy, or a requiem, or some other traditionally sorrowful form - Thompson chose to write an Alleluia. After hearing the sermon, and after a fair amount of reflection, I think I understand why.

"Alleluia!" isn't merely something to shout when everything is joyous and wonderful. We, as terribly fallible and shortsighted humans, need to keep an awareness of the beautiful parts of the world even when that whole world seems to be collapsing around our ears. The miserable weather of the last month hasn't done anything good for my disposition; neither has this awful cold that refuses to clear out of my lungs; neither has the interminable nitwittishness that passes for political leadership in Washington.

There is truly too much going on in my world for me to feel like singing alleluias to the Universe. Yet, as the minister's sermon rather bluntly said, these are the kinds of times when we most need to sing alleluias. These are the times when we need to remind ourselves that the good, the beautiful, the worthy and lovely are still here, all around us.

So. It's cold and rainy outside. The phone still doesn't work. My current contract involves twenty-five miles each way on highways which average at least three miles of backups a day. And my car is rapidly approaching the mileage level where the timing belt needs replacement.

But I won't let all that rule my life. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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