By Tom Ehrich
First, watch this video:
There is so much that is right about this performance. It is beautiful music, of course. No matter how many times I see Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” performed -- by grand choruses, by rock stars, by country singers, by people singing in their homes, by church choirs – I am moved by its strong melody and haunting lyrics.
In a world where religion has become almost unrecognizable as a force for decency and goodness, this song cuts across faith divisions and unmasks the pride and self-glorification that lead insecure believers to hatred and violence.
This isn’t a star turn for prominent musicians. It is a collaboration among soloists, an orchestra of trained professionals, an orchestra made up of mentally challenged musicians, a chorus, an audience swaying and smiling and singing along, and a town square in Holland where beauty is important public business.
In an age when intolerance and phony superiority abound, count the true lessons in this performance. “Losers” can make music. “Winners” and “losers” can work together. The audience isn’t composed of cannon fodder to be driven to excesses, but beloved souls to be led in song. No one is shouting hatred, the conductor isn’t orchestrating violence, no one is left out.
All this in a public square, for the work of the public square isn’t to apportion power and to prevent the power-denied from getting near. The work of the public is oneness, beauty, acceptance, celebrating the best of who we are.
Is this a pipe-dream to be swept aside by the passions of the bigoted and frustrated? No, this is God’s dream. It is a dream not just for the usual culture lovers in their finery. It is a dream for all people: for the pianist pecking away at a keyboard with letters on the keys, for the three percussionists waiting for their cue with not a single person telling them they should get out, for common people who ache to be uplifted. It is a dream for the angry and frustrated, for those struggling to live gracefully in a pluralistic society, for those who feel betrayed by the powerful.
Even in the midst of death, we make our song, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Even as the world gets more and more complex, more and more dangerous, more and more filled with the haters and the bombers, more and more besieged by the relentless greed of the few – even then, we admire a man with Down’s Syndrome who has learned to add his talent to the talents of others, and under the patient and kind leadership of a renowned violinist, has found a truth that is always in danger of being drowned out: we matter to God. Every one of us.