catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 11 :: 2012.05.25 — 2012.06.07


Stuck in alleluia

More often than not, I have a song stuck in my head. Sometimes, they’re welcome and other times, they’re not.  For example, I go to great lengths to avoid certain invasive 90s alternative species, lest they wedge themselves in the cracks between my thoughts.  Sometimes, they’re random, caught from a snatch of muzak in a store or a bit of a tune my husband happens to be whistling unconsciously. Sometimes, I sing along silently, sometimes I whistle them and occasionally I sing out loud.  Mostly, they flit in and out of my consciousness like the TV commercials I’ve learned to tune out.

But occasionally, I notice that one particular song keeps rising to the surface, and lately, it’s been Randall Thompson’s four-part choral piece “Alleluia.”  Now, the voice of reason tells me that I keep getting this song stuck in my head because I’ve been singing it week after week at rehearsal, but the other voice suggests that perhaps there’s a little more to it than that.

From a first-world-problems perspective, life is going pretty well.  After casting ourselves into the unknown of full-time volunteering and freelancing a year ago, my husband and I have not crashed on the rocks of desperation yet.  Though we’ve come close, the financial forecast always clears just in time.  And beyond just surviving, I’d say we’re thriving, enjoying quite a string of beautiful spring days, untangling some of the messes that have vexed us for years and cherishing the company of family and friends, in both work and play.  Alleluia.

And yet, we can’t allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of our own personal good times, and the running reel of Thompson’s song in my head helps me remember this.  Commissioned to write a celebratory fanfare for the opening of a music center in 1940, Thompson chose instead to respond to the shadow of war lyrically and musically.  The entire song is one alleluia after another — layered, ethereal, longing, mournful, resigned, hopeful — ending with the only other word in the piece: amen. Thompson wrote that “Alleluia” is

a very sad piece. The word “alleluia” has so many possible interpretations. The music in my particular “Alleluia” cannot be made to sound joyous. It is a slow, sad piece, and…here it is comparable to the Book of Job, where it is written, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

And so, in the spirit of Thompson’s original composition, I whistle and I sing, in my head and out loud, in gratitude and in sorrow: alleluia.

The war in Afghanistan continues to mutilate and kill children: alleluia.

I see a luna moth live and in person for the first time in my life: alleluia.

A neighbor gets lost in the woods and dies curled up in a clearing among the trees: alleluia.

Another neighbor dies alone in his apartment, within a few steps of help: alleluia.

I see a box turtle laying its eggs in a hole in the mulch beside a pathway: alleluia.

A friend walks beside someone negotiating the aftermath of rape: alleluia.

I’m joined in my weeding by a freshly hatched praying mantis about the size of a mosquito: alleluia.

For art that helps us remember, for the suffering that binds us together across emotional and geographical and religious chasms, for the mysteries of the human brain: alleluia.  Amen.

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