Singing Hallelujah for my Brother

hallelujahWe lost my younger brother Michael to cancer in December, 2012. In Judaism, the first year anniversary is an auspicious occasion. On Shabbat of that week, a special prayer is read at services. In this case, a memorial plaque was created for Michael that was un-veiled at services. Coincidentally, our Rabbi happened to be on vacation and her place was taken by Alan, a lay leader who happens to have been one of Michael’s oldest friends.

Alan led a wonderful service. He shared several of his family’s religious rituals with us. He taught a fine lesson. Over the course of the service, nearly everyone in the congregation was brought forward, a noteworthy honor, to recite the blessings over the Torah. Alan shared a few stories of Michael’s goodness and goofiness. As the service came to a close, he called me to the piano for the closing hymn. We had arranged this beforehand, strictly on the D/L.

Our musical director, Sasha, picked up his guitar. I held the opening chords, and invited everyone to join us.

I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord,

            But you don’t really care for music, do you?

Sasha’s classical guitar picked out a riff over the C major and A minor of the piano…

Well, it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift…

I called on everyone to get their hands in the air. First it was two or three people, and then, as if gravity reversed its field, sixty arms were waving gently in the air, swaying to Leonard Cohen’s classic.

The baffled King composing Hallelujah.

As Sasha and I swung into the chorus, I started to urge the congregation to join us, but I was too late. Thirty people were quietly singing, in breathtaking spontaneous harmony…

Hallelujah…Hallelujah…Hallelujah. Hallelu..u…u…uuuu…jah.

I played the chords again, softer this time, and slower. I hummed the melody, and I listened. Sasha strummed his guitar, and he murmured the lyrics. I listened as thirty voices sang for my brother, sang for their own brothers and sisters, sang for everyone who had ever lost someone they loved, who had ever had a broken heart…

Your faith was strong but you needed proof, you saw her bathing on the roof,
her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you. 

She tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne, and she cut your hair, and from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.

I hit the chorus hard. I hit the bass line even harder. Sasha was right there with me. My baritone and his tenor found each other in two part harmony, the congregation still swaying. I looked out and saw people with arms linked, arms around waists, tears on cheeks. This was much bigger than Michael. This, this was for all of us. I threw back my head and powered through the chorus, as Sasha’s tenor wound above and below me.

Hallelujah…Hallelujah…Hallelujah. Hallelu..u…u…uuuu…jah.

We kept it up there. I sang the first line, my voice cracking. The congregation sang a line, tears on every face. We traded lines, first me, then Sasha leading the congregation in response. People pulled out cell phones. The pale blue light reflected off of the darkened windows at the front of the sanctuary.

Baby I’ve been here before, I know this room, I’ve walked this floor,
I used to live alone before I knew you.

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch, love is not a victory march,

it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

We took it low, way down low; our voices, the guitar, and the piano just above a whisper. Sasha and I sounded each chord just once each phrase, letting the notes hang in the air as we all murmured the chorus…

Hallelujah…Hallelujah…Hallelujah. Hallelu..u…u…uuuu…jah.

We sang together, just above a whisper, the first lines…

Maybe there’s a God above, but all I’ve ever learned from love…

We brought it up a touch, the congregation swaying a bit faster, singing a bit louder…

Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.

Louder still. I hammered the bass line. Sasha’s guitar, at my ear, so loud I could barely hear him sing.

It’s not a cry you can hear at night, it’s not somebody who has seen the light

The congregation, singing so loudly they couldn’t hear the catch in my voice as we sang-         It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.

I felt the cold sweat run down between my shoulder blades. I saw the gooseflesh on Sasha’s left arm as he played the chords leading up to the final chorus. I looked to my left, towards Ina, our hugely gifted piano soloist who graciously gave up her seat on the bench, as she stood at my side. I saw her tears and her smile as the majestic choral chords boomed through the sanctuary:

F maj, A min, F maj, C maj, G maj, Cmaj. I heard the crowd singing as one at the tops of their magnificent voices.

Hallelujah…Hallelujah…Hallelujah. Hallelu..u…u…uuuu…jah.

We brought it down by half.

Hallelujah…Hallelujah…Hallelujah. Hallelu..u…u…uuuu…jah.

To just a whisper.

Hallelujah…Hallelujah…Hallelujah. Hallelu..u…u…uuuu…jah.

I dared to look out as the closing chord hung like a mist on a morning lake- hands held. Hugs traded. Wistful smiles and proud tears sharing a face.

Thank-you, Michael.



The Beginning
About David Stanley

Teacher & science guy, writer, musician, coach, skier and bike racer, I am interested… in everything; your story, food & spirits and music and everything in the natural world, spirit & sport. My son is 22 and still needs his Dad. I am 56 and so do I.
I blog on life and death, cancer and sports, kids and education at

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  1. Larry says:

    What a powerful moment! You truly seemed to have honored your brother’s memory.

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