Imagine going about your daily activities of life — school, shopping, work, dining — and suddenly the sky around you bursts into song: a voice here, a voice there, until the entire sky is filled with powerful harmonies singing repeatedly the same set of lyrics, delivering a message.
What would you do? Sit slack-jawed! Complain? Hide? Join in? Call the authorities? Utter a sentence starting with “What the…”?
The shepherds tending flocks on the silent night on the hills above Bethlehem faced this situation. In their case, “What the…?” may not have been an unreasonable response, especially since shepherds were considered lower than blue collars, and even though the “authorities” were the chorus of Heavenly Host and voices of angels who announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah and calmed them with messages to not be afraid.
The composers of the earliest Christmas carols musically captured the range of human emotions, and the majesty of authoritative voices in their fully orchestrated scores. Two notable composers were Friderik Handel and Felix Mendelssohn, each of whom composed while embroiled in classic creative differences with other artists or financiers.
Handel’s now-beloved “Messiah” was controversial when he debuted it in 1741 as part of a commission to help get him out of debt. “Messiah” ends with “The Hallelujah Chorus.” which Handel simply called “Hallelujah.” He based the selection, not one the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but on the Book of Revelation which prophesies the Second Christmas, the return of Jesus, for “Messiah” (which means God’s Anointed One, promised in the Old Testament), was created as an Easter presentation, not for Christmas.
LEARN MORE: How Handel’s Messiah Came About
However, over the years, “Hallelujah” has become a Christmas staple, enhanced by traditions which include the audience standing. This tradition began, not in reverence to the King of Kings, but in deference to King George II of England, who stood at the concert when the chorus began. Some say he stood to honor Handel, others say because he needed to stretch for health reasons (much like President William Howard Taft begat baseball’s seventh-inning stretch). With King George and President Taft, protocol was when the head of state stood, everybody stood.
Why we stand when the chorus is sung today isn’t always clear to listening audiences. But as you’ll see in the video of a flash mob in a Canadian shopping mall, it’s a tradition that has passed on and has meaning today.
Another missing element is understanding the meaning of the word “Hallelujah.” It’s a compound Hebrew word meaning “Praise” (“Halle”) Yaweh (“lujah”); Yaweh being one of the Old Testament names of God. (Another derivation is Hall-El-Ujah; “El” being a Hebrew designation for God.)
Of all the video versions of “Hallelujah,” this food court improvisation captures the beautiful vocal harmonies Handel created, the confusion the shepherds must have felt hearing the Heavenly Host, the spirit of being moved to participate in the moment, then, ultimately, turn to others to share what they say and tell the good news. In #CarolStory, the chorus emerges from the “Silent Night” Heavenly Host singing, “Hallelujah!” (“Praise Yaweh!”) to establish a conversation between the shepherds and angels that Charles Wesley expresses next with a little help from Mendelsohn. Sort of. As we shall see.
LEARN MORE: “Carol Story” The Script
LEARN MORE: “Carol Story” Live
Alphabet Flash Mob
On November 13, 2010, unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch. Alphabet Photography Inc. of Niagara Falls, Ont. (Canada) created this video as a virtual ‘Christmas Card’ to its on-line customers and Facebook fans. The customers of Alphabet Photography Inc. passed it along to their friends and family. In a flash, the video had over 20 million views and was featured on many news and media outlets. Today the video has over 34 million views and has broken all world records to date.
LEARN MORE: http://www.AlphabetPhotography.com