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singing "alleluia"

This came to me from one of my singers.   Too good not to share with all my choral colleagues.
Below is the meditation I happened to listen to on Saturday morning.  I was completely enthralled with the depiction of what singing is (in particular the Alleluia). I loved it so much i told myself I just had to transcribe it so I could study it further (took several listens to get it all down!) I thought of it again last night while we were singing the Russian pieces.  What a wonderful concert this is all together!
The first line says it all -- I sing because the fully composed music can begin to touch what words themselves, or even a single voice simply cannot express on their own.  Looking forward to Sunday!
THE EASTER ALLELUIA    -----    Daily Meditations of Pope Benedict the XVI presented by Leonardo Defilippis of St. Luke Productions
Singing indicates that the person is passing beyond the boundaries of the merely rational and falling into a kind of ecstasy.  Now singing finds its climactic form in the "Alleluia"--The song in which the very essence of all song achieves its purest embodiment. The Alleluia is simply the nonverbal expression in song of a joy that requires no words because it transcends all words.  What does it mean to sing with jubilation?  It means to be unable to express in words or to verbalize the song that sings to you in your heart.  As the harvesters in field or vineyard experience an increasingly jubilant sense of joy, they become incapable it seems of finding words to express this overflowing joy.  They abandon syllables and words, and their singing becomes a jubilous, or cry of exaltation.  A jubilous is a shout that shows the heart is trying to express what it cannot possibly say.  And to whom is a jubilous more fittingly directed, then him who is ineffable?  He is ineffable because your words cannot lay hold of him.  The Alleluia is like a first revelation of what can and shall someday take place in us.  Our entire being shall turn into a single, immense joy!
Replies (9): Threaded | Chronological
on April 24, 2013 9:37am
Thank you for posting this! I tell my singers that "Alleluia is the singer's word." 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 26, 2013 4:37pm
Perhaps "alleluia" is the "singer's word" because it's very meaning gets at what singing is ultimately about..."praise Jah (God)"?  Singing and the voices to do it created by God and returned in joy to Him...this singing from the heart to seems rare in our politically correct and mostly secular culture...I wonder what we've been missing that perhaps other cultures in history have had more of...their composers included.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 28, 2013 10:36am
While I don't mean to question the Pope (will I be struck down by lightning?), it seems to be an oxymoron to say that the "Alleluia" is a non-verbal expression ..."   The Pope should know as well as anyone that "alleluia" is a word.  (I get the rest of the message that singing is an expression of joy that is sometimes hard to put into words, but in vocal and choral music, that's exactly what composers try to do on a regular basis.  So please don't respond by saying that I don't get what he was trying to say.)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 29, 2013 7:43am
With Charles's post we might be getting into some hair-splitting, here.  So I'll recommend a term that should help.
My understanding is that "Alleluia" emerged as a *vocable.*  Yes, a vocable is technically a word, but unlike other words, it is non-lexical, with no semantic role or meaning.  So there is a way in which it is not a word, even though we have managed to use our alphabetic and phonetic systems to spell it.  A good analogy from the modern West might be:  "Ooh-lah-lah!"  We have a way (or a couple ways) of spelling it, and from the context of its use we understand that it signals a person's ecstasy on tasting a fabulous mille-feuilles or spying a divine pair of legs, but its first use was a spontaneous vocal utterance having no part of speech and being untranslatable.    
While I don't mean -- in general practice -- to affirm the Pope, I'm guessing that he didn't know the term "vocable;" nevertheless, there is truth enough in his point.
What interests me more is the question of why I, a non-religious person, can't get through the "Alleluia's" in the "Lasst uns erfreuen" hymn (RVW harmonization, especially) without crying -- EVERY DARNED TIME!!
Kristina Boerger
on April 30, 2013 6:07am
My understanding is different, Kristina, although I'm sure there are others on this list who know more about this than I and whose response I would welcome.  Alleluia did originate as a word and is not a "vocable" akin to "ooh-la-la."  Wikipedia says that it is derived from Hebrew, and means "praise" ("Alle" or "Halle") "you" ("lu") "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" ("jah" or "ia"), or in other words "praise God."  The "alleluia" is the Latin form of the same word.  So it does mean something other than "ooh-la-la" and it IS a word.  And with the church's long tradition of using this word in its music, I would have thought that the Pope would have known this.  I get his idea that it has transcendent qualities, but that does not mean it should now be thought of as an utterance with an untranslatable meaning.  
on May 1, 2013 5:32am
Hello, Charles et alia.
Now as I seek, I find that the preponderance of the information out there confirms what you assert.  Several years ago, in the pre-World-Wide-Web age, a friend was reading to me from a book about the origins of the Semitic languages, and this book's discussion of the "Alleluia" was the one that inspired my understanding of it as a vocable.  When I read the Pope's quote, I assumed he was confirming the view put forward in that scholarship.  And, indeed, I find that a number of people (several of my students yesterday) have received and accepted this version.  Naturally, I have forgotten the book's title and its author, so this is of no help, and as I find only a few hints on the Internet today that would corroborate that position, I cede the argument.  Now I am curious about motivations to deny specific Hebrew etymology...
on May 1, 2013 6:51am
I'm curious about those motivations myself, Kristina.  If you find anything, be sure to share it.  
on May 2, 2013 8:58am
Thank you for this discourse. As a christian who loves praising God through music, I enjoyed greatly the discussion on the etymology of this term. Choralnet continues to be my most thought provoking read of the day!
on May 3, 2013 12:04pm
In addition to discussing the origin of the word Alleluia, it needs to be addressed how to sing it.  Too often a chorus will over emphasize the last syllable, giving it a kick as they finish the word. 
Something that worked with my group when we worked on Thompson's," Alleluia," was to have them keep their mouths in a framed shape and do the sound changes within their mouths, not sticking the lips forward on the syllable "lu" and dropping the jaw on the "ia"--encouraging them to " throw away" and de-emphasize it, and it produced a much smoother sound.  
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