Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” Played on Korean Instrument Dating Back to 6th Century

Gayageum play­er Luna Lee has been on a bit of a viral video roll recent­ly. First it was her cov­er of “Space Odd­i­ty” by David Bowie that earned her 110,000 plus views, and just two days ago we fea­tured her cov­ers of Pink Floyd’s “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall,” “Great Gig in the Sky,” and “Com­fort­ably Numb.” Back in her archives from a year ago, we’ve also found the above video of her cov­er of Leonard Cohen’s “Hal­lelu­jah.”

Although Lee’s rock cov­ers add bass and drums to keep the ener­gy up, this ver­sion just fea­tures three over­dubbed gayageums and a very sub­tle synth string line, leav­ing the bit­ter­sweet melody to come to the fore. No pyrotech­nics here.

The best known of Cohen’s songs and the most cov­ered, thanks most­ly to Jeff Buckley’s ver­sion, “Hal­lelu­jah” was not con­sid­ered a clas­sic orig­i­nal­ly. In this fine sto­ry of the song told by Mal­colm Glad­well on his Revi­sion­ist His­to­ry pod­cast (stream it below), it took 15 years for its genius to be unveiled, by which time it just seemed obvi­ous, like we had known it all along.

Glad­well inter­views Alan Light, who wrote an entire book on the evo­lu­tion of the song, the com­po­si­tion of which “bedev­iled” Cohen the most, result­ing in 80 or so vers­es that Cohen wrote and reject­ed until he found the per­fect com­bo. The song took years to com­plete. (This seg­ment of the pod­cast starts at 18:54 in, but you should real­ly lis­ten to the whole thing as it also explores Cezan­ne’s art and Elvis Costello’s writ­ing meth­ods.) The sto­ry also involves Bob Dylan, a failed orig­i­nal record­ing described as “turgid”, and the end­less tin­ker­ing in Cohen’s live con­certs. The twists and turns that fol­low are both coin­ci­den­tal and trag­ic, and we will let you dis­cov­er all of them by lis­ten­ing to the pod­cast.

Alan Light also spoke to NPR about the song fol­low­ing Cohen’s death ear­li­er this month.

“Sep­tem­ber 11 comes,” he says, “and Jeff Buck­ley’s record­ing of “Hal­lelu­jah” real­ly became sort of an anthem in the after­math, emo­tion­al short­hand for melan­choly and for sad­ness.”

Sounds like that time of dark­ness has come around again, and we still have “Hal­lelu­jah,” need­ed more than ever.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A‑ha’s “Take On Me” Per­formed by North Kore­an Kids with Accor­dions

Pak­istani Musi­cians Play a Delight­ful Ver­sion of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Clas­sic, “Take Five”

With Medieval Instru­ments, Band Per­forms Clas­sic Songs by The Bea­t­les, Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Metal­li­ca & Deep Pur­ple

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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