02 March 2010

Education Week

This week is "education week" on South Caicos, and there are several events taking place associated with it. Today there was an ecumenical service at the Methodist Church. It's the sort of thing I would normally avoid, but a few of our students were asked to perform, so I attended. The place was packed and I actually ended up standing outside one of the side doors (which made it all the more easy to slip away after their performance).

The event opened with a song by some of the local school children.

Various members of the community (religious figures, teachers, government officials) stood before the people in attendance (mostly students from the schools and their teachers) and extolled the virtues and importance of education. I was struck by the number of young children (about 3-9 years old) on the island. I'd never seen them all gathered in one spot before. The number of older students was considerably lower and the generation between 20 and 30 is almost non-existent. This, I believe, is less because of a growing population and more because the economy here is stagnant and development is stalled. The moment people are old enough to leave home, they do.

This was actually one of the themes of the day's event. The students were told of the importance of not only staying committed to their education, but also remaining committed to their community. They were told they would likely need to leave the island to achieve higher levels of education, but that they should remember South Caicos and return to improve their home. Judging by the missing generation, this doesn't currently seem to be happening.

The other thing that made the event stand apart from anything you might encounter in the United States was how it was conducted. It was more of a sermon where the kids were preached to than an assembly of motivational speakers. I can't imagine the uproar that would come if somebody tried to put this sort of thing on in the US public school system. But we're not in the United States, and this is a highly religious community. (Just last night Jessee and I were trying to count how many churches there are on this island. We were able to list 9 off the top of our heads and we're confident we didn't get them all. And that's for a population of about 1500.)

About 20 or 25 minutes into the service they invited the trio of our students (a guitarist, a signer, and a violinist) up to the stage to perform the song they had prepared - a rendition of "Hallelujah" originally written by Leonard Cohen. They got off to a rocky start. The violinist had trouble tuning her instrument and then within seconds of starting, the bridge of the violin snapped off completely under the tension of the strings, likely a result of the recent bout of humid weather we've had. The remaining two continued and were extremely well received by the crowd. Listen to a clip of it below:

I thought they did really well, even without the violin. I heard them practicing yesterday and the violin was my favorite part. What I enjoyed the very most, however, was the irony of the whole thing. Despite the title, Cohen's song is (in my interpretation) quite humanistic. It's about the pleasures of King David's adulterous affair with Bathsheba. It seemed, however, the congregation only heard the refrain - a repetition of "Hallelujah" - and they received the song as a call to the faithful.

According to what I read on wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bathsheba), the Bible says that after beginning their affair King David gave an order that led to the death of Bathsheba's husband in battle. King David then married the widowed Bathsheba and the couple had a son. That son died a few days after birth, which David interpreted as punishment from God for his sins. The Biblical story has obvious lessons about being faithful, but the song the students sang is more about human pleasures of his sinful activities.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
These lines establish that the verse is about King David, whose affair with Bathsheba began in this way.

She broke your throne,
Bathsheba's son Solomon succeeded David instead of David's eldest son Adonijah.

and she cut your hair
This is saying that David was left powerless (actually a confused reference because it was Samson whose strength supposedly came from his uncut hair).

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Despite all that was lost, the affair was pure human pleasure and David has no regrets.

Some of the other verses are even more explicit (and still others I can't really figure out), but look at the lyrics for yourself here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/hallelujah.html.

I'm not sure if the students planned it this way (my guess is that they didn't), but it seemed like very humanistic themes being delivered to an unaware religious audience. On the other hand, it might just be that my secular ears hear what they want to hear. Clearly the congregation heard something quite different. The video doesn't do a justice to their reaction, they truly exploded in cheers and the preacher shouted: "This don't feel like an educational service anymore! Bishop Cox, this sounds like a Revival!"


  1. I just wanted to add that my take on Monday’s event was quite different from Brett’s. This blog tends to represent us collectively, but (surprise!) we don’t always share the same experiences or views—especially when it comes to religion.

    If our students had in fact delivered an unwelcomed humanistic message to an unknowing religious community, I would have considered it disrespectful and been embarrassed rather than amused by the irony. (Especially if the message involved glorification of an adulterous affair!) I don't at all believe that was the case though. I think the lyrics to "Hallelujah" are as ambiguous as they are complex, and that deciphering their references and meaning after one listen would be impossible for any audience. Most of all though, I think both the song and its namesake carry a range of meanings for different people and in various contexts. The word Hallelujah can serve as an articulation of pleasure, a call to the faithful, or even an expression of heartbreak and plea for guidance (as in my own interpretation of the song). In any case, our students gave a moving and beautiful rendition, and they have been invited to perform at another event next week!

  2. Do you think the congregation wasn't familiar with the Cohen song?

    I tend to agree with Jess. I've always received this song as a tragic one, though I never studied it in much detail. I get that from the key and the way it is sung. That room sounded too loud for them to pick up on her words besides Hallelujah, but I'm sure they heard the tone and key- as reverent, maybe?

    Brett, thanks for the background on those lyrics- I never knew the story of the song or of Bathsheba. Knowing that, the song seems to be about regrets. David was selfish, manipulative, and got what he deserved. (there's a gender story I'm ignoring)

    Okay, now I'm listening to KD Lang sing it-- so tragic! It's totally heart-breaking. "All I ever learned from love was how to outshoot someone who drew ya"??? Seriously. Did the students pick this song because she sang this at the Olympics?


    More importantly, what movie featured this song? It instantly makes me think of a movie, but I can't think which one.

  3. Sorry, the lyric is "All I ever learned from love was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya." Even worse!

  4. Shrek!! (The Rufus Wainwright version.)