An autistic girl from Ireland has grabbed a lot of attention with a hauntingly beautiful Christmas rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah” a little over a month after the late singer’s death from a fall on November 7, 2016. According to ITV, Kaylee Rodgers is a 10-year-old student at Killard House Special School where she is a member of the school’s choir. The school’s principal, Colin Millar, put into words just how much of an accomplishment this beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah” is for Kaylee.
“For a child who came in P4 and wouldn’t really talk, wouldn’t really read out in class, to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing. It takes a lot of effort on Kaylee’s part,” Millar said.
Kaylee Rodgers has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in addition to being autistic. P4 means primary four, which would have made Kaylee about 8 years old when she first enrolled in the school. Singing has helped Kaylee build her confidence. It is easy to understand why that is only a few moments into the first verse of her “Hallelujah” cover, the lyrics of which have been altered to remove some of the adult-themed sections that would be inappropriate for a young girl to sing in front of an audience of schoolchildren and their parents. The changes also make the song match the Christmas theme of the show. Leonard Cohen himself famously wrote over 80 verses of the song and would often vary which verses he sang during live performances, according to the Telegraph.
It’s unfortunate that Leonard Cohen is not around to hear Kaylee’s version but he was a deep and gracious human being and it’s likely that he would have been touched not only by the circumstances of the performance, that a young autistic girl overcame shyness and fear to sing his song to the world, but by the sheer beauty of Kaylee’s voice. Leonard Cohen included female backing and co-lead vocals on many of his recordings, from “So Long, Marianne” off of his first album to “On The Level” off his final album, You Want It Darker, which was released shortly before his death earlier this year.
BRAVO Kaylee Rodgers ... keep loving what you do. https://t.co/Z0I4wUpypl— UnionvilleTheatreCo (@UTCplays) December 22, 2016
Kaylee Rodgers may be the most famous Irish girl to sing “Hallelujah,” but she is definitely not the first to cover the song. John Cale recorded a piano cover of the song using a different arrangement of verses from the one Leonard Cohen recorded for his Various Positions album released in 1984. Cale’s arrangement of the song was later recorded by Jeff Buckley, whose cover remains the most well-known version of the song, having been used in countless commercials, television shows, and films, including Shrek.
In addition to the many covers of “Hallelujah” that exist, Leonard Cohen has a haunting studio version and numerous live performances available for viewing on YouTube. Arguably the best version of them all is this one from his Live In London concert film, recorded during a 2008 world tour which saw the legendary musician come out of retirement.
“Hallelujah” is a hauntingly beautiful song and Leonard Cohen was a gifted songwriter and singer. There is something particularly special about seeing a young autistic girl so perfectly sing this deeply profound song, which has meant so many different things to so many different people over the years. Kaylee Rodgers is part of an elite group of performers who not only covered Cohen’s song but managed to make it their own. Kaylee Rodgers’ version also adds a unique touch to “Hallelujah,” and one can expect to see this version popping up in school choir holiday performances for many years to come.
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