Kelley Mooney rejigged Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to make it appropriate to be sung at Mass. Photo by Louise Vessey

Catholic reworking of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ makes singer a YouTube sensation

  • April 20, 2012

What started with a simple request from her parish priest has made singer Kelley Mooney a YouTube hit garnering more than 426,000 views with her new rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

“We were at Easter Mass in our own parish in Iona, P.E.I., and I had sung a song that ended with the word Hallelujah being repeated,” Mooney told The Catholic Register.  “After Mass, our parish priest asked if I would sing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ ”

Promising that she would, she looked up the lyrics. But to her dismay, she found that Cohen’s lyrics were not appropriate for Mass.

“So I had a Missalette from church at home and I read through the Easter passage and rewrote the lyrics from the Easter passage,” she explained.

When Mooney performed the revamped song at St. Michael’s parish, she received a great response. From there, she was asked to perform at the Charlottetown Civic Centre, backed up by Paper Lions, an indie rock band.

“As soon as I finished I just bolted off stage,” she said, due to her nerves. “I couldn’t get off fast enough.”

A few weeks later, someone asked her what she thought of the standing ovation she received from the crowd of about 2,000 people.

“I said what are you talking about?” Mooney said with a laugh.

Wanting to record the song, she sought permission from Cohen’s publishers.

“I asked for the lyrical adaptation first,” she said. “And that lyrical adaptation is what allowed me to legally record Leonard Cohen’s music with my lyrics… And then I had to get the mechanical rights with the intention of selling a CD.

“It took a year, less two days,” said Mooney, who secured the rights in 2008.

But she doesn’t take a whole lot of credit for writing the new “Hallelujah” lyrics.

“The story was already written. I just held the pen… I do really feel quite honoured that I was the one chosen to write it down.”

Performing her rendition of “Hallelujah” with a choir in 2010, her cousin taped the performance and put it up on YouTube.

“From there, it’s just kind of catapulted into another stratosphere,” said Mooney.

“I’ve gotten e-mails from people all over the world,” including Brazil, Australia and Ireland, she added.

Mooney released her first CD entitled Tomorrow in June 2011, which included “Hallelujah.”

“I’m selling the CD through a site called CD Baby and, from there, it’s gone out to iTunes and there’s people who have bought it in Japan and France and all over the United States and Canada. It’s incredible.”

While the album has a couple spiritual songs, Mooney calls the rest a cross between country and soul.

Following her CD’s release, Mooney won the 2012 Music PEI Country Recording of the Year Award.

And from April 11 to 15, Mooney had three performances at the East Coast Music Awards Week in Moncton, N.B.

Currently an executive assistant with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, she hopes to one day make music her full-time job.

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