28 Sep 2009

Seerveld's psalms

At the weekend I participated in the Refresh & Renew conference on worship at Redeemer University College. I was invited by Calvin Seerveld, Senior Member Emeritus in Philosophical Aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS), Toronto, to serve as cantor for his two workshops on the psalms. The first was titled "On Slipping Gutsy Psalms into Worship Services," and the second, "Biblical Psalm Lament, Curses and the 'Blues'." Cal (as everyone affectionately calls him) has long been setting the psalms to verse, pairing them with existing tunes or composing his own. In fact, until two days ago I had quite forgotten that my own interest in the psalms was sparked three decades ago when, as a student at the ICS, I heard him play his own versification of Psalm 128 set to the proper Genevan melody. I was hooked.

The most challenging pieces were his own blues psalms, only one of which we had time for. Written in a blues scale, his versification of Psalm 92 (very different from my own) called for a young female voice to effect the style of the African American singer, which is difficult for someone not steeped in the genre. I myself was called to sing the antiphon for Cal's Scream 88 Blues, a rendition of Psalm 88, the darkest by far of all the psalms: "LORD God! my God, I scream to you! Can you not hear my cry?" I doubt I was able to scream out the word "scream" with quite the intensity he was hoping for. Nevertheless, he was very gracious, as always, and expressed appreciation for my feeble effort. Of course, hearing him speak is always a treat.

Seerveld's Voicing God's Psalms, along with his other books, can be purchased here.

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