24 Mar 2012

Diephouse & Scheer: Psalm 80

Today I was contacted by Greg Scheer, Minister of Worship at Church of the Servant, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Music Associate at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He informed me that he and David Diephouse, historian at Calvin, have co-authored a paraphrase of Psalm 80 to be sung to the proper Genevan melody. From his blog post:

A month ago, I decided that Psalm 80′s vine themes would fit perfectly with a sermon on “I am the Vine.” But I wasn’t sold on any of the versions I found. The closest thing to something that excited me was a stodgy metrical text paired with a great Genevan tune that I hadn’t heard before, O PASTEUR D’ISRAEL, ESCOUTE.

So I sent David Diephouse an email: I think there could be some kind of rich ties between God clearing a place to plant a vine (Israel), Jesus ingrafting us into himself the Vine, and perhaps even the fruit of the vine and the Tree of Life. Play with it and see what you come up with, whether it’s a literal metrical setting or a looser hymn that treats Psalm 80 through New Testament eyes.

He, like me, works best when a songwriting project is a diversion from a pile of “real” work, and he quickly sent me a first draft. He would insist that the bulk of the final draft is my words, but the fact is he established the basic structure and set up key phrases like “graft us into the Living Vine.” Add a bit of advice on Goudimel’s harmonization from our church’s local music historian, Cal Stapert, and you end up with a really solid metrical Psalm that revives an overlooked, but beautifully singable Genevan tune.

The text is a free paraphrase with a christological focus, similar in many respects to Isaac Watts' psalm paraphrases from the 18th century. Here is a pdf file of the piece: O faithful Shepherd of your people; and here is an mp3 file of the congregation singing it. The harmonization is that of Claude Goudimel.

I myself set this psalm to verse last year and wrote about it here: Updates: Psalms 70 and 80. My own text is somewhat more literal than Diephouse's, as can be seen here for purposes of comparison.

21 Mar 2012

Magyar zsoltár: Psalm 90

A brass band leads the assembled congregation in singing Psalm 90 in the rain, while a man in a bow tie sings along on stage:

A bearded man sings the same song. Obviously not a professional singer, yet his performance is just as obviously heart-felt:

20 Mar 2012

Update: Psalm 33

My 77th psalm versification has been posted. This one is Psalm 33, which has no title in the Hebrew and appears to be a continuation of the previous psalm, which ends with words similar to the opening words of 33. In this psalm we first encounter the command to sing to the LORD "a new song," which recurs five more times in the Psalms, once in Isaiah and twice in Revelation.

What exactly is this new song we are enjoined to sing? Can a church that sings from so ancient a book as the biblical Psalter really sing a song no one has sung before? Is that what new means? Is this a licence for endless liturgical innovation, as some would have it? Not necessarily. In scripture the adjective new often refers to the redeemed life in Christ, in which we turn aside from the old ways that kept us in sin. A new song is one in which we celebrate afresh the grace of God, whose mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). This may be in freshly composed words or, better, in the inspired words of the biblical authors. As Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon writes, "The song of the believers is always a new song, because it springs from an inner divine font. It is the song of those who are born again in Christ and therefore 'walk in newness of life' (Romans 6:4)."

My own text is a rhymed versification in six stanzas. The traditional rhyming scheme is ABABCCDEED, which I have modified to ABCBDDEFGF to reflect better the stresses in the melody and thus to render it more singable. The metre is highly irregular: 98 98 66 56 65. As for the tune, which is in the dorian mode, it has had a special allure for at least two composers, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and Zoltán Kodály. Commercial recordings of Sweelinck's music often begin with his arrangement of this psalm. I am unable to locate an online performance of Kodály's arrangement, but here is Sweelinck's:

In the Genevan Psalter Psalm 33 shares its melody with Psalm 67, which I set to verse a decade ago. Revisiting the tune presented an opportunity for me to alter, and hopefully improve, the arrangement I composed at that time. Its flavour is mostly the same, but there is now more movement in especially the lower voices.

12 Mar 2012

Then sings my Seoul . . .

More from the Samyang Presbyterian Church in Korea:

János Pálúr: Psalm 50

In general I am not an enthusiast for the ubiquitous organ improvisations on the Genevan tunes appearing so often on the web. However, organist János Pálúr's improvisation on Psalm 50 is a notable exception and is worth hearing. This was recorded on 5 July 2009 at the Great Reformed Church in Debrecen, Hungary:

9 Mar 2012

Singing the Psalms 2012

There was a good turnout last week for my most recent lecture on Singing the Psalms at Redeemer University College, and I am grateful that it was so well received by those in attendance. One of my former students attended for the second year in a row and was kind enough to present me with a copy of the 1912 Psalter, whose centenary we mark this year. He is a member of the Free Reformed Churches, whose members sing from this collection at their worship services.

I will take this opportunity to remind readers that I am available to lecture on this topic, complete with a multimedia presentation including visuals and sound files. If interested, please contact me at dkoyzis[at]redeemer[dot]ca for more information.

2 Mar 2012

Psalm 15: voice and guitar

I recorded this last week at the First Christian Reformed Church, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada:

1 Mar 2012

Singing the Psalms: Korea

The Genevan Psalms are being sung in some unexpected venues. Over the past week or so, a member of the Samyang Presbyterian Church in Seoul, Korea, has posted videos of the congregation singing the Genevan Psalms in their own language. These can be found at this youtube channel. Stay tuned, as more will undoubtedly be posted in the coming days. Here is a sample below: