20 Dec 2013

‘To you belong all the nations’


Although the biblical Psalms are a product of the old covenant, for centuries the Christian Church has sought and found Jesus Christ in its historic song book. A number of Psalms have been designated messianic in character, including Psalms 2, 22, 30, 69, 72, 110 and 118. This is due either to their explicit reference to the LORD’s Anointed (Messiah) or to their anticipation of an event related to Jesus’ life, suffering or death.

Psalm 82 is not always placed in this category, although it does anticipate God’s judgement over the nations of earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In the Revised Standard Version, the Psalm begins, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” The footnote to this verse in the New Oxford Annotated Bible tells the reader: “Making use of a conception, common to the ancient Near East, that the world is ruled by a council of gods, the poet (presumably a priest or temple prophet) sees, in a vision, the God of Israel standing up in the midst of the council and pronouncing judgment upon all other members.”

Such an interpretation owes much to an evolutionary worldview which treats religion as merely an artifact subject, like all other products of human culture, to growth and development. Within this worldview, the ancient Israelites’ primitive polytheism developed under various influences into henotheism (in which YHWH is chief among the gods) and finally into monotheism (no God but YHWH) around the time of the Babylonian exile. By contrast, the biblical narrative itself portrays the Israelites repeatedly abandoning fidelity to the one true God and worshipping false gods for which they were punished throughout their history.

There is another interpretation of Psalm 82 less beholden to this evolutionary worldview. The translators of the New International Version place “gods” in inverted commas, as if to indicate the improper assumption of divine status by these beings. But who are these beings? I believe a good case can be made for their identity as earthly rulers who have come to esteem themselves as gods.

The key to this can be found in verses 2-4: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” All of these imperatives are ordinary tasks undertaken in the course of political rule. The setting is not a mythological council of gods, but the one true God calling those to whom he has given political authority to do justice as they discharge the weighty responsibilities of office.

A decade and a half ago, I set Psalm 82 to verse to be sung to the proper Genevan melody. My own versification draws on the interpretation set forth above:

Judging among divine pretenders,
in council God his verdict renders:
“How long,” says he, “shall wickedness
be favoured over righteousness?
Give justice to the poor and needy,
rescue the helpless from the greedy.
Treat widows as is right and fair,
defend all orphans in your care.

“Blindly you grope about and stumble,
while earth's foundations start to crumble.
Gods you may think yourselves to be,
yet you shall taste mortality.
Like earthly kings whose days are numbered,
death's claim on you will not be cumbered.”
Rise up, O God, and judge the earth,
to you the nations owe their birth.

During Advent and Christmas we do well to pray Psalm 82 acknowledging that its ultimate fulfilment is in the person of Jesus Christ, who, in the words of Isaiah 9:7, will sit upon the throne of David and establish his kingdom of righteousness and justice for ever.

David T. Koyzis teaches politics at Redeemer University College. His next book, We Answer to Another: Authority, Office and the Image of God, is forthcoming from Pickwick Publications.

4 Dec 2013

Review: Old Paths, New Feet


Last evening I was privileged to talk by phone with Chris Reno, who, along with Jordan Brownlee and others, is part of the group Brother Down. Chris teaches English at a christian secondary school and is a member of Trinity Covenant Church in Aptos, California. This congregation is part of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. According to Reno, the group's name was taken from Genesis 43:7:

They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”
A decade ago the group produced another album called To the Black Land.

This most recent album is called Old Paths, New Feet, a reference to a new generation rediscovering ancient liturgical resources. The texts are from Cantus Christi, a psalter and hymnal widely used within the CREC.

In response to my question as to the style of their music, Reno said he is hard-pressed to come up with a single description, but admits the influence of Ghoostly Psalms, Celtic music and Mumford and Sons. The project was spearheaded by Douglas Wilson as part of a Psalm-Off contest two years ago.

Having listened to the album, I am most favourably impressed with what I've heard. The quality of the recordings is most professional, and the instrumentation is very good indeed. Reno spoke highly of Brownlee's musical gifts, especially his ability to pick up new instruments such as the banjo on short notice. Perhaps Celtic folk rock would characterize the group's unique style. The album is produced by Canon Press's Bultitude Records and is available for download from amazon.com. As I mentioned earlier, eight of the psalms are Genevan in origin (Psalm 100 is set to the tune for Psalm 134, a match that goes back to the 1650 Scottish Psalter), one is from Thomas Tallis and the other by Johann Graumann and Hans Kugelmann.

I strongly recommend this wonderful blending of 16th-century tunes and 21st-century musical styles, which comes in time for the Christmas gift-giving season.

25 Nov 2013

A Wesleyan Psalter


Although the singing of the Psalms is nowadays associated with those churches standing in the Reformed tradition, the current revival of the liturgical use of the biblical Psalter is affecting even those standing in the Wesleyan and Holiness traditions. Evidence can be found for this in the Seedbed Psalter. From the front page of the website:

All of Scripture is given to us for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” which, of course, includes the Book of Psalms. We can certainly study the psalms, learn from them, be corrected by them, and be trained by them for righteousness, just like the rest of the Scriptures. But the Psalms are unique – they are the hymnbook of the people of God, and they are meant to be sung. Join us on this exciting journey as we learn to sing the Word!

Not surprisingly perhaps, the Seedbed Psalter borrows from the 1650 Scottish Psalter and Reformed Presbyterian (Crown and Covenant) resources. Among the fine items to be found on this website is the following quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.” Amen!

18 Nov 2013

Psalm 104


Our friend Ernst Stolz has now passed the one-hundred mark in his journey through the Psalms. Here is his lovely rendition of Psalm 104, posted just today:

1 Nov 2013

Brother Down sings the psalms


In recent years there have been a number of efforts to reinterpret the Genevan Psalms, including that of the Dutch group, The Psalm Project. Just over two years ago, I wrote of a group called Brother Down, which has finally released its new album to coincide with yesterday's observance of Reformation Day. The album, titled Old Paths, New Feet, is available from the usual sources, including amazon, which permits listeners to sample the individual tracks.

I plan to review the album here and on my Genevan Psalter discography page, but I will give a few initial impressions now based on what I've seen and heard thus far. To begin with, one observer has characterized these renditions as "pub music style." Perhaps. Second, although most of the tunes are Genevan, two of them, namely, those for Psalms 63 and 103 are not. Psalm 63 is set to Thomas Tallis' haunting THIRD MODE MELODY, which formed the basis of Ralph Vaughan Williams' classic 1910 composition, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Third, I find it somewhat curious that the performers opted for texts in Jacobean English, which does not exactly fit their style of music.

But, as I said, these are preliminary thoughts that I hope to flesh out after I've heard the album in its entirety.

10 Oct 2013

The Next Psalter: a sample


Last week I wrote of my intention to author a book on the Psalms, complete with fresh, non-Genevan versifications and melodies. Although for the most part I will not be posting these new ones here, I have decided to include a sample of what I am provisionally calling The Next Psalter. This is the universally beloved Psalm 23, for which I wrote a common-metre versification four years ago. I had originally set it to the tune, DUNFERMLINE from the 1650 Scottish Psalter. Now I have come up with a new tune, GATEVIEW, with a quite different feel. A pdf copy of the score can be found here.

7 Oct 2013

Wright on the Psalms


Few authors can boast the prolific output of N. T. "Tom" Wright, and, among those who can, fewer yet are capable of bridging the gap between the scholarly and the popular. But Wright moves easily between the two genres, and The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential is definitely aimed at a lay readership. Although Wright is a New Testament scholar, he wrote this book out of his lifelong experience of praying through the Psalms on a regular basis. The immediate occasion for this writing was his participation at a conference at Calvin College a year ago this past January.

Among Reformed theologians, the Dutch figures, such as Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and (on this side of the pond) Geerhardus Vos are especially well-known for their redemptive-historical approach to the Bible, which reads the Bible not simply as a disparate collection of ancient religious texts but as a unified story of God's creation, followed by man's fall into sin, redemption in Jesus Christ and ultimate consummation at his second advent. Nevertheless, this way of reading the Bible is by no means limited to those with Netherlandic roots, and Wright is a worthy example of a similar approach among British scholars. Those familiar with Wright's Surprised by Hope, will recognize here as well his typical eschatological emphasis on the new creation to be inaugurated by Christ on his return. Salvation is not simply a matter of saving disembodied Platonic souls, but extends to the entire created order, which will eventually be suffused with God's glory, as it was intended to be from the beginning. Wright has done his readers a service by tracing this central biblical story through the Psalms.

Because so many of the Psalms were intended for Temple worship in Jerusalem, they see the Temple as the unique setting for God's presence in this world. Nevertheless, once the Temple was gone, God's glory did not go with it. This is where Wright's eschatological vision enters the picture, because the New Testament writers applied the Old Testament passages dealing with the Temple to the person of Jesus Christ, the new Temple and the unique vessel of God's glory. Moreover, the early Christian writers foresaw a time when the promises associated with Jerusalem and its Temple would extend to the whole creation. This is how God's people of the new covenant can sing Psalms 42-43 and 84, recognizing that the longing for God's house of worship is fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ.

Wright is, of course, a former bishop in the Church of England, and this colours his treatment here. As such he has experienced the chanting of the Psalms at Holy Communion and at Morning and Evening Prayer. Miles Coverdale's somewhat unpolished 16th-century translation of the Psalms has shaped generations of Anglican worshippers, including Wright. Yet Wright seems unaware that his tradition once made more use of the Psalms than contemporary Anglicans remember. He writes: "The Scottish church developed a well-known set of metrical psalms, translating the whole book into poems that could then be sung to regular hymn tunes" (168). But it didn't begin in Scotland. It actually started in England with the publication of the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter in 1562, the same year that saw the completion of the Genevan Psalter. Generations of Anglicans grew up singing first Sternhold & Hopkins and later Tate & Brady's Psalter before metrical psalmody faded from the scene by the end of the 18th century. This tradition of sung metrical psalmody was as much an Anglican tradition as it was Scottish. Yet given that most Anglicans these days are unaware of this heritage, Wright can hardly be faulted for neglecting it here.

What I most appreciated in this book is Wright's emphasis that immersing oneself in the Psalms will transform one's worldview. This has been my experience as well. Some 35 years ago I discovered the Daily Office, with its pattern of praying through the Psalms on a regular basis. It didn't take me long to get "hooked" on the Psalms, drinking in their praises, lamentations, angry imprecations, complaints and, of course, thanksgivings.

Read Wright's book, and then read the Psalms. Not once, but regularly for the rest of the journey. And prepare to be changed.

5 Oct 2013

Singing the Psalms: my next project


Dear readers:

Now is the time to share with you what I've been up to these past few weeks. I've not posted anything on my Genevan Psalter site recently, because I've now turned my efforts towards writing fresh English-language versifications of the Psalms set to original tunes. My 2009 CM versification of Psalm 23 now has music which I have expressly composed for it. Last sunday I wrote a metrical versification (11.11.11.11) of Psalm 1 and on wednesday I came up with a tune, which I arranged the following day. These are coming fairly quickly now, and I want to take advantage of the momentum for as long as I am able. Eventually I may post some of these new sung psalms, but not for now.

I am still waiting to hear from my editor on the final draft of the book manuscript I submitted in June on another topic, so I am using the time until then to work on other projects, including this one. Increasingly I am thinking that my next book will be on the liturgical use of the Psalms, and I plan to incorporate some of my own work with metrical psalmody in this. I've got a lot of material to work with, so I need to get as sharp a focus as I can on this.

This takes me outside my formally credentialled field of political science, of course, yet all of this is considerably more than a mere avocation for me, and it's a real labour of love. Your prayers for this project would be most appreciated.

Thank you in advance.

Yours in Christ,

David Koyzis

11 Sep 2013

The Wright Stuff: on the Psalms


Many of us have been looking forward to the publication of Tom Wright's latest, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. The book is now out, and Christianity Today carries an interview with the prolific former Bishop of Durham: N.T. Wright Wants to Save the Best Worship Songs. An excerpt:

What do you mean by the phrase "nonpsalmic worship"?

When people give up using the Psalms, they often invent poor substitutes—songs, prayers, or poems that have a bit of Christian emotion and a bit of doctrine, but nonetheless lack the Psalter's depth, passion, and rich variety of expression. If one tries to do without the Psalms, there is an identifiable blank at the heart of things.

How can the Psalms transform us?

Within the Jewish and Christian traditions, you get your worldview sorted out by worship. The Psalms are provided to guide that worship. When we continually pray and sing the Psalms, our worldview will actually reconfigure according to their values, theology, and modes of expression.

Once I have read this book, I will review it here. Stay tuned.

25 Aug 2013

Rising at Midnight: Changing Sleep Patterns and Daily Prayer


Most western adults try to sleep between seven and eight hours a night, with some needing less and others more for proper functioning during the day. However, many of us suffer from insomnia, unwillingly lying awake for hours in the middle of the night. As it turns out, however, fretting about wakefulness seems to be a modern preoccupation. Our ancestors appear to have taken this as a normal state of affairs, as reported here: Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You.

Your ancestors slept in a way that modern sleepers would find bizarre – they slept twice. . . . The existence of our sleeping twice per night was first uncovered by Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech.

His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.

References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.

Although unfamiliar to us today, a perusal of the Bible appears to support Ekirch's discovery. Here are a few telling references:

But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron (Judges 16:3).

At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! (Ruth 3:8)

At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules (Psalm 119:62).

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning (Mark 13:35).

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).

What did people do with these wakeful hours in the middle of the night? According to Stephanie Hegarty, writing for the BBC,

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

This answers a question that has puzzled many of us who have studied the ancient patterns of daily prayer practised by God's people of the old and new covenants. Nowadays we have difficulty imagining why anyone would willingly consent to be roused from a supposedly deep slumber by the summons to prayer at such an (if you'll pardon the expression) ungodly hour. Yet they may already have been awake. Both Roman and Orthodox monasteries prescribed a midnight office, with certain psalms assigned to be prayed at that hour. According to chapter VIII of the Rule of St. Benedict:

Making due allowance for circumstances, the brethren will rise during the winter season, that is, from the calends of November till Easter, at the eighth hour of the night [between 12 and 1 am]; so that, having rested till a little after midnight, they may rise refreshed.

Some of us who have suffered from insomnia in the past have already discovered the benefits of prayer during these periods of wakefulness. Perhaps it is time to change our attitude towards these times. Rather than see them as occasions for suffering, at least where obvious illness is not a factor, perhaps we might view them as opportunities to bring our praises, petitions and thanksgivings before a gracious and loving God, who, as the psalmist assures us, neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4) and for whom night is as bright as day (Psalm 139:12).

16 Aug 2013

Le psautier de Genève à Taizé


The Genevan Psalter finds a place even at Taizé. Here is Psalm 92:

7 Aug 2013

Bert Polman (1945-2013)


My former colleague, Bert Polman, died last month after suffering a number of health setbacks in recent years. He taught music at Redeemer University College between 1985 and 2004, when he went to Calvin College to teach. Polman was on the committee that produced the 1987 edition of the Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal and was highly respected in the field of hymnology. A collection of Polman's liturgical material has now been compiled and posted here: God, We Sing Your Glorious Praises: Hymns and Prayers for Devotional Use. This is from John Witvliet's introduction:

Bert had a particular concern for the faithful use of the biblical Psalms in public worship, and frequently took up the challenge of versifying many lesser-known Psalms for inclusion in volumes of congregational song. These texts reveal Bert’s passionate commitment to the Psalms and a large-scale view of God’s peaceable kingdom which comes through Jesus Christ.

Those of us who knew him personally will miss Bert, yet, as St. Paul the Apostle puts it, we grieve but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). May Bert rest in peace until the resurrection, and may God grant comfort to those he has left behind.

5 Aug 2013

Why sing the psalms?


Rob Slane puts forth an argument for what he calls "inclusive psalmody": Why the church needs to sing the Psalms. Here's Slane:

The Psalms, which form the biggest book in the Bible, were clearly meant to be sung, and the Bible gives many exhortations for us to sing them. This is most clearly seen in the Psalms themselves: “Sing to him, sing psalms to him; talk you of all His wondrous works” (Psalm 105:2); “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to him with psalms.” (Psalm 95:2); “Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm” (Psalm 98:5). . . .

One of the most striking things about the Psalms is that perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, they establish the antithesis, with wickedness on one side and righteousness on the other. This is seen clearly in very first Psalm which divides between on the one hand, the blessed man who “walks not in the counsel of the ungodly” and on the other hand the ungodly man who is “like the chaff which the wind drives away.” The righteous man, it goes on to say, is like “a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season,” in contrast to “the way of the ungodly (which) shall perish.”

1 Jul 2013

Eu Pertenço


This year marks the 450th anniversary of the publication of the widely loved Heidelberg Catechism, commissioned by Elector Frederick III the Pious and written by Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus. Back in 1986 I set the text of the first question and answer to verse under the title, I Belong, and composed a tune, HEIDELBERG, in 2001. In 2011 my good friend and collaborator Lucas Grassi Freire wrote an original versification in the Portuguese language in two stanzas to be sung to my tune. The title is Eu Pertenço, and I have just posted it at my website.

We were privileged to have Freire as a guest in our home during his recent visit to North America. We wish him and his new wife Emma God's richest blessings as they begin married life together.

23 Jun 2013

Keep calm and . . .


In recent years "Keep Calm" images have become ubiquitous on the internet, originating in an unused British propaganda poster created just ahead of the Second World War.


Now the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America has come up with a wonderful variation on this theme: KEEP CALM AND Sing the Psalms. Good advice at any time.

15 Jun 2013

Scottish acapella psalmody: Psalm 95


Although my principal interest is in the Genevan Psalms as sung by the continental European Reformed churches, our family are currently members of a church that is closer to the Scottish tradition. When we sing the Psalms, they are usually adapted from the venerable Scottish Psalter of 1650. A choral group associated with the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Charlotte, North Carolina, has posted a number of videos of acapella singing of the Scottish Psalms. Here are Psalms 36 and 95:


14 Jun 2013

Singing the Psalms: Psalm 104 (103 LXX)


Although Reformed Christians are well known for emphasizing psalm-singing, they would do well to remind themselves that other Christians sing the Psalms as well. Here is a lovely Orthodox Christian version of Psalm 104, which is numbered 103 in the Greek-language Septuagint. It is not a metrical version, but it might perhaps be sung by an ordinary congregation, with some training and leadership by a choir.

13 Jun 2013

Singing the Psalms: the 'majority position' in the church


"It's clear, isn't it, from all that we've seen, that the singing of the Psalms was part of the inheritance of all the people of God down through the centuries of the Christian church. It is an indisputable historical fact that the Psalms have dominated the praise of the Christian church for 3,000 years [sic]. . . And so when you take all of the history of the Christian church into account, when you don't just look at the small tiny little sliver of time that we live in today, we discover that the singing of the psalms in praise to God is not an unusual thing. it's not a peculiar thing. It's not an odd thing. . . . This has been the majority position of the Christian church throughout her history."

Rev. Warren Peel

31 May 2013

From church to stage: nurturing a culture of congregational song


While the Bible speaks of praising God with musical instruments (e.g., Psalms 147, 149 and 150), there is an ancient tradition of unaccompanied singing in the church. The Orthodox Churches, Reformed Presbyterians and the Churches of Christ sing a cappella in their worship services. Such groupings out of principle exclude musical instruments from their liturgies. Although many of us would not go quite that far, there is nevertheless much to be said for the argument Justin Taylor, drawing on John Piper and James K. A. Smith, makes in noting “The Difference between Congregational Worship and a Concert.” Taylor quotes Smith:

Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.

It might seem odd to jump from liturgy to the theatre section of the New York Times, but this report is a marvellous witness to the power of a culture of congregational song in one segment of the American church: Something Happened on the Way to Bountiful: Everyone Sang Along. Cicely Tyson currently appears in a Broadway revival of the Horton Foote play, The Trip to Bountiful, playing Mrs. Carrie Watts, a character played so wonderfully by the late Geraldine Page in the screen version nearly three decades ago. At one point Tyson sings Fanny Crosby and Phoebe Knapp’s familiar gospel hymn, “Blessed Assurance.”

From the first note, there’s a palpable stirring among many of the black patrons in the audience, which the play, with its mostly black cast, draws in large numbers. When Ms. Tyson jumps to her feet, spreads her arms and picks up the volume, they start singing along. On some nights it’s a muted accompaniment. On other nights, and especially at Sunday matinees, it’s a full-throated chorus that rocks the theater.

“I didn’t realize they were doing it until someone remarked to me how incredible it was that the audience was joining in,” Ms. Tyson said in a recent interview, referring to her preview performances. “I said, ‘Where?’ I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn’t hear it.”

After the play opened, on April 23, she began tuning in. “At that point, I was relaxed enough to let other things seep in,” she said. “It was absolutely thrilling.”

Thrilling but unexpected. Under normal circumstances the Broadway experience does not include audience participation, even when catchy songs from classic musicals are being performed.

Some decades ago, at a worship conference at Calvin College, I heard someone remark that Christians are among the few people who regularly sing together in a culture which has so thoroughly professionalized the music “industry.” A vibrant culture of congregational song is something we should continue to nurture in our churches lest it be suppressed by the ubiquitous choirs and praise bands that have reshaped the liturgy in so many settings. And if we do so, it may just manage to spill over into the rest of our lives, even into such unlikely venues as Broadway!

27 May 2013

Stolz: Psalm 83


Our friend Ernst Stolz continues his recording pilgrimage through the Psalms, with Psalm 83 his latest contribution. I love the organ and recorder combination. However, to be quite honest, I find it difficult to warm up to the crumhorn, whose sound too closely resembles that of a kazoo for my comfort. But let the listener judge for herself.

19 May 2013

Fantasia on Psalm 47


The actual title is Fantasy and Fugue on a theme by Goudimel for Organ Duet, by Rachel Laurin, performed last September by Marnie Giesbrecht and Joachim Segger. This was commissioned by the Edmonton RCCO Special Enhancement Fund in Edmonton, Alberta. The title should perhaps reference Louis Bourgeois rather than Claude Goudimel, who merely arranged the melody for the Psalm. An impressive performance all round.

11 May 2013

Hungary sings God's praise: Psalms 42 and 138


In Hungary it seems that even Baptists sing the Genevan Psalms, a wonderful example for Baptists elsewhere in the world. Here is the Vox Nova Baptist Male Choir singing two stanzas of Psalm 42 but only one of 138, undoubtedly leaving the audience wishing for more:


9 May 2013

Update: Psalm 66


I have just posted my 82nd Genevan Psalm versification, namely, Psalm 66. This psalm is one of thanksgiving and celebration for God's deliverance of his people, especially in the exodus from Egypt, which suggests its use in the Passover liturgy (see verse 6). Indeed, the authors of this wikipedia article tell us that within Judaism Psalm 66 is "recited on the second day of Passover in some traditions and the sixth day in others."

Given the spiritual connections between Passover and the Christian Pascha, it is not surprising that it should find its way into the Easter liturgy of the church as well. In fact, the superscription in the Septuagint translation of the psalm, numbered 65 there, runs: ωδή ψαλμού [αναστάσεως], that is, "an ode of a psalm [of resurrection]," the bracketed word perhaps a later christian liturgical interpolation. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon observes that the first four lines of this psalm occur in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for Pascha, which was just celebrated this past sunday in the Orthodox churches. Here is my own versification of verses 8 and 9:

Now bless our God, you earthly peoples;
let all your praise to him resound,
for he keeps us among the living
and placed our feet on stable ground.

In the Genevan Psalter, Psalm 66 shares the same tune with Psalms 98 and 118, the latter of which is also sung at Easter. All three are psalms of celebration breathing a similar spirit of thanksgiving to God for his mercies. The tune is one of the better-known and more durable of the Genevan Psalter, with the eucharistic hymn, Bread of the World in Mercy Broken, being set to it. Revisiting this tune persuaded me to make a very modest alteration of the arrangement. The entire score can be found here.

6 May 2013

Psalm 96


I have just posted my own performance of Genevan Psalm 96 on my Byzantine Calvinist youtube channel. At some point I hope to have access to better recording equipment, but this is the best I can do for now, I think.

Recording the Psalms


Our friend Ernst Stolz has now made it as far as Psalm 80, leaving only 70 more to go. If he keeps up the current pace, he will finish recording all the psalms by 8 September 2014. When that day arrives, we should all down a good Dutch beer to celebrate.

16 Apr 2013

Congregational singing: Psalm 138


The Canadian Reformed Churches are virtually the only churches in North America that sing from the Genevan Psalter in its entirety on a regular basis. Frank Ezinga posted this rendition of a CanRef congregation singing Psalm 138, whose tune seems to have been the basis for the familiar hymn melody, MIT FREUDEN ZART. Notice the lag between the organist's entrance and the congregation's entrances at the beginning of phrases. I first encountered this at a Christian Reformed Church in Hamilton 25 years ago, and it drove me crazy at first. My understanding is that this is the way congregations sing in the Netherlands, but it takes getting used to by those unfamiliar with it.

12 Apr 2013

Ali Ufki and the Psalms

Ali Ufki and the Psalms
The title of this book in Turkish is Ali Ufki ve Mezmurlar, or Ali Ufki and the Psalms. The author, Cem Behar, teaches in the Department of Economics at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Although his principal professional interests are in economics, and demographic and social history, scrolling down his curriculum vitae reveals an apparently unrelated series of publications on traditional Ottoman and Turkish music, of which this book is one. Such an avocation is nearly as incongruous as an academic political scientist taking an interest in the Genevan Psalms!

This book was published in 1990. Those of us with an ongoing interest in Ali Ufki's work, but who know no Turkish, would love to see it translated into English. Something to hope for in the future.

Singing the Psalms through adversity — in Turkish!


God’s people have sung the Psalms for millennia, especially in dark times when it seems that he has abandoned them. One young man nearly four hundred years ago found himself in a horribly difficult situation. His name was Wojciech Bobowski (c. 1610—1675), a Polish Reformed Christian who at the age of eighteen (or perhaps as old as twenty-eight, depending on the year of his birth) was kidnapped by the Tatars during one of their occasional raids into his homeland. Sources differ on his birthplace, some pointing to the village of Bobowa (hence Bobowski) and others to Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine). During his childhood and early youth, he had come to know the Bible thoroughly and to sing the Genevan Psalms, apparently in his native language.

Because Bobowski was intellectually brilliant and an accomplished musician and linguist, the Tatars sold him as a slave to the Ottoman Sultan. In an act reminiscent of Pharaoh’s promotion of the biblical Joseph, the Sultan recognized his gifts and elevated him to the positions of court musician, treasurer and translator. Bobowski at least nominally converted to Islam and came to be known as Ali Ufki. Yet even if his conversion was genuine, he did not leave behind his interest in, and apparent love for, the Bible, which he translated into the Turkish language, in which it came to be known as Kitabı Mukaddes, or “Holy Book.” Well into the twentieth century Ali Ufki’s Bible was the only translation available in the Turkish language.
Ali Ufki also translated the Church of England’s catechism and the works of Hugo Grotius and Jan Comenius into Turkish. He eventually gained his legal freedom and lived out his years in Egypt as a dragoman, or diplomatic interpreter.

Yet it is his translation of the first fourteen Genevan Psalms into Turkish for which Ali Ufki is best remembered today. As it turns out, the distinctive modal flavor of the Genevan tunes made them well-suited for adaptation to the musical system used in the Ottoman Empire. This enabled him to publish his collection, Mezmurlar (Psalms), in 1665. We do not know whether he ever intended to translate the entire Psalter and, if so, why he stopped at 14. Nevertheless, in the first decade of this century increasing numbers of musical performing groups began paying attention to them.

For example, in 2005 the German musical group Sarband, in conjunction with the King’s Singers, produced a recording titled, Sacred Bridges: Christian, Jewish and Muslim Psalm Settings. Featuring Ali Ufki’s renditions of Psalms 2, 5, 6, 7 and 9, most of which are sung in both French and Turkish, this recording brings together two quite divergent musical traditions, and the overall effect is little short of astounding. Employing Turkish instruments, Louis Bourgeois’ sturdy tunes take on the unmistakable flavour of typical Near Eastern music. In fact, a youtube video performance of at least one of these comes complete with whirling dervishes, an addition that would leave the typical Dutch or Hungarian churchgoer reeling.


Other recent recordings include The Psalms of Ali Ufki and One God: Psalms and Hymns from Orient & Occident.

How well are Ali Ufki’s Psalms known amongst contemporary citizens of the Turkish Republic? Turkey is, of course, a largely Muslim country with a secular constitution enforced by a nervous military fearful of traditional religious loyalties. Christians coexist uneasily under the regime in Ankara. Whether they sing from Ali Ufki’s abbreviated Psalter I cannot say.

However, I received one more surprise in my research into Ali Ufki. When I mentioned his name to my father, who was born in the Greek Orthodox community in Cyprus, he recognized it immediately and said that he knew his work well, especially his Turkish-language Bible.

It is commonly believed that western Asia Minor, heartland of today’s Turkey, was the first place on earth to have a Christian majority during the Roman era. It would be marvelous if God, in his providence, saw fit to use Ali Ufki’s Mezmurlar to advance his kingdom in this once but no longer Christian land.

David T. Koyzis has taught politics at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, for just over a quarter of a century, and is the author of the award-winning Political Visions and Illusions. His next book on authority, office and the image of God is forthcoming from Pickwick Publications, a division of Wipf & Stock. This column appeared in the April 8 issue of Christian Courier as part of his monthly “Principalities & Powers” column.

21 Mar 2013

Singing the Psalms through adversity: the Czechs


The following appeared in the 11 March issue of Christian Courier as part of my monthly "Principalities & Powers" column. I have, of course, written on this subject before in this space.

In November 1976 I was privileged to visit what was then called Czechoslovakia and its capital city, Prague. Although the communists were still in power and the weather was cold and gloomy during my stay, I fell in love with this beautiful 14th-century urban jewel, which managed to glitter despite the austere Stalin-era buildings at its periphery. As a child I had grown up hearing one of my mother’s favourite musical pieces, Bedřich Smetana’s Vltava, or Moldau, a tone poem dedicated to the river on which Prague is built. Thus I was thrilled finally to walk across the fabled Charles Bridge spanning the waterway that had inspired the 19th-century composer.

For an amateur musician Prague is a treat, as its residents glory in the music of Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, Bohuslav Martinů and many others. Stepping into a church one Sunday I heard a soloist singing two of Dvořák’s Biblical Songs, which I had worked up in my undergraduate voice lessons and had come to love. Dvořák wrote these haunting songs based on the Psalms while in the United States, after learning of the death of his friend and conductor, Hans von Bülow, and of the imminent death of his own father back in Europe. Not surprisingly, the grieving composer turned to the Psalms for comfort.

While in Prague I visited more than one antiquarian book shop, purchasing an 1845 Czech New Testament and Psalms. (In retrospect I’ve come to recognize the irony in my taking a Bible out of a communist country when so many other Christians were taking risks to bring Bibles in.)

But it was another purchase at one of those stores that I keep returning to decades later. This was a small, thick volume called Malý Kancionál, or Little Hymnal, published in 1900 by the Unity of the Brethren, also variously known as the Bohemian Brethren, the Moravian Brethren and the Unitas Fratrum, founded by Jan Hus at the start of the 15th century. On the front cover is a stylized illustration of a chalice, a prominent Husite symbol, stemming from their championing the right of the laity to receive the Eucharistic cup along with the bread to which ordinary believers were at that time restricted. Inside the covers I found a complete metrical psalter, along with some 350 hymns – a psalter hymnal, in short. This sat on my shelf for nearly a decade before I discovered the significance of this book. The 150 Psalms are in fact set to the Genevan tunes, as used in the Swiss, Dutch, Hungarian and other Reformed churches. I had had no idea that Czechs had ever sung these, but obviously some did. Where did they come from?

A few years ago I learned the full story. Jiří Strejc (also known as Georg Vetter, 1536-1599), was a Brethren minister born in Zábřeh in Moravia. Strejc studied in Tübingen and Königsberg, where he came into contact with the Psalter of Ambrosius Lobwasser, a professor of jurisprudence at the university there. Strejc was so favourably impressed by Lobwasser’s German translation of the Genevan Psalter that he decided to model his own Czech versification on it, an undertaking he completed in 1587. Strejc is probably best known for his German-language hymn text, Mit Freuden Zart, familiar in English as Sing Praise to God, Who Reigns Above, the tune to which comes from the Bohemian Brethren’s Kirchengesänge (1566) and bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Genevan Psalm 138. Whether Strejc and Lobwasser ever met I have been unable to determine, but the latter’s psalter would come to influence the liturgical life of Czech protestants by way of Strejc.

The modern Czech Republic is a largely secular society with abysmally low rates of church attendance, a condition undoubtedly exacerbated by four decades of communist misrule. Nevertheless, possessing such a rich heritage in Dvořák’s Biblical Songs and Strejc’s metrical psalter, Czech Christians have a solid basis on which to reinvigorate their country’s tepid church life six centuries after Jan Hus’s abortive efforts at reformation. May God grant that Hus’s work finally come to fruition in the churches of the Czech Republic.

19 Mar 2013

Tim Nijenhuis' Psalms


My Hamilton neighbour Tim Nijenhuis has just completed his own piano arrangements of all of the Genevan Psalm melodies, titled Genevan Melodies for Piano - Omnibus, which is available at his genevatunes.com website. I've not yet seen the collection, but I hope and pray that it will find a receptive readership beyond his own church denomination. I have added his website to the links page of my own website.



16 Mar 2013

Praying the Psalms: a scriptural rosary


Nearly a year and a half ago I wrote of the origins of the rosary, a form of piety long associated with the Roman Catholic Church: The decline of psalm-singing: the rosary. I noted then that the rosary had its origins in the monastic practice of praying the 150 Psalms and called attention to two efforts to reconnect the rosary with the biblical Psalter. Here is another that is worth exploring: The Scriptural Rosary (Psalms), sponsored by Presentation Ministries. Many would, of course, wish to alter the titles of the fourth and fifth glorious mysteries, and perhaps use another Bible translation, but this might just be a form of rosary that even Reformed Christians could profitably pray.

10 Mar 2013

Genevan Psalms in Korean


I have now posted on the links page of my website a link to the Genevan Psalter in the Korean language, along with a passable English translation courtesy of the google translator. The texts, music scores and midi files for the Psalms themselves can be found by clicking on the table on the front page (the layout of which appears, incidentally, to have been patterned after the table on the front page of my own website). The harmonizations are by Claude Goudimel. This now complete collection is a marvellous resource for God's people in Korea. May it serve to advance his kingdom in that extraordinary east Asian country.

9 Mar 2013

Publisher found


Although this is not altogether relevant to the subject matter of this blog, I am nevertheless pleased to announce that my second book, provisionally titled, We Answer to Another: Authority, office and the image of God, will be published by Pickwick Publications, a division of Wipf & Stock in Eugene, Oregon. Here is a brief abstract of the book:

Many observers tend to conflate authority and power, even when they give lip service to the difference between these two, by identifying authority with one or more of the various capacities at our disposal. Similarly many are inclined to view authority and freedom as, if not outright polarities, then dialectically related. By contrast, my argument is that authority is co-extensive with responsible agency and is resident in an office given us at creation. Moreover, when we encounter authority, we encounter nothing less than the image of God, which always points beyond itself. This central authoritative office is in turn manifested in a variety of offices related to the communities of which we are part.

Here is the table of contents as currently projected:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I: INTRODUCTION: DEFINING THE PROBLEM
II: AUTHORITY AND POWER
III: AUTHORITY AND AUTONOMY
IV: AUTHORITY AND LEGITIMACY
V: OFFICE: THE KEY TO AUTHORITY
VI: THE PLURIFORMITY OF AUTHORITY
VII: EPILOGUE: AUTHORITY AND LOVE

These details, including the title, are, of course, subject to modification. I will keep readers posted on the progress of the book as it makes its way through the publication process. Stay tuned.

5 Mar 2013

Update: Psalm 53, 69 and 70


Our friend Jungwon Hwang has posted another performance of a Psalm, this one the 53rd, which is of course virtually identical to Psalm 14.


And two more from Ernst Stolz: Psalms 69 and 70, whose tunes are identical to those of 51 and 17 respectively.


25 Feb 2013

The Huguenot battle anthem: Psalm 68


Ernst Stolz' recording journey through the Psalms has now brought him to Psalm 68, famous as the anthem of the French Reformed Christians in their struggle with their persecutors. This is one of the most durable of the Genevan tunes and seems to have had an influence on the familiar 17th-century tune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN, often paired with the text, All Creatures of Our God and King.

22 Feb 2013

The Hungarian Reformed Church



Many North American Christians are unaware that the Reformation had an impact in east central Europe. Hungary was one of the countries affected by it, and this influence has lasted to the present. The Reformed Church in Hungary has a number of unique characteristics setting it apart from other churches. Its confessional standards are the ecumenical Heidelberg Catechism and the Second Helvetic Confession. It is one of only two explicitly Reformed churches to have bishops, although these bishops are little more than district superintendents and make no claim to be in apostolic succession. In fact, as its website puts it, "the church exists in its congregations." It is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. As the map indicates, the Reformed Church encompasses congregations scattered throughout the pre-1920 Lands of the Crown of St. Stephen, which extend from the Adriatic in the west to the Carpathian Mountains in the east, and from the borders of Poland in the north to those of Serbia in the south. In Hungary proper Reformed Christians make up the second largest church body after the Roman Catholic Church, while in Romanian Transylvania, they make up the largest Hungarian-speaking church denomination.

Why are Reformed Christians so concentrated in the east? These were the lands controlled by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, whereas western Hungary was under the rule of the Austrian Habsburgs. The Habsburgs imposed the Counter-Reformation within their territories, while the Ottoman authorities were rather more tolerant of religious diversity within their lands. (Recall that they had taken in the Jews expelled from Ferdinand and Isabella's Spain in 1492.) Thus the Reformation flourished in the latter but was suppressed in the former.

A dozen years ago I guest lectured at one of Redeemer's sister universities. There I encountered a student in one of the classes who had a Hungarian name but carried a Romanian passport. He was a Reformed Christian who lived in a region of Romania with an ethnic Hungarian majority. Despite his Romanian passport, he told me that he felt himself to be Hungarian, which, as I understand it, is not atypical of the Hungarian-speaking populations in Romania. Thus to be a Reformed Christian in that country brings with it a Hungarian identity as well.

The geographic distance between the Hungarian Reformed and other Reformed Christians is undoubtedly exacerbated by linguistic distance as well. Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language related to Finnish and Estonian but completely unrelated to the Indo-European languages surrounding it in central Europe. I have considerable admiration for such people as Frank and Aria Sawyer, who teach at the Sárospatak Reformed Theological Academy and long ago mastered this difficult language.

In North America the Hungarian Reformed are represented in two bodies: the Hungarian Reformed Church in America and the Calvin Synod, a confessional body within the United Church of Christ. Reformed Christians in Hungary still sing the Genevan Psalms in Albert Szenczi Molnár's 16th-century versifications. If their North American counterparts have given this up, they would certainly do well to re-appropriate a tradition that has served their brethren in the old country so well over the centuries. If they should ever look for a usable English translation, I would be happy to provide them with one, however partial it may be at present.

Incidentally, although I have no known close Hungarian family relationships, my genealogical records indicate that my wife, daughter and I are all lineal descendants of Kings Geza I through Istvan V of Hungary.

20 Feb 2013

Molnár's psalter online


I have recently been alerted to the existence of a scanned copy of the Psalterium Hungaricum of 1607, containing the texts of Albert Szenczi Molnár's Hungarian versifications of the 150 Psalms and the Song of Simeon from Luke 2:29-32. Once you are in the site, click on the OMNIA EX UNO icon until you are at the first Psalm. Then click on the word Fotó at the upper centre of the screen to see the first of the scanned pages. Then click on the right arrow above the image to continue through the scanned volume. This was posted in 2007 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of this edition.

18 Feb 2013

Update: Goudimel and Martinů


Two more Goudimel arrangements of the Psalms from Ernst Stolz. Psalm 66, of course, has the same melody as Psalms 98 and 118, while Psalm 67 shares its tune with Psalm 33.



The 20th-century composer Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) composed his Česká rapsodie (Czech Rhapsody), Cantata for Baritone, Mixed Chorus, Orchestra and Organ, H. 118, in 1918. At the end of the following movement Martinů quotes the Genevan tune of Psalm 23. I've not yet heard the entire piece, but I understand that at one point the baritone sings Jiří Strejc's text of this psalm.

14 Feb 2013

Singing the Psalms through adversity: Hungary


The following appeared in the 11 February issue of Christian Courier as part of my monthly "Principalities & Powers" column:

I love the Hungarian people. Among their many national virtues, they boast some of the greatest musicians, such as Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967), who did so much to shape 20th-century music by drawing on their country’s unique folk idioms. There is a substantial Reformed Christian minority in Hungary, and they are well known for their love of singing the Psalms. In fact, it can be justly argued that psalm-singing carried them through four decades of communist tyranny.

Last year saw the 450th anniversary of the completion of the Genevan Psalter. Although the Psalter’s texts were originally written in French verse, they were quickly thereafter translated into a number of other languages, including German, Dutch, Czech and Hungarian. The remarkable polymath, Albert Szenczi Molnár (1574-1634), was responsible for the Hungarian version. A pastor, linguist, poet, writer and translator, Molnár (whose surname means miller) was born in Senec (Szenc), near what is today the Slovak capital of Bratislava, and would come to exercise a formative influence on the development of the Hungarian language.

Molnár travelled widely during his life, visiting and studying in a number of European centres associated with the Reformation. His metrical translation of the Psalms was inspired by the German-language Psalter of Ambrosius Lobwasser and was published in Herborn in 1607. (The Reformed Christian legal theorist Johannes Althusius had published his Politics in Herborn a few years earlier but had moved to Emden before Molnár's arrival.) Molnár died in Kolozsvár in Hungarian Transylvania, now Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Amazingly, Molnár is reputed to have completed his translation of the Genevan Psalms in less than 100 days, which must surely set a speed record, given that this would require him to translate at least a psalm-and-a-half per day. Molnár’s texts have stood the test of time and are still sung by Hungarians today. The extent to which they are sung can be judged by the increasing numbers of performances posted to such sites as youtube, the sheer number of which might lead the casual observer to assume that the entire Hungarian nation is organized into hundreds of thousands of choral groups.

One of the best-known of these is the Cantus choir of the Reformed College in Debrecen, a major centre of Reformed Christianity in eastern Hungary. The College was founded in 1538, and the Cantus in 1739. The Cantus has recorded choral performances of the Psalms, including Kodály’s arrangements of Psalms 33, 50, 114, 121, 124, 126 and 150, whose continuing popularity appears to be undimmed by the passing of the years.

Hungary suffered much in the 20th century. In 1920, following its loss in the Great War, it was deprived of nearly three-quarters of its territory, leaving nearly a third of Hungarian-speakers in the new states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as in a newly enlarged Romania. During the Second World War it suffered under a pro-fascist government, followed by 40 years of communism, interrupted in 1956 by a failed effort at freedom quickly crushed by Soviet tanks. However, once Mikhail Gorbachev ended Moscow’s sphere of influence over its “allies,” Hungary was the first to move towards democracy and to begin dismantling the Iron Curtain.

After the chains of oppression had fallen away, outsiders discovered that Hungarians were still singing from the Genfi zsoltár, their sturdy voices ringing out their complaints, petitions, thanksgivings and praises to God, despite the efforts of an officially atheistic régime at silencing them. Small wonder, then, that many of us admire the Hungarians, so many of whom have persisted in giving voice to God’s Psalms in the face of such adversity.

10 Feb 2013

Isaac Watts: compulsive versifier


It seems that I am not the only person to suffer from the compulsion to versify psalms. Isaac Watts got there first some 300 years ago, as recounted in this article: Isaac Watts, Father of English Hymnody. An excerpt:

From an early age Isaac had a propensity to rhyming, and often even his conversation was in rhyme. His father became quite annoyed at this and told him to stop. When the rhyming persisted, the father started to whip the boy, and little Isaac cried out:
"O father, do some pity take
And I will no more verses make."

5 Feb 2013

Stolz: Psalm 65


Ernst Stolz has posted a delightful performance of Psalm 65, which sounds as if it were composed with recorders in mind.

28 Jan 2013

Then sings my Seoul: Psalm 10


Here is another lovely performance of a psalm in Korean, posted by our friend Jungwon Hwang. We trust that more such performances will be posted in weeks to come.

Stolz: Psalms 62-64






17 Jan 2013

Heidelberg Catechism: another anniversary


Last year marked the 450th anniversary of the completion of the Genevan Psalter, as well as of the English-language Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter. This year we observe the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism, commissioned by Elector Frederick III "the Pious" of the Palatinate and written by Caspar Olevianus (Olewig) and Zacharius Ursinus (Baer) in 1563. Its first question and answer make it one of the most beloved of the Reformation-era catechisms:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Yes, it's a little on the long side and perhaps not easily memorized. Therefore, in the interest of enabling believers to commit it to their hearts, I here link to my own musical rendition of the first question and answer: I Belong. The text I wrote back in 1986, and the music I composed in 2001. The text follows below:

In life and death, this is my only comfort:
that I belong, in all I do and say,
not to myself, but to my faithful Saviour —
to Jesus Christ, who took my sins away:
with his own blood he made for me atonement
and freed me from the temptor's evil sway.

The Lord provides, for he is very gracious:
he watches over me, therefore I know
that not a hair can from my head be taken
without my Father's willing it be so;
and I believe that all things work together
for my salvation from infernal woe.

Yes, I belong — and this is my true comfort —
to Jesus Christ, who tells me constantly
that I am his and, through his Holy Spirit,
assures me that I'll live eternally;
he makes me want to serve him now and always,
and live in every way obediently.

10 Jan 2013

Then sings my Seoul: Psalms 35 and 40


These are two quite lovely performances of the Psalms in Korean. For both Psalms 35 and 40 a soloist begins and is later joined by another singer in a duet. If I am correctly interpreting the text at 2:42 in the first Psalm, the Korean texts for the Genevan Psalms appear to be of recent vintage. I am grateful that "hwang867" has seen fit to use English captions for our benefit. I hope he will post more such performances in future.


9 Jan 2013

The cattle on a thousand hills


Last evening, as our family was reading a devotional on Psalm 50, I happened to recall a song we had sung when I was growing up: He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills, written by John W. Peterson. Because I could remember only two lines of the song, I had to look it up. Here it is:

He owns the cattle on a thousand hills,
The wealth in every mine;
He owns the rivers and the rocks and rills,
The sun and stars that shine.
Wonderful riches, more than tongue can tell -
He is my Father so they're mine as well;
He owns the cattle on a thousand hills -
I know that He will care for me.

Although the first and seventh lines are an obvious reference to the fiftieth Psalm, the remainder of the song has little to do with it. Although it expresses a valid sentiment, namely, that God cares for us, this is not the point of the psalm, whose main theme is that Almighty God stands in judgement on those who offer the prescribed sacrifices while remaining content to follow their sinful ways. I quote stanzas 4 and 8 from my own versification of Psalm 50:

“For every forest beast belongs to me,
the cattle on a thousand hills, you see,
each bird that soars aloft within the air,
mine are the beasts that wander everywhere.
If I were hungry, why then should you know it,
when earth is mine and everything within it? . . .

“Think on these things, all who will not recall
that I am God, the ruler over all,
lest you incur my wrath eternally;
but those who bring a grateful heart to me
I grant my favour and show my salvation
to those of righteous ways in every nation.”

It's not particularly catchy, and it probably wouldn't have sold well under the old Singspiration label, but it ought nevertheless to be sung in our churches, along with the rest of the biblical Psalter.

1 Jan 2013

Judit Lengyel: Psalm 22


Tibor Tóth has posted another psalm performance by Hungarian soprano Judit Lengyel:


Given the great length of this psalm, one cannot help wondering whether this was recorded in one session or whether the singer was allowed to catch her breath between recordings. She shows no discernible signs of vocal fatigue after singing the 16 stanzas. One assumes that congregations do not often sing the entire psalm at more than 17 minutes in length, although they would certainly do so appropriately on Good Friday at least.