31 Mar 2014

The Niagara Psalter

I have finally come up with a title for my second psalter project: the Niagara Psalter. I chose it because we live atop the Niagara escarpment, which cuts through Hamilton and the entire Niagara peninsula.

The origins of this project extend back to the 1980s when I began to set a few of the biblical Psalms to verse. Psalm 137 may have been the first, although a very loose paraphrase of Psalm 25 either preceded or came shortly thereafter. In 1985 I came into contact with the tunes of the Genevan Psalter and was utterly captivated by this 16th-century psalter. For the next nearly thirty years I undertook to come up with fresh English-language texts to which these tunes could be sung. Shortly before the turn of the century, I began arranging these tunes to accompany the new texts, the results of which are posted at my Genevan Psalter website.

In late summer of 2013 I began a new metrical psalter project prompted primarily by a bout with depression and secondarily by a desire to enter the annual psalm contest sponsored by Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This quickly took off and, over the following months, I managed to produce more than forty metrical psalms set to fresh tunes. For all their beauty and sturdy durability, the Genevan Psalms were originally written for the French language, and the drawbacks quickly become evident in trying to fit the tunes to English texts. In 2012 I attempted a revision of my Psalm 29 text from some years earlier, trying mightily to capture the seven occurrences of qol Adonai, the “voice of the LORD,” in English, which had not appeared consistently in my earlier versification of the text. Later that year I undertook a fresh versification using a different metre entirely. The expression, “the voice of the LORD,” suggests a more dactylic metrical structure, which I used for the tune I came up with for my new text.

These then are the principles undergirding this new project, which I anticipate will lead to a book about my own personal pilgrimage through the biblical Psalms:

1. Rather than the tunes dictating the texts, this project has the texts determining the tunes. These versifications have generally started with one of the major English translations of the Bible, such as the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version or the English Standard Version. Reading a Psalm in one or more of these has usually suggested to me a metrical structure and a length for each line.

2. Unlike most hymnic songs or metrical psalms, not all of the stanzas here are of equal length, reflecting the grouping of thoughts in the original texts. A metrical psalm that generally has, say, four lines per stanza may occasionally require a stanza of five or six lines, in which case I have simply repeated the last one or two musical lines to accommodate the longer stanza. Partial stanzas are often found in the Genevan psalters, but not in those standing in the English and Scottish traditions.

3. Unlike the English and Scottish psalters, which make disproportionate, if not exclusive, use of common metre (CM) or double common metre (CMD), this psalter makes use of a variety of metres while not neglecting common and long metres. This makes for a certain similarity to the Genevan Psalter. Unlike the latter, however, I have made an effort to avoid odd-numbered lines in individual stanzas (e.g., five or seven lines per stanza), which tend to mask the parallelism in the original Hebrew texts. The metrical structures of my tunes are also somewhat more symmetrical than many in the Genevan corpus.

4. Some of the versified texts are rhymed, while others are not, if rendering them as such would seem to do violence to the translated prose texts.

5. The tunes in this new psalter, like those of the Genevan Psalter, make use of the traditional ecclesiastical modes. I have made an effort to choose a mode for the tune that in some fashion reflects the emotional feel of the text. Psalms 22 and 88, for example, have tunes in the phrygian mode, while many more tunes are in the dorian, hypodorian, mixolydian or hypomixolydian modes, which accommodate more thematic and emotional diversity.

6. As best as I am able, I have tried to compose tunes that will be singable by ordinary people but that also have some interesting twists in tonality. This means that the tunes do not keep strictly to a particular mode but may shift, for example, between mixolydian and ionian modes within the same melody.

7. Unlike the Genevan tunes, my tunes generally employ time signatures and bar lines. A slight majority of tunes use triple metre, i.e., 3/4 or 6/8 time, with 4/4 time coming next. A very few tunes alternate between time signatures. Once again, the English texts have usually influenced my choice of time signature.

8. The tunes for these texts contain no melismata in the melody line, that is, more than one note assigned to a single syllable, to facilitate greater ease of singing. Two of my texts, namely those for Psalms 51 and 137, were previously published in a hymnal back in 1989. I have now come up with fresh tunes for both, because the previous tunes contained numerous melismata, which I have sought to avoid. In this too my collection has something in common with the Genevan corpus, which uses very few melismata.

9. The names I have thus far chosen for the tunes are taken from areas I have lived, especially the Hamilton, Ontario, and DuPage County, Illinois, regions, although some represent a theme in the psalm itself.

This is, of course, an ongoing project which could follow one of a number of possible paths over the next few years. At this point, as mentioned above, I plan to write a book about my personal pilgrimage through the Psalms, but I may find a way to publish separately a collection of my sung psalmody as well.

I have now posted nine Psalms in this series on my website, including Psalms 8, 23, 29, 51, 95, 98, 130, 137 and 150. Clicking on the title of each psalm will bring up an mp3 file of the music. Scores are posted for Psalms 23 and 29. Thus far there are 45 sung psalms in this collection, of which I have now posted a representative sample.

30 Mar 2014

Psalm 140

For the first time in not quite a year I have made another addition to my online collection of Genevan Psalms. This latest effort is Psalm 140, one of the so-called imprecatory Psalms that calls down God's wrath on the wicked. The imprecatory Psalms are sometimes an embarrassment to Christians, who may find themselves uncomfortable with references to God's anger and judgement. After all, does not Jesus command us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies? Do these commands not supplant the harsher logic of the old covenant? In fact, however, Psalm 140 and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount are not in conflict with each other, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out:

The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge into his own hands. He calls for the wrath of God alone (cf. Romans 12:19). Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge. Otherwise, the vengeance would not be seriously commanded from God.

Furthermore, in no way can we truly access the mercy of God if we do not first recognize that God is a God of justice who rightly judges sin. Only when we bring ourselves to fear God's righteousness can we freely accept his forgiving grace in our own lives. If we dare to rush too quickly into God's mercy, bypassing his justice, we are left with a permissive god of our own making, not the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Grace then becomes "cheap grace," as Bonhoeffer famously labelled it.

The melody to this Psalm is in the Hypoionian mode, or what we nowadays would call a major key. The score is posted here. The Decalogue is also set to this tune in the 1562 edition of the Genevan Psalter. The text is my 83rd Genevan versification, and it is unrhymed.

Incidentally, I might point out here that the 11-month gap between my versification and arrangement of Psalms 66 and 140 has been due to two factors:

First, I have been preoccupied recently with preparations for the publication of my most recent book, We Answer to Another. which was released just over two weeks ago.

Second, since September of last year I have been working on a second psalter project, with psalm versifications set to original melodies of my own composition. Although I have thus far posted only two of these on my website, Psalms 23 and 29, I have actually written forty-five fresh metrical psalms to be sung to a slightly fewer number of tunes. This too is an ongoing project for which I have not yet come up with a satisfactory title.* I plan to post a few more of these at some point in the near future, along with a description of the principles undergirding this project.

* My tongue-in-cheek working title for this growing collection is Psalms of David (Koyzis).

19 Mar 2014

Book published: We Answer to Another

My new book is finally out. We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God is now available from Pickwick Publications. It is also available from amazon.com, although it is listed as temporarily out of stock, undoubtedly because they have not yet received copies of the book. Thus far it is not listed on amazon.ca, but I will let Canadian readers know when it appears there. In the meantime, your best bet would be to phone the publisher at 541-344-1528 or email them at orders[at]wipfandstock[dot]com.

Here is the description of the book from the back cover:

The quest to escape authority has been a persistent feature of the modern world, animating liberals and Marxists, Westerners and non-Westerners alike. Yet what if it turns out that authority is intrinsic to humanity? What if authority is characteristic of everything we are and do as those created in God's image, even when we claim to be free of it? What if kings and commoners, teachers and students, employers and employees all possess authority?

This book argues that authority cannot be identified with mere power, is not to be played off against freedom, and is not a mere social construction. Rather it is resident in an office given us by God himself at creation. This central office is in turn dispersed into a variety of offices relevant to our different life activities in a wide array of communal settings. Far from being a conservative bromide, the call to respect authority is foundational to respect for humanity itself.

Here are endorsements:

"In this timely and highly valuable book, Koyzis exposes the problems and points the way to solid, balanced answers. The subtitle of We Answer to Another sums it up: 'Authority, Office, and the Image of God.' Humans have been created in the image of God and called to serve the Creator—the One to whom we are ultimately accountable. To exercise a responsibility is to hold an office of real authority as servant-stewards of one another. We can thus participate in holding one another accountable to the responsibilities of those offices. Sound old-fashioned? It's the most contemporary word of wisdom we and our neighbors throughout the world need to hear today!"
—James W. Skillen, President Emeritus, Center for Public Justice

"Liberal societies, regarding themselves as premised on the generative moral autonomy of the individual, have a constitutive problem with authority—freedom needs no justification, only authority. In this highly illuminating, wide-ranging, and exceptionally clear book, David Koyzis shows how this view not only destabilizes authority but actually diminishes our humanity. Authority is not autonomy but 'responsible agency,' exercised individually and corporately in many diverse human settings—'offices'—that arise from our being created in God's image. Recovering authority as 'answering to another' makes us more, not less, human."
—Jonathan Chaplin, Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge

Update: The book is now available on amazon.ca.

4 Mar 2014

Selected Psalms or all 150?

Two of the smaller Reformed denominations are collaborating on producing a psalter hymnal: the United Reformed Churches (URC), which originated in a split from the Christian Reformed Church two decades ago, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), which broke in 1936 with the former Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, now part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Because both are highly confessional denominations, it is not unusual that they would work together on this project.

However, I am somewhat surprised to read this from the Rev. Donald M. Poundstone, a retired OPC minister: Do We Really Need a Psalter-Hymnal? Defending the OPC's Trinity Hymnal (I myself grew up with the first 1961 edition), he writes:

Trinity Hymnal contains a marvelous, albeit imperfect, collection of hymns and psalms. . . . What precious, enduring truth revealed in the Old Testament is missing from this catalog and thus absent from our current hymnal? . . .

One member of the Psalter-Hymnal Composition Committee wrote of his conviction that God nowhere directs his people—either in the Old or the New Testament—to sing all the biblical psalms in worship. This view has been the overwhelming consensus within the OPC since her founding, and I concur in it. But a few years ago, without concerted or church-wide discussion, the General Assembly suddenly decided to abandon this consensus. This is what I mean by speaking of the Psalter-Hymnal project as a radical one. A founding member of our church recently called it “revolutionary”!

Rather than embracing the “total psalmody” view of a Psalter-Hymnal, I’m convinced we ought to continue our venerable practice of using carefully selected metrical psalms, psalm versions, and paraphrases for sung praise and prayer in our corporate worship, along with scripturally faithful hymns.

Why? Briefly—and maybe too bluntly—not all the psalms as originally written are suitable for corporate Christian praise and prayer. . . .

The Old Testament points us to Christ. But the Psalms, and the rest of the Old Testament, were written before the incarnation of the uncreated Son of God, prior to his earthly life and ministry of humble obedience and love, and before his death on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, his glorious resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. Our Lord Jesus, both in his teaching and in his way of life, revealed the fullness of God’s will for us.

The Rev. Peter J. Wallace, another OPC minister, quite adequately responds to Poundstone here: Why Should We Sing All 150 Psalms? Here's Wallace:

It is true that the Psalms are the songbook of an obsolete covenant—in the same sense that the Ten Commandments are the law of an obsolete covenant—and the whole Old Testament itself is an obsolete covenant! And yet, Paul writes that “all Scripture [the whole obsolete testament] is breathed-out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Furthermore, there is not a single sentiment in the Psalms that is not echoed in the New Testament as well. . . .

Why should we sing all 150 psalms? Because it is right and proper to sing God’s word back to him. This is why our congregation sings versions of Deuteronomy 6, Habakkuk 3, Jonah 2, Joel 2, Zephaniah 3, Zechariah 9, Micah 7, and the songs of Daniel, Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, Hannah, Deborah, and Moses (Ex. 15). Too often we assume that the songs of the church are “prayers,” but in fact, the songs of the church may also be where the church takes up the Word of God on our lips and sings it back to him. After all, many psalms are not “prayers,” but recitations of the mighty deeds of God. Singing is not just the “prayers of the people,” but also the admonition of the Word of God!

I would add two historical reasons to the biblical ones adduced by Wallace.

First, there is evidence that the early church followed the synagogue in singing through the biblical Psalms on a regular basis, although the practice would come eventually to be limited to the monasteries. The Rule of St. Benedict prescribes the singing of all 150 Psalms each week for the members of the monastic community: "Let him take care, however, above all that each week the entire Psalter of one hundred fifty psalms be recited and be always begun anew at the Night Office on Sunday." St. John Chrysostom similarly enjoins the singing of the Psalms:

If we keep vigil in church, David [the author of the psalms] comes first, last and central. If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last and central. O amazing wonder! Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart. Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous; in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land, he excites the praise of God. In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, last and central. In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary; in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world, who live their life in heaven with God, David is first, last and central. All other men at night are overcome by sleep. David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into seraphic bands, he turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.

Both Sts. John Chrysostom and Benedict are obviously heirs of the new covenant, yet they continued the historic pattern of singing through the entire psalter on a regular basis and urged others to do so as well.

Second, during the 16th century the Reformers in Geneva, Strasbourg, Scotland and England undertook to render all 150 Psalms in singable form. By 1562 Christians in continental Europe and England had complete psalters in the Genevan and the Sternhold & Hopkins collections respectively. Not only is there no indication that Calvin, Bucer and others were content with limited Psalter selections in their liturgies; they expended a great deal of effort in producing a complete sung psalter — one that would be translated into German, Hungarian, Czech and other languages before long. When Sternhold & Hopkins was supplanted by Tate & Brady's New Version Psalter at the end of the 17th century, it was replaced, not by selected favourites, but by a complete metrical psalter containing, yes, all 150! No one would have thought to question this. From the outset, moreover, the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer divided the entire Psalter so that it could be sung at morning and evening prayer over a 30-day period.

Anyone arguing for "our venerable practice of using carefully selected metrical psalms, psalm versions, and paraphrases for sung praise and prayer in our corporate worship" does so against the weight of considerable historical evidence to the contrary.