24 Feb 2021
The Genevan Psalm tunes have sometimes been paired with other biblical texts. A particularly familiar such pairing, often sung during Advent, is Comfort, Comfort Ye My People, a versification of the first verses of Isaiah 40 set to the tune for Psalm 42. This is also sung by Nathan George and family and was posted in December of last year. This is one of those remote pandemic recordings with instrumentalists located in different parts of the world.
22 Feb 2021
My wife, a professional biblical scholar by trade, recently pointed me to this article by Jamie A. Grant: Crisis, Cursing and the Christian: Reading Imprecatory Psalms in the Twenty-First Century (Foundations: No.74 Spring 2018). Here is an excerpt:
Clearly, at least within contemporary Western brands of Christianity, we are uncomfortable with the imprecations. In most of our lectionary traditions, imprecatory voices are not read, and the same is true in traditions where psalms are sung. Equally clearly, many interpreters are sceptical about the continued validity of such expressions in the Christian era. What, therefore, are we to do with psalms such as Psalm 69 that calls for the death of enemies or Psalm 137 that appears to eulogise the killing of babies? While remaining troubled by these voices in Scripture, many Christian readers are instinctively cautious about removing, either literally or functionally, sections of Scripture simply because they make us uncomfortable or because they are difficult to understand. So, the question remains: should we, can we, adopt such words as our own in our experience of worship? . . .
19 Feb 2021
Once again these are not metrical Psalms as such, but Karl Kohlhase's arrangements and performances of the Psalms definitely merit attention. His YouTube channel can be found here. Unlike some versions of the Psalms, I believe that these might be mastered by a congregation with a little assistance and practice, especially due to their regular rhythms and repeated musical themes. Here is a small selection:
18 Feb 2021
The tune for Genevan Psalm 134 was paired with the long-metre (LM) text for Psalm 100 from the Scottish Psalter in the 17th century and is thus familiar to generations of Christians as OLD ONE HUNDREDTH. Many years ago I arranged the tune, and here it is performed by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir and returned to Psalm 134:
17 Feb 2021
One of the joys of keeping a blog such as this is discovering new talent to share with others. Jason Silver maintains a YouTube channel devoted to the Psalms and other Scripture songs. His have many of the characteristics of metrical psalms, including a consistent rhythm and repeated themes. But the words are straight from Scripture with no attempt to compress them into artificial metre and rhyme. Here are a few samples in different musical styles, ranging from movie western to Celtic:
During Lent our congregation is Celebrating the Psalms Through Lent. For each day click on the appropriate numbered link and hear our members reciting the entire book, concluding with the final Psalms of praise on Easter. Today we hear our own Mary Edwards read Psalm 1-4. Join us for our Lenten journey.
16 Feb 2021
The following was posted by a marvellous musical group called the Hillbilly Thomists: Our Help Is in the Name of the Lord. It's a composite of several Psalms, including numbers 40, 70, 69, 124, and a few others. The Hillbilly Thomists are an ensemble of Dominican Friars who took their somewhat whimsical name from Flannery O'Connor's self-description. This song is from their new album, Living for the Other Side, available on their website.
15 Feb 2021
I am in a Facebook group devoted to the Breviary and Divine Office, which includes mostly Roman Catholics and Anglicans but also other Christians interested in the ancient cycle of daily prayer of which the biblical Psalms play a central role. One of the members posted this article by Peter Kwasniewski: The Omission of “Difficult” Psalms and the Spreading-Thin of the Psalter. The author charges that church officials have unduly expurgated troubling scripture passages from both the Psalter and the lectionary readings of scripture at the celebration of the mass. But what I wanted to call attention to is the long quotation by Orthodox priest Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon in one of the footnotes:
The real problem . . . is not with the psalm, but with ourselves. We modern Christians are far too disposed to establish our personal sentiments, our own spontaneous feelings, as the standard for our prayer. Thus, if the words of a particular prayer (in this case, a psalm inspired by the Holy Spirit) express emotions and responses with which we do not “feel” comfortable, we tend to think that we are being insincere in praying it. Contemporary Christians have made a virtual fetish of spontaneity in worship, and sincerity nowadays is measured by pulse rhythm. One would think that our Lord had said: “I have come that you may have sincere and heartfelt emotions, and have them more abundantly.”
In addition to the Psalms, Christians have sung other parts of Scripture as well down through the centuries. Here is one such song familiar to generations of protestants raised in revivalist circles. I associate this song with the Baptist church in my mother's hometown in Michigan where she and my father were married and which we attended during lengthy visits with relatives when I was a boy. We sang this song yesterday in church.
Although the stanzas are not from the Bible, the chorus is straight out of 2 Timothy 1:12 in the King James Version:
. . . for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto him against that day.
9 Feb 2021
The 19th-century Hungarian composer Franz (Ferenc) Liszt composed his own arrangement of Genevan Psalm 42. Listen to this recording of Wolfgang Weller performing this piece on the piano:
8 Feb 2021
Kent Dykstra maintains a YouTube channel worth checking out: Kent Dykstra. Here we find Dykstra's arrangements of several Genevan Psalms for string orchestra. Here are a few samples, beginning with Psalm 2:
3 Feb 2021
This psalm from the RPCNA's Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 24, is nicely sung, and the text is fine. Give it a listen here:
All the same, most Christians will find the familiar William Howard Doane tune distracting, as it is nearly universally associated with Fanny Crosby's beloved To God Be the Glory. Some tunes can be appropriately matched with multiple texts, as the success of Scotland's split-leaf psalters testifies. However, when a tune is so thoroughly associated with a given lyric, it may need to be passed over when new metrical psalters are being compiled. This is a good reason why Brian Wright's Anatomy of the Soul project is so compelling.
2 Feb 2021
Praying the psalms, then, is a means of kindling love—a truth that St. Bonaventure saw with blinding clarity. If you ask how one can know God, wrote Bonaventure, seek the answer in God’s grace, not instruction; desire, not intellect; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness, not clarity; not light but the raging fire that will bear you aloft.
In a striking passage in book 9 of the Confessions, Augustine recalls meditating on Psalm 4. He was staying at a friend’s villa near Milan while preparing for Baptism: “My God, how I cried to you when I read the Psalms of David, songs of faith, utterances of devotion which allow no pride of spirit to enter in . . . how they kindled my love for you.” They are sung all over the world, says Augustine, and there is no one “who can hide himself from your heat” (Ps. 19:6). He wished that others were nearby “watching my face and hearing my cries, to see what that psalm had done to me.”
When I first read that passage years ago, I was brought up short by the word “done.” Doing is not something we attribute to prayer; it implies action, not meditation. But praying the psalm did something to Augustine. The feelings expressed by the psalmist became his feelings. When the psalms are prayed, they don’t simply express something; they effect something, like an oath of office, or a couple’s wedding vows, or the words of consecration. The language is performative. Again, Augustine: “If the psalm is praying, pray yourselves; if it is groaning, you groan too; if it is happy, rejoice; if it is crying out in hope, you hope as well; if it expresses fear, be afraid. Everything written here is like a mirror held up to us.”
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