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Crystal Ball Advent 2017

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

This ‘sticky’ post is intended for South Woden readers. Scroll down for weekly blog posts.

Subject to the choices of worship leaders, what is in store?

  • 12 Nov. Psalm 78. Listen to my teaching; see the post for this psalm published recently. Chorus meet early Sunday.
  • 19 Nov. PFAS 123A suggested – draw a copy of the blue book from the SWUC library. Webmaster is away this week and next; (Stephen leads)
  • 26 Nov. Psalm 100 (Bruce leads)
    • The Old 100th is the traditional approach, TiS59;
    • however the next song in TiS 60, for which sung verses are in the TiS music edition, is preferred.
    • There are many, many choices in the mix of cultural tastes in PFAS 100A to H in our library.
    • Some of the SATB setting by Josquin des Prez would be inspirational if singers are available. We sang it three yers ago!
  • 3 Dec. Advent begins with Psalm 80. PFAS 80A ‘Restore us again’ with word-sheet on Dropbox library would fill the bill nicely again. Verse singers volunteer please.
  • 10 Dec. Go direct to Psalm 85 and the SWUC Communion chant, adapted.
  • 17 Dec. We omit Psalm 126 in favour of a carols and readings service which appropriately includes the Magnificat, led by women and young people. Ladies please note the date.
  • 24 Dec. The Magnificat is the Lectionary song on this date. So;
    • repeat it, or
    • take up Psalm 126 from last week
    • Ps 89 is also set, for which TiS 46 by Christopher Willcock is the choice.
    • We’ll try for a male voice rendition of another Slavonic Orthodox chant, Psalm 126. Men, note the date.
  • The geese are getting fat. More anon…

Singers are needed on many occasions. Rehearsals are @5:00pm on the Saturday before, as usual.

Magnificat, 17 Dec ’17

A marble on the Siena Duomo floor. A wondering Mary?

The Song of Mary, her joyful response to the angels’ declaration that she would bear a special child (are they not all?), is timely and most appropriate in the Advent season. The Magnificat, as it is known from the first words of the song in Latin, has frequently been sung by women and girls during Advent.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.

The song is used much more widely than in the festive season, appearing regularly in vespers or evensong services as well as in many other liturgical situations, particularly in faith communities with a strong Marian tradition.

Detail of the Magnificat, followed by an antiphon and the Nunc Dimittis, in the Howard Psalter, http://www.bl.uk. These canticles were often listed together in Psalters and books of hours.

The text, reminiscent of the Song of Hannah mother of Samuel, has been identified for centuries as one of the key liturgical canticles. It’s part of the great Marian tradition of course, but is also appropriate during Advent and the story of the coming of the baby Jesus. You can feel the thrill springing up in her heart — to be the mother of the promised one. The subject of this outpouring of joy is not just personal, although that surely would be enough for several songs. She quickly broadens the focus to recognise divine benevolence to all the faithful, bringing mercy, justice and equality, which are of course also recurring themes of the psalms:

God’s mercy is for believers from generation to generation. God has shown strength by deeds, scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly. (50-52 alt.)

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The popularity of the song, which is found in Luke 1:46b-55, has ensured that many varied settings exist. CPDL has a list of a hundred or so, including music for full worship services like Matins and Vespers.  Settings range from an early Latin hymn after the Gregorian chant tradition to the paraphrased Canticle of the turning sung to a traditional folk tune.

In Together in song there are seven tunes that are either settings of or references to this lovely paean of thankful wonder. No 161 Tell out my soul is a favourite as a hymn. No 172 My soul gives glory, much less frequently sung, presents a nice approach with an early American melody and more inclusive references to God. The text lends itself to participation by all – but verses 1 and 2 particularly invite the pure sounds of female voices.

Psalms for all seasons offers four settings, including Holy is your name set to the Irish traditional tune ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’. A more traditional chant and response style, using a simple three-note tone or chant tune may also be found (PFAS pages 1020-22).

Psalm 85, 10 Dec ’17

First animals contemplate evidence of the new arrivals in their land.

The first Australians have been conscious of and connected to the land in much stronger and deeper ways than more recent arrivals can comprehend. Their livelihood was far more intimately bound up with their natural environment. Features in their traditional territorial landscapes have longstanding narrative and spiritual importance.

Somehow, this atmosphere permeates Psalm 85, declaring that “truth springs up from the earth”. (11) Justice is associated with the very heart of the creation. For further comment on this theme see a previous post in December 2014.

The first verses speak of restoration and forgiveness; but these blessings are anchored in this context of the land:

… that God’s glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. (10, 11)

Justice, which throughout the Psalter is seen as a cornerstone of the original creation plan, again receives emphasis in imagery of the journey of life:

‘Justice goes before God, and peace is a road for God’s feet.’ (13)

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Palestrina, Lassus and others employed such mellifluous verses for five-part settings for the Offertory during Advent or other liturgical uses. Here is an example from verses 2-3 by Palestrina.

Incipit to Psalm 85 extract for the Offertory, Advent III

Readers familiar with the BCP texts will recognise this from verse 7, used by Lassus for Advent II:

Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam, et salutare tuum da nobis. / Shew us thy mercy, O Lord: and grant us thy salvation.

In more modern sources:

  • Everett in his notes in TEP draws attention to those important images of righteousness and peace quoted above; however he chooses verse 7, the  prayer for mercy, as his refrain.
  • No 45 in TiS would be a good choice; easy response, simple chords, interesting harmonies for SATB in the verses. However, it does not quite cover the lectionary readings and the inclusion of verses 1 and 2 is advisable to set the scene.
  • PFAS 86B is the lovely Taizé chorus Dona nobis pacem, adorned with a lilting rendition of the verse phrases in a cantor’s descant over the refrain ostinato. This is very effective.
  • Refrain and tone will be sung locally to a tune by the author that has become known as the South Woden communion chant with variations:

Psalm 80, 3 Dec ’17

Complete with a black sheep

Psalm 80 by Asaph is a cry for restoration by the ‘Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock’. (1) As strife continues all around, the singer seeks a more peaceable zone, perhaps by the still waters and safe pastures of other familiar psalms.

Asaph, as usual, had a historical situation in mind; but the psalm translates well in today’s troubled times, as does the inbuilt antiphon in verses 3, 7 and 19:

Restore us again, let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Five previous posts on this psalm are salted away in the archives of this site. For the summary, read the most recent post one year ago>.

The local plan this year is to dust off PFAS 80A; verses are adapted to fit the tune of the refrain, rather than the tone supplied in PFAS.

Psalm 100, 26 Nov ’17

No speed limits mentioned

Psalm 100 immediately conjures up the name ‘Old Hundredth’, All people that on earth do dwell, to a stately old tune drawn from the Genevan Psalter. Words and music are both from the 16th century and without refrain, so while it may be an old favourite for some, not a first choice.

Further comment on the Old Hundredth can be read in the 26 November 2014 post on Psalm 100 for that occasion. Read also notes on a fine four-part setting by Josquin des Prez that we sang three years ago.

And while dipping into that 16th century era of Josquin, other settings rather more in the Genevan style of the Old Hundredth may be found by John Dowland, W Parsons in Day’s Musical Psalter of 1563, and this one from the 1551 Ainsworth Psalter:

The Old Hundredth appears in our ‘Red book’ TiS at 59.

A more modern setting on the next page, TiS 60, would be a fine choice if a cantor is available to interpret the verses, only in the music edition. Other options were listed in the relevant Crystal Ball entry.

Psalm 123, 19 Nov ’17

Psalm 123 is a song of ascent. These short and hopeful songs, sometimes called degrees or Graduals, are grouped as Psalms 120 to 134. The songs of ascent have a particular fascination. They have a message and it’s economical. They challenge. This one, with only four verses, is short and bitter-sweet. Isaac Everett says of this psalm:1

The thing I love about the psalms of ascent is that they are so simple and short, yet they say everything they need to say.

Two themes are mingled: the psalmist declares (i) trust in divine love and protection, while (ii) hoping for mercy and relief from injustice from the ‘indolent rich’ and proud. (4) Unfortunately, progress against oppression is often slow. Ascent towards justice is not straight-forward or easy. Climbers are motivated by hope and belief that the effort will be worthwhile. Often it’s a long drag. 

So the psalm could just as well have been written for today’s inequalities; it uses the image of looking faithfully to a benevolent authority, seeking a time when the dominance of the proud and the rich might be at least ameliorated, if not completely countered. ‘We have had more than enough of contempt’ (3) from those who should be statesmen and leaders.

Musical settings of Psalm 123, perhaps due to its brevity, are relatively few. Together in Song skips this one; there are a couple of early settings by Palestrina and Hassler that are beyond our reach; and the Genevan and similar psalters have hymns rather than responsorials. However, some regular sources include nice congregational refrains:

  • TEP offers the penitential theme, ‘Have mercy on us’, with simple tune and chords

  • Linnea Good in a nice SATB setting concentrates on the single phrase, ‘To you I lift up my eyes’, from verse 1.

  • David Haas in PFAS takes a hopeful view: Our eyes rest on you, awaiting your kindness.

1 The Emergent Psalter, page 243

Psalm 78, 12 Nov 2017

‘With upright heart God tended them, guided them.’ (72)

This long psalm of Asaph in 72 verses covers many of the high points in the Torah, including the plagues and the exodus, subsequent trials and the calling of King David, great tales also to be found in Psalm 114 and elsewhere. Psalm 78 is a plea, a promise and a pledge to tell the old, old stories — for those who went before us, for ourselves, and for those who will follow…

Stories of old; even better when sung

But wait, I wrote all this and more in a post just recently, so go there to read the rest. This saves space and effort for the web-master; however a close inspection shows that this psalm reading selects different verses. So while it’s close, TiS 41 sung on 1 October does not quite cover the territory. Near enough for the average thematic leader but strictly, the reading is verses 1-7; again, review the other choices suggested in that earlier post>.

Here is the chosen refrain and verse tune for this week at South Woden:Ps78 Listen tune

Worship and song leaders may also be enticed by the alternative readings this week from the Wisdom of Solomon, a book which is not universally accepted as part of the canon. This nice passage could be sung by women to good effect.

Why the quote at the outset from that last verse 72? Here is another reminder of the strong thread of divine justice and goodness that runs through both the Psalter and the stories of old.