Psalm 112, 9 Feb 2014

Light rises in darkness

Light rises in darkness when justice rules our lives.

This is the antiphon from our chosen setting of Psalm 112 in Together in Song number 69; it’s a paraphrase based on verse 4.

It contains a powerful message – although just what ‘justice’ might mean in our daily lives is open to question.

As usual, it is worth looking at different translations as they often give us different ideas. NRSV says:

Light shines in the darkness for the upright; the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.

For me, the New International Version wins:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.

Singer, Sans Souci Potsdam

The music for the opening phrase of the response rises step by step, like the sun rising from dark hills, preparing for the final call to a life of justice and faith.

A group of women will lead in the singing of this antiphon and, for our consideration and edification, the first nine verses of the psalm. 

The verses will be sung freely to the tone (a short chant tune with harmony) in the hymn book, with Brian’s delightful guitar accompaniment.

For more information on how to sing tones:

The TONE is a simple setting of a tune and a few chords to which you can sing any text. It is usually two bars of music notation, no time signature, no words. One bar is provided for each section of a couplet – two lines of blank verse – of the text you wish to sing.TiS 69

Psalteries and other sources may provide both antiphon and tone for each text, or just the antiphon, leaving the singer to choose from many available tones.

The tune of the tone is written as a long note at the beginning of the line and (usually) three shorter notes at the end of the line.

The words are not fitted for you into this notation. You remember those few notes of the tune and sing each verse to fit. Here’s the method.

Each line of words has a cue marker. The change of notes and harmony is indicated in the text by this cue – a dot, comma or other marker in each line of text, usually before the last three syllables or words which fit the last three notes of the tone.

So the rest of the verse or line before that cue all goes into that long first note. It may be a quite long or short phrase or phrases but is all sung on that one note.

Rhythm. This can be a bit tricky. The easiest approach is for one person to sing the tone with or without backing harmony, instruments etc. That way, the singer has full flexibility for rhythmic and other expression, interpreting the text for greatest effect according to the message – the words are always a dominant influence.

If it is to be sung by several voices together – either in unison or harmony parts, both of which can be very effective – more preparation time is spent on getting that together.

Ps 104 cantors 22Sep13 WIP_html_54be5d52In Gregorian chant, by the way, they get around this by singing one beat or note value per syllable, with some longer syllables given a double beat from time to time. That can be a bit stiff, however, so in modern usage the cantor or director allows the natural rhythm and meaning of the text to suggest all aspects of the interpretation, running even to a theatrical or dramatic touch if this fits the context of the day.

In our hymn book, by the way, multi-syllable words to be sung on one note are given a superscript bracket across the word (see example above).

Perhaps a little confusing at first, this well-tried system has been used to good effect by expert and amateur singer alike over many years. (A slightly more complex variation of this method, used regularly to sing the psalm in hundreds of parishes around the world, is the Anglican chant; the first text line in this system has four chords in a sequence, and the second line has six. See entry on Styles page)

Easier than neumes I assure you.

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One thought on “Psalm 112, 9 Feb 2014

  1. Pingback: The crystal ball | Psalms in the South

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