Psalm 119, 16 Feb 14

This week and next, we dip into two sections of the longest psalm.

The psalm

We’re talking Psalm 119, of course – not the whole lot, as it runs to 176 verses, just the first eight.

Pathways of life
Pathways of life

This long psalm is a succession of 8-verse sections, each acrostically labelled with a Hebrew letter. We sing Aleph this week and He the following Sunday, 23 February.

It kicks off inviting us to walk in God’s ways.

Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in God’s way. (v.1)

It’s worth quoting what Psalms for all seasons has to say about this long poem:

The psalm focuses on the decrees, laws, commands, and promises of God.

It depicts life as a walk or journey down a path; it lifts up the importance of a righteous heart, mouth and voice, and righteous feet; it challenges us to treasure and take delight; it presents God’s law as both command and promise; and it gives us hope.

The antiphon

The recurrence of Psalm 119 in the lectionary for this week and next invites continuity in the chosen antiphon. Everett’s approach is to use one tune throughout all segments of Psalm 119, setting words based on a selected verse. He designed it so that when all are put together it makes a whole song.

This week’s response:

All who know your voice and listen ardently uphold your laws / binding to their heart your wisdom, base their lives upon your cause.

The modal tune and harmony changes are simple but engaging. Backing singers will sing the sustained alternating pedal or ostinato voices; volunteers also most welcome as verse soloists.

Listen to the tune >

For a .pdf of the voice parts in full (a tone higher than the original), click here >

ALL SINGERS WELCOME – meet at 9:10 am Sunday 16 Feb.

Same tune, different words next week.

For further comments on the music …

Harmonic structure – important even if simple

Repeat and sustain
Repeat and sustain

The tune is simple, with alternating backing chords D minor and C repeating.  The tune continues unchanged throughout, using the first three notes of the scales as the chords alternate. Nice. 

Variation and interest are introduced by subtly changing those backing chords to Bb and A minor, both closely related respectively to the first chords – for example, A minor is the relative minor of C.

The note Bb does not appear in the pure D minor chord but the Bb chord with a major 7th is almost the same chord as D minor, its character being fundamentally changed by moving the bass note from D to Bb. As with C and A minor, a change of bass defines a new tonality.

The root notes ( pedals) across the whole song progress modally down the scale from D to A. Here’s how the backing goes:

[Sing D] All who know– your voice and [sing C] listen– ardent- [D] ly– uphold your [C] laws– binding [Bb] to– their heart your [A] wisdom– base their [Bb] lives u- [C] pon your [D] cause.

And if there are enough singers we can add the parallel fifth, starting on A. (Incidentally, in classical composition theory this was a ‘no-no’ but it sounds good in this context.)

These little delights of composition and musicality often swing the balance when choosing which antiphon to use. ‘Singability’, being easy to pick up, is the sine qua non – must have. But if it’s too simple the whole experience can be flat or even boring.

As usual, The Emergent Psalter music with piano backing is available here >> (select ‘downloads’). Or read the cantor’s text >

4 thoughts on “Psalm 119, 16 Feb 14

  1. Looks and sounds great. How many offers have you had? Not for a solo but for the backing band? X Dalma

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