Psalm 17, 3 Aug 14

Wet cobbles at night, WeimarPsalm 17 (click here for the text) this week looks like a continuation of recent lectionary readings. David, for it is attributed to him, asks for purity and protection.

Having heard recently from Psalm 119:105 about the lamp to the feet and the light for the path, David runs up a variation on the theme :

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; in your paths my feet shall not stumble. (v.5)

A warm climax in the middle of the psalm is a sense of being cherished. It’s not just a dramatic hand-wringing for security from all sorts nasties — wicked enemies, the wealthy and greedy, even lions and such marauders get a mention. It’s much more personal and rich:

Apple of your eyeKeep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings (v.8)

By the way, Proverbs 7:2 links these two verses and asks us to keep God’s word as the apple of our eye.


Three things caught my eye about Isaac Everett’s refrain in The emergent psalter.

  • First, he chose to use the phrases ‘apple of your eye’ and ‘shadow of your wings’; these are just the sort of classic expressions that make the poetry of the psalms so meaningful, so memorable.
  • Secondly, I liked the structure of this little composition. Based on a very simple two-chord structure, the tune, like the One Note Samba, is all on one note. It’s backed by a second voice part which is just as plain but introduces a tiny element of cadence. The first voice singing C is higher than I usually set for a congregational response; it is Sunday morning after all.  Lower voices can sing the second part.
  • Then thirdly, after the first phrase there’s an instrumental filler. It’s a family worship Sunday so I could imagine children having fun here with recorders and percussion.*

So I jumped at this option — then discovered that the lectionary reading desists at verse 7, one stop short of those golden phrases. Bah! We’re still doing it. Free gift, gratis, for nothing, y compris. Anyway, I just had to add in verse 8 to round it up to 4+4.

Statue at Sans Souci palace, Potsdam DEWomen singers will lead this week, adding a home-grown tune for the verses with guitar, paraphrased to be more accessible for young participants in a family service.

Children are invited to bring a recorder or other instrument to contribute that instrumental section — making a joyful noise. We shall have a practice at 4pm Saturday. I wonder if they have come across those golden phrases and learned to cherish them yet?

Coming up next week, 10 August: Lassus à 5. Can’t wait. Sell tickets now!

* OK there’s a fourth reason but it’s for the musos.

This last hook is a subset of the second. Everett uses just two minor and major sevenths (Amin7, Fmaj7) throughout and then uses the second voice to highlight the colour within these harmonies, repeating exactly the same notes in first and second lines but against different chords = different colours and passing discords. Subtle.

I love the way you can change only one note of a chord by a mere semi-tone to imply a completely new chord altogether.  You need the bass or root note to anchor it. That’s one of the reasons I love playing bass sometimes. At a rehearsal the other day I gave our soloist for ‘Search me’ a long boring speech on the harmonisation of Stella by starlight. He’s probably still rolling his eyes.


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