Psalm 90, 26 October 2014

This Sunday we enjoy another visit by our good friends in The Gospel Folk ably led by stalwart friend, supporter and Psalm Team singer Brian. The energy and swing of Gospel singing will be most welcome.

Hang on; for months I have been cooking up an arrangement of the set psalm, 90 (text here>), quite without reference to the African-American sounds. Indeed its grand vision:

‘For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night’ (Ps 90:4)

schrist_mosaiceems to call for a grand historical perspective drawing on some rich early Orthodox harmonies.

So we are set up for what Rev. Rachel has now graciously and adaptively termed a ‘dialogue of musical traditions’. What a blessing to have such an accommodating approach at South Woden.

The African-American tradition is no stranger to us, but what about the Orthodox piece?


Rulers of the worldByzantium. The very word conjures up thoughts of the ancient rule of empires — Greek, Roman, Latin and Ottoman. The Greek city of Byzantium became the capital of the Roman empire under Constantine, taking his name. It became Istanbul in 1453 but regardless of the label it has long been a centre for cultural and religious influence throughout the eastern Med. and Russia.

From that cultural centre, the Eastern Orthodox Church has spread in its various forms, largely through south-east Europe, Greece, Turkey, Eastern Europe and Russia, now rejoicing in some 250 or 300 million adherents. So there are a lot of psalm singers out there drawing on a rich historical culture going back to the commissioning of the apostles.

The music is particularly rich. Think Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s All-night Vigil (the ‘Vespers’; if you don’t know it, do listen sometime — here for example > is one movement of this lovely work). Surely we have much to gain from listening to and savouring this ancient spiritual and musical stream?


Tucked away in Chevetogne in Belgium is a Catholic monastery that devotes considerable effort to bridging the gap (eg. different calendars, traditions and observances) between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. There are many differences but many shared beliefs and practices. The monks have recorded some great songs of the Slavonian and other Orthodox liturgies. I have transcribed one of their pieces (originally used as a setting for the Beatitudes — but this has its own magic) for Psalm 90, which I thought particularly suited for the male voice group who sings on this fourth Sunday, 26 October.

After an enjoyable sing at the musos’ lunch at Farrer on Sunday 19th (a rollicking mélange of Gregorian chant and African-American styles), members of the men’s group look forward to presenting this beautiful Slavonian setting (music here>) on Sunday.

Coming up

Saints: Augustine Museum, Freiburg
Saints: Augustine Museum, Freiburg. Click images to enlarge

On 2 November we have a congruence of the baptism of lovely little miracle mite Thea, and All Saints’ day. The photo at left is of large 15th century carvings of some of those saints — note the figures of living saints in the background for a sense of scale. These wearied statues were removed from the cathedral of Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany, restored and preserved in the nearby Augustine Museum.

But wait, there’s more: Psalm Singers are invited to gather in strength to lead Meet me in the middle of the air, lovely song combining ideas from Thessalonians, Psalm 23 and all saints, by one of my favourite atheists Paul Kelly.

And thank you all for a rousing call for those scarce commodities, justice and equity, last Sunday.

Not banging the Orthodox thing too hard, but here’s another take of the Rach. Vespers > by the State Russian Choir. Your Hon. Webmaster has actually reached that low Bb on occasions, albeit without the true Volga boatman resonance.

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