This short psalm, another ‘skip‘ as it does not appear in the RCL, is a song of ascent, or gradual. Hence the illustration, one I have used for songs of ascent over several years. It took my fancy since it looks like inspiring countryside and a great view, but a perhaps a tough and indirect climb. Who has climbed that path over the years, I wonder?
But let’s not be daunted — the songs of ascent (fifteen psalms numbered 120 – 134) are usually simple, short and sweet.
Like the preceding 133, this one has but three verses. Does that make a song? What do you do with three verses? (Psalm 124 runs to four verses). Three approaches might be taken:
First, just do the usual thing; find a good setting and sing with pleasure.
- If you have a good male voice group, go for Palestrina’s Ecce nunc benedicite in TTBB.
- Schütz did one for SATB (in German) as did Victoria — but for 8 voices, a bit beyond most groups.
Second, at the other end of the scale we can make more space, simplicity and silence in our music. So three verses is a true gift. Leave space for thought and reflection on the catalytic lines the psalmist is feeding us. (I humbly admit to omitting the odd verse from time to time in my cantor duties.) Create your own way of presenting verses, holding atmosphere during silence with restrained tones, and leading a meaningful response.
- Psalms for all seasons 134C is right for this. The refrain, accompanied by light keyboard and flute but taking care to leave some ‘daylight’ between phrases, goes: Silently, peacefully, we will rest in you. Verses are sung to a simple tone with nice chords and, again, plenty of space.
Third, even if you add an antiphon after each verse (as in Psalm 136 which has this approach inbuilt) it’s still short. So you could repeat the refrain as a round or ostinato for situations like a vigil or reflective period.
- The Emergent Psalter takes this approach, using verse 1 and a tune that can be sung as a three-part round.
Psalm 134 may not included in the lectionary but it could still be employed to excellent effect, taking any approach, as music for reflection.