Psalm 16, 19 April 2020

Detail of Conserva me (Protect me), Psalm 16 for 6 voices by Lassus; published 1604.

Easter slides by, unusually restrained for a major celebration of the Christian year. The long period of many weeks after Easter and beyond Pentecost stretches ahead. The prospect may reinforce in your mind the long adjustment we have been facing to life in Covidian times. We are in this for the long haul. Take a long view, but live day by day.

What does Psalm 16 bring to us for this challenge? Still ringing in our ears are Easter messages by many church ministers — including Rev. Gary at South Woden who has for our benefit impressively transformed into screen script-writer, producer, cameraman, lead actor, SFX, director and distributor.

They spoke of the resurrection of Jesus and daily transformation of our own spirits. So review a few verses from Acts 2:24ff:

But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him,

‘I set God always before me,
    for God is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
    my body also rests in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to the grave,
    or let your holy one experience corruption.
28 You show me the ways of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

You will have guessed by now that David’s words are in Psalm 16. Professor Tom Wright sees in this immersion, and indeed in the habit of singing the psalms, a part of the transformation. Constant rehearsal enables our ‘muscle memory’ to sing or play favourite and oft-visited music without thinking. He proposes that:

… the changes described are not merely spiritual, but transformations of character that actually affected the matter of the human being. The psalms are there to enable people not only to become aware of the possible changes but actually to help bring it about. [1]

The reader may find points of contact with many meditative and mindfulness practices in cultures around the world. Singing or recalling the psalms, it is sometimes by listening reflectively to our own hearts that we may find divine guidance.


To introduce this period of steady pace of life, the first music suggestion is a precious old hymn, When in the night I meditate, to the tune MAITLAND by George Allen. [2] This is the first of four songs listed in Psalms for All Seasons, 16A. While the text may reflect outdated English expression and concepts of the 19th century, yet the meditation and ideas are relevant and thought-provoking in the 21st.

The familiar tune, perhaps better known as Precious Lord, hold my hand by Allen, is easily sung alone or with a family member at home, especially with the following clip: [3]

[Musical aside; skip this bit if you are not into the chords. This old edition shown above is in Ab, while the PFAS version is in G, where I have played it for years, often with ‘There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place’ — which I hope there is.

If there are no seriously accurate harmonisers singing, I have usually slipped in a III7 chord at the end of bars 1 and 5; and a little vi-ii7-V9-I or tri-tone subs turnaround across bars 3 and 4. Oh, and bar 6 goes well with a V diminished at the transition back to I in bar 7. No don’t try that at home but look; the classic Amen at the end. How long since we sang those?]

Should you be in a classical frame of mind, an earlier setting of Psalm 16 (listed as 15 in the Vulgate) by Parisian composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) may be the answer. This one is not listed in the CPDL psalms pages, but is hidden in a Mass for Four Choirs — heavy!

From several on the internet, a Canadian recording has been chosen here for its overall quality and slightly crisper pace rather than clarity; the words are harder to discern than in some others — but it’s not in English anyway. Additionally, how could we pass the associated cover image? Crown of thorns or Corona, it fits the times. Listen>


[1]   Wright, NT, Finding God in the Psalms, SPCK 2014; pages 158-161.

[2]   George Nelson Allen, 1812-77. Words from The Psalter, 1912, by Presbyterian churches of Canada and the United States. The title is drawn from verse 7: “I will bless God who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night.”

[3]   Many piano accompaniment files at

4 thoughts on “Psalm 16, 19 April 2020

  1. Thanks Brendan – I appreciate the way you are modifying your entries to take account of current times! Great!

    1. That’s the name of the game for everyone right now is it not? Wishing everyone well with all the necessary adjustments.

    1. Andrew, thank you for this advice. I stand in awe of your achievements so far. Thanks for your many fine musical contributions.

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