Psalm 22, 25 Feb ’18

This psalm appears on Good Friday due to verse 1, which Jesus quoted on the cross, and subsequent predictions:

My God, why have you forsaken me?

However this reading on Sunday 25 (Lent 2) starts much later in the poem in verse 23. A different kettle of fish altogether, as the psalmist sings a hymn of praise to a powerful and just God who, ultimately, rules over the nations despite the  evidence of chaos all around. This is a divine kingdom of love in which “the poor shall eat and be satisfied”, and future generations will “proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn.”

Several previous post have canvassed ideas arising in this song: see Mar’15Oct’15 and Mar’16. This year at SWUC we return to In the presence of your people, a Hebrew song in TiS 727 that fits the theme but actually draws on verses throughout the psalm.

Psalm 25, 18 Feb ’18

“Ad te Dominum”, the opening lines in gold lettering of Ps 25 in the Rutland Psalter, British Library Add MS 62925

This song arises on the first Sunday in Lent (in Year B). The reader will find no sack-cloth and ashes, lamentation or the parched airs of the wilderness. Of course, the psalmist was writing long before church administrations established traditions such as Lent. However, someone chose to pop this poem into the Lectionary in this seasonal context. The first ten verses are chock full of inspiration, trust, love and guidance. True, it’s not a loud acclamation of thanks and praise like many psalms, but it’s still a thoughtful and uplifting way to start Lent.

The poet gets to darker feelings in the second half of the song, essentially a personal lament, but this section never comes up in the Lectionary in any year. Nevertheless do not miss the last two verses, reminding the reader that integrity, justice and deliverance are part of the plan for God’s people.

For further description of this psalm and a summary of some music recommendations, please refer to a post in November 2015. The coincident beginning of the Lenten season may influence some leaders towards the more sedate end of the spectrum.

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For the people’s response, a fresh tune to be introduced at South Woden uses the powerful theme of verses 4 and 5: “Show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide in truth all day long”, a suitable prayer for the Lenten season:

Both this refrain and the verses, set to a different but similar and compatible tune, are based on the simple descending chords of D min, CΔ, Bb, A7. The arrangement for four voices can be reflective or swing along happily in its 6/4 time. Variation is introduced by having voices 1 and 2 in double time feel (3+3=6) while the supporting Voices 3 and 4 are in triple (2+2+2=6). No voice recording available but the electric version — which unfortunately cannot bring out this play the way human voices can — sounds like this:

Psalm 50, 11 Feb ’18

Psalm 50 by Asaph is quite long. Three sections broadly cover (i) the greatness and justice of God, (ii) the doubtful value of sacrifices and superficial or procedural worship, and (iii) a heavy admonishment to the ‘wicked’.

The lectionary reading covers the first half-dozen verses only. It boils down (though psalms should never be boiled down) to a vibrant description of divine eminence, power and identification with the people. The link to the week’s theme of the Transfiguration, while quite direct in the associated 2 Kings selection, is more oblique and atmospheric in the psalm.

Many early settings of the psalm, following 17th and early 18th century translations such as that by Isaac Watts, tend to emphasise the fearful, thunderous and judgmental nature of God. The opening section certainly includes ‘consuming fire’ and ‘raging storms’ associated with the imagery of the transfiguration and the power of the divine seat, depending on your translation. However, the concluding verses (5, 6) speak more gently of gathering the faithful before a God who is the source of rightness and justice.

For more on this theme, see an earlier post for Feb 2015.

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That earlier post also outlines just a few of the musical options, including the preferred choice Psalms for All Seasons 50B or 50 C. A little recent history: the cantors’ song sheet in our library says: “PFAS 50B, SW male voices 11 August 2013; mixed voices, 15 Feb 15.”

TiS 30 also covers the required territory. Most of the settings on CPDL online are SATBs of dated translations such as the Watts text mentioned above. The music, like the Haydn piece that follows, is usually more pleasing:

Psalm 50 for three voices, incipit by Josef Haydn

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Psalm 147, 4 Feb ’18

This psalm, like others in this final handful in the Psalter, is a song of praise, calling us to rejoice in the creation and the ubiquitous evidence of divine love and care.

‘Starry Night’ by V van Gogh. Wikimedia commons

With sudden shifts of focus, a visionary sweep of the universe, the selected text (verses 1 to 11 in Year B) alternate between the earthbound to the heights, the present day to the distant past, from the stars to personal reassurance of the exile and outcast:

God heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. God counts the number of the stars; and calls them all by name. (3, 4)

We are encouraged to pull out our lyres again in order to sing those praises (7).

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Being a vespers psalm and therefore appearing frequently in evening prayer services in the Roman and other rites, classical settings abound. Guerrero, Lassus, Monteverdi, Victoria and others wrote several settings. In the vespers liturgy and the Anglican Compline, up to five psalms were accompanied by the Magnificat or other Marian verses.

Tomas Luis de Victoria‘s setting of this psalm would be appropriate if singers were available. Lauda Ierusalem, Salmo de Vísperas No. 6 (illustrated) is a series of short sections, one for each of the odd verses. It would have been sung antiphonally by a choir in the vespers service, the priest chanting the even verses. This motet is in Latin rather than the preferred English; so in the modern environment it could be used to inspirational effect as incidental music or anthem. It could also be interposed as reflective antiphons between readings or prayers.

If relishing that idea of naming each of the myriad stars, a refrain by Isaac Everett in The Emergent Psalter would be an excellent choice: ‘Jehovah with immeasurable wisdom calls each star by name’.

PFAS rolls out several responsive options, frequently just picking the ‘hallelujah’ theme. One (147A alt.) is even a familiar tune by Mozart. Mozart’s music is supposed to soothe the troubled breast: this is a canon in three parts, so it will keep the congregation awake and alert as they learn and enjoy their woven harmony.

Together in Song No 92 covers most of the set verses and, being by John Bell, is reliably tuneful and easy to learn. Although the composition includes a chorus it is presented, and will be sung at South Woden, as a congregational hymn rather than a responsorial psalm with cantor.

Psalm 111, 28 Jan 18

Psalm 111 is a song of praise in honour of the creative divine spirit whose very nature and deeds are awash in high standards of justice and goodness, “wrought in truth and equity”.(8)

These important attributes — standing out like sustaining pillars throughout the Psalter and thus much remarked upon in this blog, much desired in a selfish materialistic world — flow on to the ‘works’ or evidence on earth of divine influence. Bring it on; the pressing need for love and justice is patently obvious.

Introit verse 1 in Psalm 111, Salmos de Vísperas by Tomàs Luis di Victoria, c 1600. “I will give thanks to you Lord with my whole heart.”

A final verse notes that reverence to this divine nature is ‘the beginning of wisdom’. Most translations say ‘the fear of God’, which seems to this author to be a rather inadequate rendition of the honour and loving respect due to revealed divine principles and their source, as the psalmist would have intended. Either way, this final verse seems to set up the transition to the next Psalm 112, which starts: “Happy are those who fear God, who delight in the commandments.”

For further comment:

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Early composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Mozart, Heinrich Schütz and Tomas Victoria all wrote several settings to this psalm, probably because this is one of the vespers psalms. (The introit shown above is from Victoria’s setting for odd verses. The previous psalm, 110, was included in Monteverdi’s famous Vespers of 1610; illustration at right>)

In modern sources:

  • A useful refrain by Jane Marshall, with a double tone for the verses, appears in Together in Song 68.
  • That in The Emergent Psalter is probably a little tricky for congregations to pick up on the fly.
  • Marty Haugen’s relatively simple refrain in The New Century Hymnal draws on verse 2: ‘Great are the works of God’.
  • A local adaptation of Haugen’s composition has been retrofitted with new words for the wisdom theme: ‘To honour God is the beginning of wisdom.’ Was it a little wimpy to avoid ‘the fear’?
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Crystal ball, Feb-March 2018

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

This ‘sticky’ post is intended for South Woden readers. Scroll down for weekly blog posts.

Subject to the choices of worship leaders, here are ideas for the opening months of 2018.

21 Jan, Ps 62. As explained in the recent post for this week, TiS 33 offers a nice refrain “Rest in God alone”, with verses sung to a double tone. Excellent potential for four-part harmony if singers are available.

28 Jan, Ps 111. Our choice is adapted from a Marty Haugen refrain, with tone for the verses from New Century Hymnal — unashamedly replacing “the fear of God …” with: “To honour God is the beginning of wisdom”.

4 Feb, Ps 147. TiS 92 has not been sung at SWUC for some time, it seems; so, encouraged by the fact that it’s from the safe hands of John Bell, we should do it.

11 Feb, Ps 50. Psalms for All Season 50B(alt) or 50C seem to win the vote here — but subject to the plan from the Carers who lead today. Your webmaster / cantor will be absent on this occasion.

18 Feb, Ps 25 (Lent). Either (i) TiS 1, safe hands again, this time Christopher Willcock; or, if singers are available (ii) a little swinging number on descending chords Dm, CΔ, Bb, A7.

25 Feb, Ps 22. A young women’s group will lead us in TiS 727 with variations, In the presence of your people.

Psalm 51

Detail of voice entries to Psalm 51:20 by Lassus

4 Mar, Ps 19. TiS 7 is another somewhat neglected setting. Such neglect has been in a good cause, however; International Women’s Day which lands about this date has been duly and appropriately recognised with songs by women such as the inimitable Hildegard von Bingen.

11 Mar, Ps 107. Trying again for a three-part refrain by Everett from The Emergent Psalter. We need leaders for the three parts.

18 Mar Ps 51 (or 119). The Lassus setting of this much-used and central Penitential Psalm is probably beyond our reach. (Similarly a setting by Gabrieli — but note! This one will be performed by the Oriana Chorale together with other Penitentials on 20 May. Be there!) The choice at SW may be one of the many offered in PFAS.

25 Mar, Ps 118 and 31. Our young women’s group takes us back to Paul Stookey’s Building Block, assisted by stalwarts Brian and Bette.

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Aspiring psalm singers from local churches or Woden valley communities are welcome to join. Apply webmaster via the email shown at left or contact page.

Psalm 62, 21 Jan ’18

The first four verses of the lectionary reading (5-12) sketch a divine presence that is strong, constant, and a safe refuge. David invites us to wait with him in silence, trusting in this ‘stronghold’. Verses 5 and 6 repeat the first two verses of the psalm, and are therefore an integral antiphon within the poem.

A call to silence entering the worship space at Taizé, France.

Translators and composers have taken various approaches to that opening verse, interpreting our accessional state as resting, being still or silent, waiting or even walking. The response in TiS 33 says:

Rest in God alone my soul.

Simple and gracious, while the first line of the verses in that setting says:

Ps62 in the Wode Psalter 1564-1625

Yet be still my soul, and wait for God.

An interesting variation, with a sense of mobility rather than stasis, appears in the Wode partbooks (see the text illustrated at right and an earlier post on Psalm 62):

Yet towards God with silence have I walked; in whome alone all health and hope I see.

The next section of the Psalm goes on to warn against the pursuit of riches, social precedence, extortion or other iniquities and inequities. The psalmist concludes with a reminder of steadfast divine love, and our consequent responsibility.

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Here’s a brief list of some of the musical offerings:

  • Those looking for a traditional hymn might find an SATB setting by Schütz from 1661 (My soul is silent in my God, SWV 159) useful, if rather conservative in style and harmony. It draws on the set of Lutheran hymns in the Becker Psalter in Leipzig of 1602.
  • A small choir of sight-readers would enjoy presenting one of the two settings by Lassus of selected verses of this psalm. But wait! Closer examination reveals that one is by Orlando di Lasso senior (1532-94) and the other by his son, Ferdinand (1560-1609). Both delectable.

Incipit to Ps. 62:8,9 for six voices by Orlando de Lasso, 1573

  • The responsorial refrain in Psalms for All Seasons is actually a Taizé setting, so the photograph above of their invitation to silence is again relevant. As usual, verses are sung to a tone by cantor or small group.
  • Everett in The Emergent Psalter produces a typically thoughtful but uncharacteristically sparse refrain (one chord, no syncopation, even notes), complete with silence. It can be sung as a two-part round.
  • Psalm 62 in TiS No. 33 has not been much sung at South Woden, mainly because it usually comes up close to Australia Day, for which we have sung music from Australian composers: these verses are used by permission from A New Zealand Prayer Book and the tone is from a ‘source unknown’. However this year it falls a week away from that not altogether comfortable date for the national anniversary; further, the selection in TiS includes verses that, rather unusually, coincide with the lectionary reading; and finally, they are [I regret that I must repeat ‘unusually’] inclusive. So it’s on the plan, while Roger and Willa lead our worship. All singers invited.