Psalm 22, 29 April 18

Although this song is clearly an extended individual lament — we are not sure under what particular trials and tribulations — the Lectionary reading this week presents the resolution section, expressions of thanks, trust and praise for deliverance. David is so encouraged that he declares praise in the presence of the faithful in great assembly, perhaps worshipping in the temple. (v. 25. For several earlier commentaries, see index>)

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It’s this declaration ‘In the presence of the people’ that encourages the use of Together in Song 727, a powerful Hebrew song under that title. The whole song can be sung as the psalm, although this loses much of the actual text. The version in PFAS 22F has a two more stanzas.

To sing the full text, use the TiS song as a response chorus while a cantor or small group sings the verses to a selected tone. A favoured option here is to use the same chord sequence, supporting a tone tune that is similar to but simpler than the refrain or chorus. Loosely fit the words according to the translation version to the descending dorian mode (ignore note values):

Psalm 23, 22 April 18

IMG_1067Following the desolation of Psalm 22 (“Why have you forsaken me?”), the restoration and peace in this next psalm is a comfort. How sweet is resolution after a time of conflict, oppression or depression. The Psalter does not say ‘No pain, no gain’. This would be inconsistent with the concept of grace. But its songs often reflect on the coexistence of suffering and joy, and the power of divine love to transform one into the other:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. (Ps 23:4)

Some say that the image of the shepherd is meaningless in modern times. The pic above right taken in a market place says otherwise. Most people still understand the idea of caring for a flock.

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This poem in many minds may be irrevocably tied to Jessie Irving’s famous tune CRIMOND (TiS 10). However, many other fine choices are available to the enterprising music group, while still respecting the much-loved phrases of this psalm.

One excellent choice to sing tranquillamente is a setting in the beautiful Spanish language from Psalms for All Seasons 23I, written in 1975 by Ricardo Villarreal. The people’s refrain is as follows: “El Señor es mi pastor; nada me puede faltar / My shepherd is the Lord; nothing indeed shall I want.” This is sung in G minor, the root chord alternating with its dominant seventh D7. The verses, best sung with feeling by a small group (in South Woden in recent years it has often been by male voices) slip into the related major key of Bb, before quite rapidly modulating smoothly back to that G minor again. Neat and effective. (It’s a powerful but not unusual progression, similar to the attractive pattern in Show me which way to go which we encounter with Psalm 32, though the changes come in a different sequence.)

Some other modern settings follow:

  • If building a Spanish theme, Santo santo, an anonymous tune from Argentina which may be found in TiS 723 would nicely supplement this psalm as incidental music.
  • TiS also has a Gelineau setting at No. 11
  • PFAS offers ten other settings including a two-part responsorial setting by Marty Haugen at 23G
  • Carolyn Jennings in NCH uses verse 2 in a simple singable melody and harmony for the refrain. Choose your own tone for the verses.
  • Finally, don’t overlook the Paul Kelly song Meet me in the middle of the air, which draws on Psalm 23 and I Thess.4:17. Lovely song, good simple harmony.

Tempting classical music for contemplation includes J S Bach’s cantata BWV112 based on this psalm. One short section, 112e which is verse 5 for example, would grace any worship gathering. Another nice setting for a trio is Der Herr ist meine Hirte, by G P Telemann.

Initial decorated capital and text of verse 1, PSalm 23 in the Rutland Bible, c 1260. British Library MS 62965

Psalm 4, 15 April 18

This song ‘of David’ only just makes it into the lectionary, once in Year B alone. However, the themes of supplication, forgiveness, trust and peace are familiar from many other similar songs. The last verse seems to set it aside, not as an expression of divine protection for this is another common theme, but as an evening prayer:

I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O God, make me lie down in safety. (9)

Other comments were made in a 2015 post here>

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It was this last verse that attracted many composers, Sir Arthur Sullivan amongst them, as a safe bet for a nice song. Lassus lined up for two different settings, one for the whole psalm entitled Cum invocarem (‘When I call’, v.1) for six voices, and the other In pace a simpler and shorter setting of those last lines for three equal voices. This last one might interest small groups.

In our modern sources:

  • TiS 2 has an easy refrain, but the Gelineau verse setting fails to grab me.
  • NCH has interesting words based on verse 6 and attractive harmonies
  • Close competition from PFAS 4A and a nice Malawian call-and-response in 4A alt.
  • Everett’s offering in TEP is an interesting edgy piece that sits on the 9th of an EbΔ, before smooth transitions up and back to that chord through Gb and Fm7. (Sung at SWUC April 2015.)
  • Amongst these jewels we shall sing this simple refrain drawing on verse 6, with verses to the same tune:

Psalm 133, 8 April 18

How good and how pleasant it is when kindred live together in harmony. That’s the simple message of this psalm.” Like most of the psalms of ascent, it’s short and sweet. Some unusual but enticing images that require a little explanation adorn the short song:

  • Fine oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard, upon the collars of Aaron’s robe. The pristine state of the high priest’s fine robes just don’t count against the value of a holy blessing.

    Mount Hermon. Image google.com
  • The dew of Hermon flowing down upon the hills of Zion. Familial harmony is a blessing spreading gently down from the snowy heights upon the villages and streets of everyday dwellings in the foothills.

In the original historical setting, the references to the hills of Hermon in the northern kingdom (now on the Lebanon-Syria border) and Zion, the mount of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom, suggest that this was a prayer for national as well as societal or family unity.

A post last year at this time added some more comments.

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As in recent years, we sing PFAS 133D, the lilting Spanish song Miren qué bueno. And speaking of relatives in unity, note how familial this Spanish is with the Latin in the illustration below, Ecce quam bonum. More singers = more harmony! Roll up.

Psalm 133 in the Vespasian Psalter; British Library

Psalm 100; singing a new song

There are thousands of musical settings of the 150 poems in the Psalter. Some of them are just a simple refrain of a few notes or an antiphon using the simplest chant without harmony, ranging up to grand elaborate works that stand alone as pinnacles of musical invention. In the latter category, the Psalmi Davidis poenitentiales by Lassus, with a short motet for each verse in two to six voices, are described elsewhere in these pages.

Psalm 100, being a short and lively song of praise, features frequently in the lists, including that Genevan ‘Old Hundredth’, All people that on earth do dwell. A new innovative work based on Psalm 100 is about to delight audiences at the Canberra Girls’ Grammar School auditorium on Wednesday 4 April. This is Jubilate Deo by Dan Forest, the title being from the first verse:

Jubilate Deo, omnis terra; servite Domino in laetitia. Introite in conspectu ejus in exsultatione. / O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands: serve the Lord with gladness, and come before his presence with a song.

Pss 100 and 23, Mandarin

The use of Latin in the text is hardly unusual. Such settings abound, particularly those from earlier years. However, this work samples languages and musical styles from around the world, as its seven movements interpret the five verses of this short but popular song of joy. Here are some of the other cultural connections:

Ve adthdor vador (from age to age, v.5) in Hebrew and Arabic

Ta cao chang (The sheep of his pasture, v.3) Mandarin Chinese

Ngokujabula (With great rejoicing, vs 1-3) Zulu

Bendecid su nombre (Bless his name, v.4) Spanish

Excerpt in Zulu from ‘Jubilate Deo’ by Dan Forest

Several singers from South Woden, members of The Resonants or The Oriana Chorale, will be in the large choir.