‘Ram’s horn, lyre, harp, timbrel, dance, strings, pipe, cymbals, breath.’
The six short verses of Psalm 150 call us to praise God in creation. No specific reasons are adduced, because there are plenty of them mentioned throughout the Psalter. We are then called to take up trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, strings, pipe and cymbals — clashing cymbals indeed.
[By the way, the Vulgate text in Latin is slightly different:
Laudate eum in tympano et choro; laudate eum in chordis et organo. = Timbrel and choir, strings and organ.
Here the choir and organ get a mention. And those ‘clashing cymbals’ are described in the Latin as ‘cimbalis benesonantibus’ and ‘jubilationis’, which looks more like well-sounding and joyful than clashing. Another direct translation from the Hebrew says ‘loud-sounding’. OK, end of rambling aside.]
Even if you did not graduate with quals in cymbals, the psalmist then spreads the net even wider in the final verses — everything that breathes, song and dance please. So ignore the detail, grab whatever is handy and join in.
Words and music
This song of praise reminds us that the psalms were written to be sung, and this one with lots of good accompaniment. The power of music to lift words, thoughts and hopes to a higher level in human experience is manifest. As the calligraphy here says, words and music together are something wonderful. It’s hard to say why it’s important to us, but it certainly is. Furthermore, music has a special way of bringing people together. This psalm clearly anticipates such a situation.
The Psalter opens at Psalm 1 with instruction for our journey and ends with this vibrant song of praise. However, this not the end, not a full stop: it’s a semi-colon inviting us to keep singing.
Settings by the dozen are listed in the Choralwiki on the web, including pieces by Bach, Byrd and Monterverdi. Closer to home, a couple appear in The emergent psalter and in Together in song.
Psalms for all seasons offers an interesting musical miscellany, ten settings in all. It’s worth a closer look to see the variety of ways in which composers for congregations around the world have imagined this song of praise — and they are not all embellished by those clashing cymbals. Here’s a summary:
A. Tuneful verses in unison followed by ‘Halle, Hallelujah!’ in a two-part, repetitive refrain. From Singapore; the reason for mentioning this will become clear as we read on.
B. A similar pattern with shorter and simpler verses and refrain. Alternates quite pleasingly between keys of D for the refrain and Bb for the verses. For pleasure and ease of learning, this one is a good choice. It’s by great scholar of African-American songs, J Jefferson Cleveland
C. A Punjabi melody next, unaccompanied save for finger cymbals and drums!
D. And now one from Mexico, with a nice swing, good chords and eminently singable. A little long to learn but the rewards would be there.
E. Then a sedate English-style chant, not in the ‘Anglican’ tradition but fully arranged homophonic chant
F, G. a couple more hymns, to tunes like HELMSLEY and EASTER HYMN
G. has an alternate refrain from the Caribbean, the familiar Halle. halle, halle-lujah!
H. is an ancient French tune (not responsorial)
I. is a Wesley hymn, and
J. is for Genevan.
That’s once around the world for you! So after the semi-colon, sing on…