Psalm 20: Stand upright – unarmed

‘Arise and stand upright’ (8)

After a gracious prayer for safety, strength, acceptance and prosperity in time of trouble, the psalmist goes on to warn against relying on chariots, weapons and warfare in achieving victory.

And what is the nature of that victory? David just prays for the ability to ‘arise and stand upright’. (v.8) It would be easy to sing this little throw-away line without really noticing its importance. However, taking account of the recurrent theme of justice and equity running throughout the psalter, this throw-away is more readily caught up and celebrated in song.


Psalms for All Seasons again comes up with nice music choices. (There’s nothing in TiS).

For some reason, any Spanish psalm song is likely to offer good music and harmonies, with engaging rhythmical foundations. PFAS 20AEl nombre de Dios te ampare/May God’s holy name uphold you, is a fine example. It might take a little time to learn.

The PFAS performance notes are, to my mind, rather poorly placed in fine print in pages at the back of the book. However, once you find them they have this good suggestion:


It would be helpful to the singers to have some percussion instrument, such as a woodblock, keep the 3/4 pulse, with other percussion instruments, such as shakers and triangle, marking the 6/8 rhythm. (p.1078)

The harmony by Homero Perera relies on fairly conventional changes; a modest ii-V-I in C for starters, but then slipping in some nice substitutions, Ab-Bb-Eb-C. The rhythm is catchy, alternating between bars of 6/8 and 3/4 (2×3 then 3×2), a free-wheeling hemiola used over centuries such as in Schütz Psalm 33. Simple enough once you get it and not uncommon, but so effective.

And while we on the page, we note the comment on the next arrangement 20B (responsorial setting to the simple tones of a Byzantine chant) that the refrain and verses would form a nice blessing at a baptism or on other occasions.

By way of contrast, the Alternate Refrain is an equally promising Afro-American spiritual. Plenty of both riches and variety in those few pages.

Meanwhile, The Emergent Psalter offers another deceptively simple refrain that homes in on the anti-war slogans of the final verses. Nice harmonies (A C G D — lifted by slipping the C major chord into the simple V-IV-I progression) and slightly syncopated tune.

The final choice depends, as always, on how it might support the message and atmospherics sought by the leaders.

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