Psalm 31, 18 May 14

Some translations use 'castle' instead of 'refuge'.

Some translations use ‘castle’ instead of ‘refuge’; the ‘tower’ like this one is often a related image

We are familiar with Psalm 31 from Palm Sunday, although this time we read the first 5 verses and a little more in mid-psalm.

This is a rich psalm, if that’s not too trite a thing to say about the deep artistry and imagery of all of these songs.

It combines feelings of confidence and security together with a sense of danger, sorrow and dismay in which the divine refuge and blessing are earnestly sought and highly valued:

  • I have taken refuge (v.1)
  • incline your ear to me (v.2)
  • be my strong rock (v.3)

… and then this:

Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me (v.4)

What net, we wonder? Intrigue, hatred and jealousy amongst competitors or unbelievers, or just common old greed and selfishness? David, who endured all this cunning, recognises the need for some assistance from the ‘tower of strength’ and the ‘God of truth’ (vv.4, 5)

Then in verse 5 we find words that the dying Jesus quoted (so it’s sometimes used on Good Friday):

Into your hands I commend my spirit


Here’s an extract from the previous post on this same tune (from PFAS) that we sang on Palm Sunday:

… there are many intertwined ideas in this song. The response is strong, picking up a rather mysterious but powerful promise in verse 15: ‘My times are in your hands.’ That’s only one of four good snapshot statements of belief in this antiphon.

The earlier post revolved around that quoted theme. This week let us note the other ‘snapshot’ phrases of the refrain:your word

My times are in your hands. You strengthen me in strife. My hope is in your word. Your love preserves my life.

A nicely harmonised response follows an easy, descending path of natural phrases. Easily learned, nice to sing. We use the same refrain during prayers.

Verses will be sung to a similar chord progression.

The main tune is quite a high setting but there is a second lower part acting as an echo voice which would be very warming. If you can help by meeting early to learn and sing this supporting tune, please do.

Psalm 31, 13 April 14

You may have noticed that there are actually two psalms listed for Palm Sunday, the liturgies of the palms and that of the passion. A few days ago I posted on palms and Psalm 118 for this Sunday – but there’s no rule against a double-dip.

So we shall also enjoy Psalm 31, singing a response from Psalms for all seasons, no 31C.

14C hourglass, Basel museumAs usual there are many intertwined ideas in this song. The response is strong, picking up a rather mysterious but powerful promise in verse 15:

My times are in your hands.

That’s only one of four good snapshot statements of belief in this antiphon. It’s enough for now.


This nicely harmonised response follows an easy, descending path of similar phrases. Easily learned, nice to sing. Verses will be sung to a similar chord progression.

The main tune is quite a high setting but there is a second lower part acting as an echo voice which would be very warming. If you can help by meeting early to learn and sing this supporting tune, please respond below:

15C clock, Basel museumNotes

1.   Followers who access these posts by email on smart-phone may encounter problems with response boxes. View on your computer browser or download the WordPress app.

2.   If you have not yet entered your prediction on the song for Easter Sunday (at the foot of the palm post), the hourglass is running.

3.  Both ancient timepieces depicted are in Basel. Here in Canberra at the National Library you may have seen the important Harrison clock itself in the recent exhibition Mapping our world. Important? It’s the one that solved the problem of finding longitude when navigating at sea.

Pärt and Psalm 100, 17 April 14

Image The Oriana Chorale; artwork Dan Sanderson. Click to enlarge

For those interested in sacred songs that you will probably never hear at South Woden, The Oriana Chorale will sing music of some interest at Wesley Uniting Church on Thursday 17th April (‘Maundy’ or Holy Thursday) at 7:00 pm. Their notice says:

The principal work will be Arvo Pärt’s 1990 Berlin Mass. The sections of the Mass will be interspersed with a capella and accompanied pieces by composers ranging from J.S. Bach, Schütz and Lotti to Eric Whitacre, Thompson and Górecki.

It’s not just personal involvement that inspires me to draw this to your attention, but some familiar themes appearing in this blog, works by Pärt and Schütz in particular with the additional appearance of favourite J S Bach!  And if you don’t know Eric Whitacre, you probably should.

IMG_3096Pärt’s Berliner Messe

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) is perhaps the most performed exponent of modern minimalist modal music in the tradition of the Gregorian chant.  (See also a previous post on the modern chant.)

The mass follows the standard liturgical sections of the ordinary – but that’s about the end of the standard and ordinary. Here’s an example of the Kyrie sung by the Estonian Chamber Choir – Arvo is an Estonian after all.

Psalm 100

Of the interspersed pieces, I mention the psalm setting by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) not only because it’s a sung psalm, but because it’s a classic example of the emergence of antiphonal performance in polychoral writing. Schütz was a prominent 17th century composer and organist in Dresden and Venice – the multiple choir lofts in San Marco’s Venice was an inspiration for two-choir arrangements. He set all the Psalms of David amongst his many works. It’s the double-choir treatment with antiphonal or at least imitative entries that make this work exciting as the German text urges:

Jauchzet dem Herren alle Welt (Make a joyful noise unto God all the world)

The J S Bach selection, Der geist hilft BWV 226, is also scored for two choirs and instruments, the text being from Romans and Luther.

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Psalm 2, 2 March 2014

The nations, 1698. Image: Wikimedia commons

The nations, 1698. Image: Wikimedia commons

Psalm 2 has a very modern message, as

nations conspire and people plot in vain; the rulers of the earth set themselves and leaders take counsel together … ‘Let us cast their cords from us’. (v.1-3)

Rulers seeking to throw off the ‘bonds’ of God.

This author will be the first to recognise that there is a lot to be said for separating church and state. That is not the same as governments ignoring or running counter to ethics and values recognised by humanists, Christianity and most major religions of the world.

The excellent exhibition Mapping our world at the National Library of Australia is redolent with the manoeuvring and politics of exploration and possession, sometimes in the name of God, sometimes in that of nationalism, empire or commerce.

Back to music. In amongst the sheep going astray, feeding of the flock and the hallelujahs of The Messiah by George Frederic Handel (1685 to 1759, so almost an exact contemporary of J S Bach), behold this text turns up in full force.

It’s not so surprising, perhaps, as you sing along with the story of this oratorio to find that the maestro has snuck in some of this rage to wake us up in a furious chorus Let us break their bonds asunder (from v. 3).  It’s one of the show-stoppers, sometimes omitted since it’s fiendishly difficult when taken at a gallop.

Maybe we should slip this in as the antiphon this Sunday to keep us on our toes! What say you? Have a listen here >>

Then again, we might actually take a much easier response (final choice to be confirmed) from The New Century Hymnal by Carolyn Jennings, with much milder but more comforting words from the final phrase of the psalm (v. 12):

Happy are all who take refuge in God

A light burden

who promises, according to Matthew 11: 30 and another chorus in The Messiah

my yolk is easy and my burden is light.

Psalm 119 continued, 23 Feb 14


We thank the carers’ group for leading this worship on 23 February.

The carers work diligently behind the scenes to keep in touch with all our members, to respond to their needs or just to be there in times of stress. We are thankful for their dedication and faithfulness.

The psalm

This week we continue to read Psalm 119, this time the fifth section of 8 verses starting with v. 33. The section last week was marked and started with the first Hebrew letter א (Aleph); this week it is the fifth ה or He (pronounced ‘hey’), often associated with the breath or creativity of God.

The song continues the theme of inviting us to walk in God’s ways. Last week we noted that PFAS says:

The psalm focuses on the decrees, laws, commands, and promises of God.

Pathways of lifeIt depicts life as a walk or journey down a path … it challenges us to treasure and take delight … and it gives us hope.

The psalmist seems to be going further to say that the more we absorb the culture and concepts behind the commandments, the more we will gain ‘understanding’:

Teach me the way of your statutes; give me understanding

This theme is reinforced and extended in the other songs chosen by the Carers this week, such as in the refrain of TiS 630:

The law of Christ can make us free / for love is the fulfilling of the law.

The antiphon

We return to Isaac Everett’s tune for Psalm 119 with different words:

Elevate my understanding ever in my heart keep watch / find my strength in your commandments for your truth is all I’ve sought.

Carers in a bygone era

Those present last Sunday will recognise this easy modal tune and harmony changes. The male voice group leads in bringing a more meditative and calm presentation of this response to fit the theme this week.

Background to psalm, music and listening files were made available on last week’s post >

We look forward to the insights brought to us by our CARERS to this week.

Psalm 119, 16 Feb 14

This week and next, we dip into two sections of the longest psalm.

The psalm

We’re talking Psalm 119, of course – not the whole lot, as it runs to 176 verses, just the first eight.

Pathways of life

Pathways of life

This long psalm is a succession of 8-verse sections, each acrostically labelled with a Hebrew letter. We sing Aleph this week and He the following Sunday, 23 February.

It kicks off inviting us to walk in God’s ways.

Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in God’s way. (v.1)

It’s worth quoting what Psalms for all seasons has to say about this long poem:

The psalm focuses on the decrees, laws, commands, and promises of God.

It depicts life as a walk or journey down a path; it lifts up the importance of a righteous heart, mouth and voice, and righteous feet; it challenges us to treasure and take delight; it presents God’s law as both command and promise; and it gives us hope.

The antiphon

The recurrence of Psalm 119 in the lectionary for this week and next invites continuity in the chosen antiphon. Everett’s approach is to use one tune throughout all segments of Psalm 119, setting words based on a selected verse. He designed it so that when all are put together it makes a whole song.

This week’s response:

All who know your voice and listen ardently uphold your laws / binding to their heart your wisdom, base their lives upon your cause.

The modal tune and harmony changes are simple but engaging. Backing singers will sing the sustained alternating pedal or ostinato voices; volunteers also most welcome as verse soloists.

Listen to the tune >

For a .pdf of the voice parts in full (a tone higher than the original), click here >

ALL SINGERS WELCOME – meet at 9:10 am Sunday 16 Feb.

Same tune, different words next week.

For further comments on the music …

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The crystal ball

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

Christmas and New Year celebrations seem ancient history already!

Thanks to Dal, Jo, Bette and Brian for Psalm 112, Light rises in darkness last Sunday. The week before, we sang a blessing (in lovely harmony of course) upon our young people as they launch forth upon a new academic year.

Relishing those aural memories and a fantastic men’s chorus the previous Sunday singing the African-American chorus I’m gonna live so God can use me, we draw our eyes from the past to look into the crystal ball.

Those involved in music planning will know that the forward plan for psalm music selection is on the Dropbox folder ‘SWUC Music’ (ask for access if you consider that you can contribute). Subject to new inspirations and planning considerations for each week’s gathering, here’s a snapshot of ideas for the coming weeks:

The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett; Church Publishing .org


16 and 23: We use an antiphonal response from The Emergent Psalter by Isaac Everett, same tune both days with a different verse.

  • Male voices will host the last Sunday, but ALL SINGERS WELCOME – men, women and children – especially for 16 Feb. (Post on 16 Feb is imminent.)


Psalm 2, together with its companion Psalm 1 forming in some ways an introduction to the whole book of Psalms, opens the batting on 2 March, a communion Sunday. We plan to sing Happy are those who take refuge in God, from New Century Hymnal with piano accompaniment. [Your cantor/blogmaster will be away this week.]

Ash Wednesday on 5 March (no service at Pearce) marks the beginning of Lent. (Interested in the ‘vibe’ for Lent? Please turn to an article salted away on the Styles page regarding our approach in previous years.) This year we again take communion each week and will use the same Amen as the blessing on the children last week.

Then we are looking a little more into that Pre-Raphaelite Crystal Ball, but my guess is that the psalm scene will look like this:

  • 9th, Psalm 32. We shall sing Show me the way to go, another lilting response from Isaac Everett. Perhaps the women might lead this in acknowledgement of International Women’s Day.
  • 16th, Psalm 121. We turn to TiS 77, a typically singable song by John Bell. Soloists sing the first two lines and the congregation answers with the last two lines in each stanza. We invite the children to join us in leading this psalm. Their voices will form an echo choir at the end of lines 1 and 3. (Or, as has been suggested previously, the Beatles Help! works well; any starters?)
  • 23rd, Psalm 95. The crystal ball gets milky – perhaps Everett’s Come let us sing?
  • 30th, Psalm 23. The psalm is so well-known it might form the basis of a harmonised chant by the men’s group, rostered for the last Sunday, as well as a congregational song.


As usual, there are many opportunities for you to contribute. Please:

  • make suggestions to one of the music team (Rachel, Helen S, Joan or Brendan)
  • send feedback to the cantor/blogmaster (see below)
  • or just come and sing

  • There’s no user ID or password in the Psalm Team