What you see is what you get in this simple song of praise and awe. The poem is all about divine creativity, influence and majesty, poetically characterised as the voice of God.
That high-octane voice is declared to be in thunder, in the breaking down of cedars and shaking of lands; we hear of fire, flood and awesome power; and in the end, there is a moment of peace, the still small voice of calm, as the singer prays:
May God give strength to the people and bless them with peace! (verse 11)
Many questions, some of them discussed previously, surround the reality or otherwise of a divine voice in the world today, and how we might perceive such a presence. This psalm sets epistemological issues aside and confidently points to some of the evidence for divine action.
Several good tuneful approaches are readily available to make this relatively simple song come alive and fire the imagination of singer and listener alike. Not surprisingly, the verse quoted above is a favourite choice for the antiphon in many settings.
This psalm has been sung in January over several recent years at South Woden, choosing from:
- The simple Taizé chant Dona nobis pacem cordium (also in TiS 713 with different verses and a change of the final word from Dominum); the verses have been moulded into the same chant tune and can be sung against the ostinato of the refrain.
- TiS 17, covering most of the verses, is a Christopher Willcock setting of refrain and verse.
- Psalms for all seasons 29D; the main and alternate refrains, drawing on different verses, are both attractive.
- Available but not used so far is a short one from New century hymnal. It is an even simpler tune that might be somewhat flavourless without the good supporting chord changes.
A paucity of classical settings over the centuries may be due to the repetitive simplicity of the poem, although the various resonant phrases — fire, forest, flood and the like — would offer a composer the opportunity for dramatic imagery in music. Either way, it’s a poem that really needs to be sung.
*(More from Thomas…) Continue reading