Psalms 33 and 50

Giving due precedence to the set psalm, the title above should read ‘Psalms 50 and 33’. However, you can read about 50 in a blog in February 2015. This post looks more at 33 which has not been covered previously.

This is a song of praise, one of the few in the first two books of the psalter. It reads as an immediate response to the final verse of the previous psalm 32, calling for the faithful to be glad and rejoice.

Singer, Sans Souci PotsdamPlay it again

On reading this broad-ranging psalm  you would think it had been fully discussed before. So many themes appear familiar from other songs (only one of many examples listed in brackets):

  • Praise with harp, psaltery and lyre (Ps. 49)
  • Sing a new song (96)
  • God loves righteousness and justice (146)
  • Let all who dwell in the earth stand in awe (111)
  • A ruler is not saved by a big army (76)
  • We set our hope in God who is our shield (3)

One of the strengths of the psalms is this revisiting of precepts that are remote and hard to fathom, approaching from different angles or saying the same thing different ways. Just as there are two quite different creation stories in Genesis, different angles provide additive pictures of realities that are difficult to imagine. One set of words, however poetic, cannot capture the full depth of many eternal concepts.


Press club gigJazz. Fresh from a jam session last weekend (not the one depicted, which is Ben, Wayne and Mike at the National Press Club), I am struck by a similarity to improvised music. Musicians have a common tune and chord structure in mind but play riffs and variations that are never identical, always painting a new colouration or mood to suggest the underlying harmonies. Sometimes the soloist will make an excursion into a tonality that seems to be a discord, a diversion or tangent, then resolves the tension to return to the mainstream. This causes the audience to listen harder to how the story line is being developed and woven, catching a deeper understanding of the song.

Classical. Back in the classics, we find many settings of Psalm 33 or extracts for four and more voices. Perhaps because it is a song of praise whose scope encompasses many fundamental themes, composers have pulled out a few more stops.

  • Andrea Gabrieli wrote a Latin setting for two choirs of five voices
  • The more obscure Tiburtio Massaino (Augustinian monk, 1550-1609) took the same approach of 2 x 5.
  • Hans Leo Hassler wins the stops-out prize with one in German for four choirs of SATB (Exultate, justi, in Domino, published in Nuremberg 1615).
  • More modestly, a quartet by Schütz caught my attention as it is chock full of hemiolae; the piece slips constantly between triple and duple metre, two groups of three beats alternating with three beats of two. This would be fun to sing, quartets, though English words would have to be provided to listeners somewhere:

Ps33 Schütz

Informal. In simpler style:

  • The Everett refrain in The Emergent Psalter has characteristically relevant words using the last verse, and interesting chords
  • The same can be said for PFAS 33A, on the same verse: ‘Let your loving-kindness be upon us as we have put our trust in  you’ (Everett  paraphrases to ‘constant love’ and nicely puts it into the present tense.)
  • Even further into informality, Sinead has her own take on the song.

Psalm 27, 21 Feb 2016

Light on snow
Maybe no snow here, but dark paths can be forbidding anywhere.

God is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?

Light the light of the world (John 8:12) and light upon the path (Psalm 119:105) — is a theme found in many psalms, in words that have become familiar by virtue of repetition and songs based on such verses.

This psalm offers encouragement, weaving together two threads of thought.

First is that of light, beauty and goodness. The psalmist asks but one thing, to dwell in that divine aura forever, to see  beauty all around and commune with that spirit.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 19.08.Second is the idea of refuge — protection, salvation and shelter. Light merging with security.


Taking advantage this week of Jon’s presence at the helm, we gather a male voice quartet seeking good harmony and stretching beyond our usual weekly diet.

The Taizé round The Lord is my light and other responsorials are enticing. However, we propose to render a home-grown setting that is equally restrained for Lent but a little more challenging for the singers. The antiphon invites those gathered to make that opening declaration their own:

Cantors: God is my light and my salvation
People: Whom shall I fear?

Ps27 Hdims

I call this little piece the ‘Half-dim’ antiphon after the opening half-diminished chords — perhaps not very suitable a title when rejoicing in the bright rays of divine light on our meandering path. Cantors sing the verses to the same tune. If the technology works, listen here:


The male voice quartet will also sing Thou knowest Lord by Henry Purcell (1659-95) as the gradual, a prayer of access. The sentence is borrowed from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Referring liberally to such psalms as 139, it begins:

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears unto our pray’rs; but spare us, Lord most holy.

Rather quaintly to the modern ear it continues, a precursor to Good Friday, with the prayer: ‘suffer us not … to fall from thee’.

Acknowledgement. Images in this post by Libby O’Loghlin, CC BY-NC-SA

More on Half-dim?  Continue reading “Psalm 27, 21 Feb 2016”