Psalm 25, 18 Feb ’18

“Ad te Dominum”, the opening lines in gold lettering of Ps 25 in the Rutland Psalter, British Library Add MS 62925

This song arises on the first Sunday in Lent (in Year B). The reader will find no sack-cloth and ashes, lamentation or the parched airs of the wilderness. Of course, the psalmist was writing long before church administrations established traditions such as Lent. However, someone chose to pop this poem into the Lectionary in this seasonal context. The first ten verses are chock full of inspiration, trust, love and guidance. True, it’s not a loud acclamation of thanks and praise like many psalms, but it’s still a thoughtful and uplifting way to start Lent.

The poet gets to darker feelings in the second half of the song, essentially a personal lament, but this section never comes up in the Lectionary in any year. Nevertheless do not miss the last two verses, reminding the reader that integrity, justice and deliverance are part of the plan for God’s people.

For further description of this psalm and a summary of some music recommendations, please refer to a post in November 2015. The coincident beginning of the Lenten season may influence some leaders towards the more sedate end of the spectrum.

ūüéĶ

For the people’s response, a fresh tune to be introduced at South Woden uses the powerful theme of verses 4 and 5: “Show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide in truth all day long”, a suitable prayer for the Lenten season:

Both this refrain and the verses, set to a different but similar and compatible tune, are based on the simple descending chords of D min, CőĒ, Bb, A7. The arrangement for four voices can be reflective or swing along happily in its 6/4 time. Variation is introduced by having voices 1 and 2 in double time feel (3+3=6) while the supporting Voices 3 and 4 are in triple (2+2+2=6). No voice recording available but the electric version — which unfortunately cannot bring out this play the way human voices can — sounds like this:

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Crystal ball, Feb-March 2018

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

This ‘sticky’ post is intended for South Woden readers. Scroll down for weekly blog posts.

Subject to the choices of worship leaders, here are ideas for the opening months of 2018.

21 Jan, Ps 62. As explained in the recent post for this week, TiS 33 offers a nice refrain “Rest in God alone”, with verses sung to a double tone. Excellent potential for four-part harmony if singers are available.

28 Jan,¬†Ps 111. Our choice is adapted from a Marty Haugen refrain, with tone for the verses from New Century Hymnal — unashamedly replacing “the fear of God …” with: “To honour God is the beginning of wisdom”.

4 Feb,¬†Ps 147. TiS 92 has not been sung at SWUC for some time, it seems; so, encouraged by the fact that it’s from the safe hands of John Bell, we should do it.

11 Feb,¬†Ps 50. Psalms for All Season 50B(alt) or 50C seem to win the vote here — but subject to the plan from the Carers who lead today. Your webmaster / cantor will be absent on this occasion.

18 Feb, Ps 25¬†(Lent). Either (i) TiS 1, safe hands again, this time Christopher Willcock; or, if singers are available (ii) a little swinging number on descending chords Dm, CőĒ, Bb, A7.

25 Feb, Ps 22. A young women’s group will lead us in TiS 727 with variations, In the presence of your people.

Psalm 51

Detail of voice entries to Psalm 51:20 by Lassus

4 Mar,¬†Ps 19. TiS 7 is another somewhat neglected setting. Such neglect has been in a good cause, however; International Women’s Day which lands about this date has been duly and appropriately recognised with songs by women such as the inimitable Hildegard von Bingen.

11 Mar, Ps 107. Trying again for a three-part refrain by Everett from The Emergent Psalter. We need leaders for the three parts.

18 Mar Ps 51 (or 119). The Lassus setting of this much-used and central Penitential Psalm is probably beyond our reach. (Similarly a setting by Gabrieli — but note! This one will be performed by the Oriana Chorale together with other Penitentials on 20 May. Be there!) The choice at SW may be one of the many offered in PFAS.

25 Mar, Ps 118 and 31. Our young women’s group takes us back to Paul Stookey’s Building Block, assisted by stalwarts Brian and Bette.

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Psalm 122

Dormitory for monks and pilgrims, Fontenay Abbey

Dormitory for monks and pilgrims, Fontenay Abbey

Psalm 122¬†is not only a Song of Ascent (the third) but also one of pilgrimage to the centre of divine love and justice. Psalm 120 told a sorrowful tale of living afar amongst alien people; the next one 121 starts the journey to Jerusalem (“I lift up my eyes to the hills…’); and finally in this psalm¬†the pilgrim arrives. In the Orthodox tradition and no doubt elsewhere, these three are sung together, often during Lent.

A long list of classical compositions ranges from relatively unknowns Arigoni and Bauer through to Vogel and GJ Williams, encompassing more famous names like Blow, Haydn, Monteverdi, Scarlatti, Victoria and Vivaldi. Most pieces start with the familiar opening declaration, appropriate for a Song of Ascent:

Laetatus sum/I was glad when they said to me,¬†‚ÄúLet us go to the house of the Lord!‚ÄĚ

The psalmist continues by imagining him or herself and the people (tribes) of God ascending through the gates of the holy city to give thanks and seek justice. (v. 4-5) Other composers have spied the peaceful intent of this prayer of ascent in verse 6, no doubt applying it, as should we, beyond the physical meaning of the city named:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:¬†‚ÄúMay they prosper who love you.¬†Peace be within your walls,¬†and security within your towers.‚ÄĚ

Antiphon to Ps. 122 Arundel MS 83, British LibrarySignificantly, the psalmist’s motivation is altruistic:

For the sake of my relatives and friends¬†I will say, ‚ÄúPeace be within you.‚Ä̬†For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,¬†I will seek your good.

This is a lovely poem with many musical settings, including a short antiphon beautifully adorned in the illustration of the Howard Psalter shown here (British Library reference Arundel MS 83 f80v). The first phrase refers to but is not identical with verse 1 of this psalm:

In domum Domini ibimus/We shall go into the house of the Lord.

The second phrase after the vertical ‘ant’ marker is a response that may refer to the incipit of Psalm 91 (90 in the Latin psalter):

Qui habitat in adjutorio Altissimi/He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High

Singers were expected to know the text sufficiently that such abbreviated words, indicated by superscript dots or commas,¬†would be sufficient to jog the memory. This jogs my memory of singing Qui habitat √†24 by Josquin des Prez. This is a setting of the first 6 verses of that earlier psalm for 24 voices, irreverently known amongst our Chorale members, particularly the irreverent basses, as ‘Who lives at No 24?’

Psalms for palms; 118, 31

Entry gate, Le ThoronetAfter a couple of opening verses of Psalm 118 proclaiming divine goodness and mercy, the lectionary (liturgy of the palms) cuts to the second half. As Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem, so here:

Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them and praise God. (v. 19)

Old farm cottage museum, Moudeyres

That corner stone now appears. The stone that was rejected became the chief cornerstone of a new world of faith, a new system of justice and life. There is not always a keystone at the top of arches, like the entrance depicted in the first photograph, but it’s common enough.

In the next photo of an old farmhouse, the corner blocks are evidently larger and act as bonding keystones in the corner of the old building. Either way, something has a central role of chief cornerstone in holding a structure together. Several oft-quoted lines follow:Palm in Vence

This is the day that God has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it (v.24)

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God (v.26)

Give thanks to God, whose mercy endures forever (v.29

Oh! and don’t forget that it’s Palm Sunday:

Form a procession with branches (v. 27)

See also earlier discussion, including reference to King Henry VIII’s Psalter, in posts such as¬†as 29 March and 5 April 2015.

Psalm 31

Whether we need a double helping or not, the liturgy of the passion for the same day serves up another set of readings, including Psalm 31. This is one of those cries for help in times of deep distress. I shall say no more at this stage, there being a previous post on the subject, other than to declare an allegiance to the beautiful and thoughtful two-part antiphonal setting in Psalms for all seasons 31C by AnnaMae Meyer Bush and Kathleen Hart Brumm. We sometimes sing both psalms, 118 on the way in with branches.

Music

I’ve mentioned PFAS 31C above. As always the choice of music depends on a leader’s chosen theme. Thus:

  • Palms at Percy Isif the corner stone is preferred as a symbol of¬†establishing a new regime of grace, the choice could be TiS 74 or, as we have sung¬†many times at South Woden, The Building Block by Peter Paul and Mary
  • If the eternal goodness and love of God is preferred, the refrain from The emergent psalter would suit — as long as you don’t mind a little music with a groove.
  • And 31 is hope and help in time of trouble.

Psalm 118 is also a reading for Easter, so there are a swag of settings in Psalms for all seasons to choose from. Canberra group Polifemy will sing a varied early music program with recorders, including William Byrd’s lively setting of this psalm¬†Haec dies this Sunday at Wesley UC, 3pm.

Psalm 126, 13 March 2016

Sower with setting sun, Van Gogh 1888. Rijksmuseum, Netherlands. wikiart.org

Sower with setting sun (detail), Van Gogh 1888. Rijksmuseum, Netherlands. wikiart.org

Psalm 126, a song of ascent, contains one of the great scriptural narratives. The sower goes out with seed, responding to the ever-changing seasons,¬†renewing a livelihood.¬†It’s not easy. Drought comes — or floods, birds and animals. Weeds grow to choke the good seed. However:

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. (vv 5, 6)

Jesus memorably used this in one of his powerful parables (Mark 4). In a wider sense it is a metaphor for the renewal of a decidedly mixed human existence where yin and yang are evident at every turn, tears and joy never far away.

Both enter the poem from the outset, recalling the sorrows of a people in exile and their relieved delight at being restored to the freedom and familiarity of home. Essentially, it’s a song of hope. (See an earlier post for some other angles.)

Music

The default choice for South Woden, partly¬†because it’s sitting¬†waiting there in the files, is our (somewhat liberal) arrangement of an¬†Orthodox chant¬†borrowed from the Slavonian liturgy as interpreted by the monks of Chevetogne.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.40.However there are good songs in PFAS and other sources. Some interesting settings hide in IMSLP such as the Jean-Philippe Rameau motet shown here, as well as pieces by more obscure composers rejoicing under names like Asola, Converse and Matho.

A while ago I got excited by the congruence of the availability of the male voice quartet and the listing of a Vesper Ps 126 by Tom√°s Luis Victoria. But the title,¬†Nisi Dominus¬†aedificaverit domum¬†(‘Except the Lord build the house’), does not match; it’s¬†126 in the Vulgate numbering. So it’s now salted away in¬†our Ps 127 file awaiting its glorious moment.

In the year 1800, one Oliver Holden¬†(1765-1844) wrote a tune for¬†Psalm 126, a respectable little hymn, but not antiphonal so not high on our list. It is mentioned here to record the author’s name as one of the more prolific composers of psalms in the United States. He is credited with publishing around 70 psalm tunes in that one year alone, and many more.

The gentlemen’s quartet¬†will present the Orthodox style chant. The refrain is: “And our hearts are filled with joy”.

We shall also repeat as an accessional reflection the anthem Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts, by Henry Purcell (1659-95).

Psalm 32, 6 March 2016

International Women’s Day on 8 March is an important day in many churches including South Woden, a community¬†who has long valued inclusive and egalitarian policies and practices.

Beguinale, Brussels

Beguinale, Brussels

One cannot define the divine in terms of our own human gender. Our practice here as we sing psalm verses is carefully to paraphrase the sung text to avoid referring to God (and people) in the male terms common in most biblical translations; The emergent psalter is a favoured source for its inclusive language.

However, the psalms recognise images of God as feminine¬†spirit and creator, as well as ideas of mothering or midwife (22:9, 113:9, 127), the prophetic (68:11) and other female influences. This includes the provision of shelter and care (22:9-10) as beautifully seen in the ancient Beguinale women’s order and their houses of refuge and faith in many cities.

Psalm 131 sounds as though its author may well have been a woman.The author’s experience of the divine is related directly to the mother rather than the father, affirming the mother’s strong and beautiful role in nurturing confident, content and independent children.

On the other hand, the¬†psalms omit some¬†courageous women when equivalent male prophets are mentioned by name (Miriam in Ps. 99). Pity, but perhaps this just reflects the pattern of¬†other records and writings in those early¬†cultures when men wrote the¬†poetry, policy and history. This is no reason to discount this ancient poetry. An inclusive linguistic, contextual and poetic interpretation —¬†¬†and recalling the esteem with which Jesus regarded women as recorded¬†in¬†John’s gospel¬†—¬†helps balance and fill in the gaps for modern sensibilities.

The Psalm

Psalm 32 itself is one of the psalms of penitence (the second after Ps. 6; this theme takes up the first half of the song), and also of refuge (vv. 6 -7; see comment above). But then it changes direction, breaks into other riffs of guidance or wisdom (8-9) and finally thanksgiving. A brief tweet by Ben Myers sweetly summarises:

When I finally got the courage to confess my sins, I discovered You weren’t even listening. You were singing to me. #psalmtweets

The music

At South Woden this Sunday there will be no sung psalm. Elsewhere, readers and singers might well draw on the guidance thread in verse 8 with a memorable and lilting Isaac Everett antiphon, chords slipping easily from minor to relative major sequences and back again in a short space:

Show me which way to go, counsel me with your eye upon me

Ps32LassusPsalms for all seasons suggests You are my hiding place, which many groups will enjoy. If a few good sight-readers are available, two short trios are worth a look:

  • Orlando di Lasso, Dixi confitebor, verse 5 only;¬†starts simply but becomes more complex; excerpt shown in the illustration. Readers may recall¬†that Lassus wrote a famous and much more ambitious set of Penitential Psalms, including this one.
  • Thomas Tomkins,¬†Blessed is he, verses 1 and 2.

Psalm 63, 28 Feb 2016

Moses strikes the rock, Arthur Boyd

Moses strikes the rock, by Arthur Boyd

Just like last week, Psalm 63 for Lent 3 holds familiar words and imagery, water this time rather than light:

You are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps. 63:1)

The preceding lectionary reading from the Old Testament tells us¬†it’s all free¬†and free for all:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! (Is. 55:1)

And just in case we missed the point, the NT epistle clarifies:

Our ancestors … drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (I Cor. 10:1, 4)

It’s interesting that the title of this psalms is ‘For David when he was in the wilderness’.

Music

Henry Purcell‘s lovely anthem Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts, still ringing in our ears¬†from last week¬†(we shall hear it¬†sung again by our male voice quartet on Lent 5) reminds us¬†that he also¬†wrote a setting for Psalm 63 titled¬†O God thou art my God. Whereas last week’s short piece was homophonic, syllables all sung together by the four parts, this longer piece starts that way but then becomes more contrapuntal. ¬†Hassler also wrote a nice setting for six voices a¬†century earlier.

Still waters

Simplicity, shelter, silence

The Carers Group leads the worship with their usual accessible and thoughtful approach. This is a great psalm for them as they unobtrusively bring cool water to our people in the deserts of suffering.

No striking of rocks is involved; just¬†listening¬†(theme word this week) for the the cry of the dry¬†and the sound of water. Footprints progress. The ritual of the stones continues, accompanied by that alto flute pretending to be Gabriel’s oboe.

Some options:

  • Psalms for all seasons only has one responsive setting¬†—¬†nice, the refrain being a little longer than our usual practice.
  • TiS has a congregational hymn rather than a responsive song.
  • Isaac Everett, commenting that the psalm ‘ … reflects a very physical, embodied and sensual sort of spirituality’, offers a simple tune in E minor.

Today¬†we assemble¬†a small group to support the carers by singing a simple version of¬†our ‘Communion chant’, one that we used sometimes for the first Sunday of the month. The refrain is simple on mi-re-doh:

Ps63 SWCC cantor.doc

My soul thirsts for God, the living God.