Psalm 69

Sometimes themes and verses are repeated so often in the psalms that it’s hard to find new inspiration. In Psalm 69, we hear again the laments and prayers of someone who feels enmity, opposition, slander and loneliness, the while giving thanks for merciful love and safety in divine provision.

IMG_2346.JPGFresh, however, is imagery of sinking in swirling waters — ‘up to my neck, I sink in deep mire where there is no foothold’. Another new touch is in verse 21, quoted in all the gospel stories of the crucifixion:

They gave me gall to eat, vinegar to quench my thirst.

Save me O God by John Blow (1648-1708) nicely captures these fresh ideas using a four-part chorus, with a trio singing selected verses. Lassus wrote at least three settings for verses in Psalm 69, including a trio Deus tu scis using verse 6; on verse 13 Adversum me loquebantur à5; and another trio Exaudi me on verse 17.

Amongst the few contemporary settings available for this psalm, two in Psalms for All Seasons — with different authors but the same chord sequence — appear unremarkable but should respond well to sympathetic treatment. 69C has added attraction as coming from the pen of John Bell and Wild Goose.

I enjoy the sparse introduction to a song by Australian band The Sons of Korah released on their 2005 album Resurrection. You can hear a sample on their web-site. I note, by the way, that the band has a concert in Canberra next Saturday 10 September 2016 — all psalms!

Crystal Ball, June-July 2016

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia 

Best laid plans, bare of commentary on musical options and based on the leader choosing the first reading listed in the lectionary, are as follows:

5 June: PFAS 146B, with Taizé refrain and first tone.

12 June: PFAS 5B (or 5C if the right singers are available)

19 June: Psalms 42-43, use song-sheet on Dropbox library to either the NCH refrain (if you have that book) or any other simple tune. PFAS has several suitable tunes, such as 43C.

26 June: I have not had a chance to adapt the Winter Solstice (southern hemisphere) refrain we used last year to this year’s Psalm 77. Perhaps The Emergent Psalter‘s ‘I call to mind your deeds’ would suffice. PFAS 77C looks fun for a winter’s day.

The inattentive visitor looking up at the vaulted cathedral of Siena might step on this simple but beautiful marble unawares. A wondering Mary?

3 July: Psalm 30, You turned my lament into dancing on Dropbox. A ladies’ group sang this in fine form not long ago so why not reconvene and reprise?

10 July: PFAS 82B, social justice to the fore

17 July: PFAS 52B — I am like a green olive tree (v.8)

24 July: The Betty Pulkingham tune at Together in Song 45; or PFAS 85B, another Taizé refrain (Dona nobis pacem, not the one in our book TiS which could also be used) and nice song (best for a sight-reader). See earlier post on Psalm 85 for the SW home-grown song.

There are alternatives of course, a few hymns but very few responsorial songs in Together in Song for set psalms over this period save the one mentioned. The Emergent Psalter always offers a thoughtful and singable tune, but you need to make up your own tune or tone for the verses.

South Woden singers  Continue reading

Cloud-capp’d towers

You won’t find that little phrase in the psalms: but poetic imagery is there in spades. Part of the fascination of the psalter is the special place in our lives of poetry set to music. As noted previously, the synergy of music and word is somehow magical — a classic case of the sum being greater than the parts.

A second attraction is that through the ages they have been widely accepted across cultures and different faiths as a broadly inspirational heritage.

Anoher Bard

That can be said of the works of William Shakespeare, of course, from whom the title phrase is culled:

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.  — The Tempest, act iv, sc. 1.

Towers and palaces


This text was used in 1951 by Ralph Vaughn-Williams in his Three Shakespearian Songs. This one comes to our attention, if you have read this far, through the late Andrew Sayers, artist and former curator and director in galleries. This piece was chosen (by him) for inclusion in his memorial service this Sunday afternoon 6 December 2015 at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, of which he was the inaugural director (more …). The Oriana Chorale directed by Peter Young will offer this lovely piece for the occasion.

Interestingly, this text has been excised from the middle of a longer ramble late in The Tempest, about visions and spirits dissolving and resolving with the trajectory of the tale. Context is important. Drop these lines with music into a time of commemoration or reflection and the moment assumes a new more universal and powerful atmosphere.

In this case, the song may be more existential than inspirational: but we can do with more moments of feeling the unity of humankind. Sometimes it’s in times of sadness, but remembrance is also thankful for our ‘little life rounded by a sleep’; for the power of poetry with music; for artistry, imagination and grace. These are the reasons why we sing the psalms. Here’s one of many versions on YouTube of this poignant reflection:

Crystal Ball, July to September 14

Crystal ball

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

The Crystal Ball post for June did not quite foresee how lovely the music selections would turn out to be these last weeks. Many thanks to our singers in various combinations for not just good song but also for enthusiasm, support and interpretation of this engaging and meaningful poetry.

The current snapshot

Singers are invited to sign up and indeed take leadership during September. You are at the heart of this small but important element of life at South Woden Uniting. The plot now looks something like this (subject always to worship plan decisions by RevR or other leader of the day):

  • 13 July     That longest psalm 119, the psalm of the law, turns up again, so in the interests of continuity we repeat the antiphon by Isaac Everett that we used when this one last appeared in February two weeks in a row. We have a 4-part setting available so all singers welcome.
  • 20 July    Psalm 139, Search me and know me. If the soloist is available, we hope to hear a fine setting by Michael Card of these familiar verses : ‘ … you know when I sit, you know when I rise, you know where I am going…’

    Orlando de Lassus. Image Wikimedia commons

  • 27 July. Last Sunday, so a male voice group leads our contemplation. Psalm 105 comes up both this week, two weeks later on 10 August then twice more in the coming weeks. Tantalisingly, there is a nice 5-part setting of this psalm by Renaissance giant Roland de Lassus; experienced singers are preparing this for 10 August and we shall use a snippet of this piece on 27 July. Seeking consistency of era and style, the relevant verses will be sung to one of the eight main psalm tones (simple tunes) in the Gregorian Liber Usualis that were by then well established and often quoted in motet settings of the psalms.

    Ps 105 response, Gregorian Tone VIII

    Ps 105 response, Gregorian Tone VIII

  • 3 August  Psalm 17. Settings offered in Isaac Everett’s The Emergent Psalter and Psalms for all seasons contend for a place. Both have good words and harmonies.
  • 10 August  Psalm 105 again, and the beautiful Confitemini Dominum (Give praise to God), a Latin setting from around 1560 by Lassus as discussed above for 27 July –  a blast from the Renaissance years. It would be a treat if the same group of five could be available to present this again on 31 August and 21 September!

The psalm selection plan Crystal ball posts are drawn from a spreadsheet on the SWUC Music Dropbox, where reside all sorts of goodies. This document is primarily the Webmaster’s planning tool for leaders, worship liaison and musicians.  It has now been substantially updated to provide recommendations through to October, including the period of absence of your Hon. Webmaster/Cantor during September visiting family. These Crystal Ball posts from time to time are provided specially for the Psalm Team, a group with no walls, no password and great joy in music; bless you all.

Crystal ball June 14 et seq.

Crystal ball

Crystal ball, by J Waterhouse. Image Wikimedia commons

The Crystal Ball post in February pointed out that there is an evolving psalm selection plan spreadsheet on Dropbox (ask for access if you wish).

The current snapshot, for which singers are invited, looks something like this (subject always to worship plan decisions by RevR or other leader of the day):

  • 1 June    Psalm 68 with a round: Sing to God, O kingdoms.
  • 8 June    Psalm 104 was beautifully sung to PFAS104D. Your blogmaster was away.
  • 15 June   Psalm 8 could be sung to TiS no 4, perhaps with a simplified plainsong approach. A more lively tune such as that in The Emergent Psalter would be better; and a Linnea Good setting will be the winner. To be led by two women with guitar.
  • 22 June   Keith leads a Winter Solstice service, for which an appropriate response tracing the arc of the northern sun has been written: Gladden my heart for from this darkness I will lift my soul. Mixed voices needed.
  • 29 June   Psalm 13 and How long O Lord? by male voices. This is a setting in folk/gospel style of an enjoyable swinging song by Canadian singer-songwriter Steve Bell, who is mentioned on the Styles page. Used by permission.
  • 6 July       We could return to the tune sung on 1 June to good effect while it is still fresh in our memories. A suitable verse from Psalm 45 would form the antiphon. Ladies and youth leaders are you starters again?
  • 13 July     That longest psalm 119, the psalm of the law, turns up again, so in the interests of continuity we repeat the antiphon by Isaac Everett that we used when this one last appeared in February two weeks in a row.
  • 20 July    Psalm 139. Tune to be decided – we have not done a Gregorian chant for quite a while?
  • 27 July    The crystal ball is getting cloudy, but in the glass darkly we note that Psalm 105 comes up both this week and two weeks later on 10 August. Tantalisingly, there is a nice 5-part setting of this psalm by Orlando de Lassus; if enough experienced singers are available the plot is to use a snippet of this piece on 27 July and trot out the full work on the later occasion. Watch this space!
  • 3 August  Psalm 17, tune to be decided.
  • 10 August  Psalm 105 again, hopefully Confitemini Dominum, a Latin setting by Lassus as discussed above for 27 July –  a blast from the Renaissance years.

After that the mist reigns supreme, except that we have virtually ignored one of the early pillars, the Genevan Psalter published during the 1550s; we should pop one in before too long on an occasion calling for the relatively straight-laced.

Your devoted webmaster will be overseas from the last Sunday in August for a month. Volunteers most welcome.