Psalms 89 or 23 … or maybe 139, 19Jul15

The Vanderbilt Divinity Library tells us:

During the Season after Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two sets of parallel readings:

  • The first set of “semicontinuous” OT readings follows major stories/themes, beginning in Year A with Genesis and ending in Year C with the later prophets.
  • “Complementary” OT readings follow the historical tradition of thematically pairing the OT reading with the Gospel reading.

… The psalms for each Sunday after Pentecost are intended to paired with a particular OT reading (either semicontinuous or complementary).

It’s not often that we hesitate about the alternative readings. Leaders normally choose the first mentioned and away we go.

Entering Taizé village

Entering Taizé village, France

This week, however, we are pleased at the prospect of another Taizé service. So, rushing off to the Taizé web pages, we search in vain for direct reference to either psalm for the week. Jacques Berthier specialised in catching hold of one verse or just a phrase of a  few words as a meditation, relishing its every nuance by musical creativity and inspiration.

Choices, choices

There are three options: use any appropriate refrain, make one up, or just enjoy a different psalm.

In for a penny, we are preparing for all three options. First, we shall sing a different yet favourite song, Psalm 139, just the opening and closing verses; secondly, we could use a well-known chant like Bless the Lord my soul as refrain. However, here is a new home-grown choice drawing upon verses 1 and 2:



Psalm 105, 27 July 14

Psalm 105 from the St Albans Psalter, 12th century. Image: Wikimedia commons

Psalm 105 is a song of praise, as indeed are 106 and 107 that follow. The opening lines sound familiar, as such phrases occur throughout the Bible:

Confitemini Domino et invocate nomen ejus

Give glory to the Lord, and call upon his name

The next verse narrows the focus to set the theme as historical narrative, evidence that has provided confidence for such praise:

Annuntiate inter gentes opera ejus

Declare God’s deeds among the peoples.

Perhaps this is why the lectionary gives us the opportunity to revisit this psalm several times in coming weeks, with slightly differing verse selections. It recurs on 10 and 31 August, then on 21 September. This provides an opportunity for continuity, using the same style and response for all four appearances of this psalm.


The illustration from the  St Alban’s psalter above is in Latin (click on all photos to enlarge). Why the quotes in Latin this week, you ask? There’s a beautiful five-part setting of Psalm 105 in that language by the towering Roland de Lassus (Orlando di Lasso, c.1530 – 94) who, together with Palestrina in Italy, Byrd in England and Victoria in Spain, was one of the pillars of Late Renaissance music – see previous Crystal Ball post.

Works written for five voices are not everyday fare around South Woden; it is beautiful but demanding music. However, the Psalm Team has assembled a small group of experienced singers to present this centuries-old musical gem for your edification on 10 August.

Regrettably, these motets are rarely heard in Canberra, so that presentation on 10 August will be all the richer – note the date now! (It’s also a commissioning service for new Councillors). A separate post on the subject of this wonderful composer will follow soon.

A foretaste

I’m getting ahead of myself. This week, tossing the Renaissance ball into the ring, we start just with a small quote from the Lassus work as the response. And why not? — let’s sing it in Latin. The translation (above) will appear in the order of service: Ps105 Response


Gregorian chant was widely used during mediaeval and renaissance times. In step with the style of the day of Lassus, we shall use one of these chants for the verses, on this occasion Tone VIII which looks like this:

Psalm tone VIII

Originating over a thousand years ago and thus before the advent of polyphony, such tones were sung in unison. We observe that ancient practice for the forthcoming sequence of readings of Psalm 105.

A season of history Words are important

Thus we dip into history in a big way – Latin, Lassus and friend Greg from the 16th century. It’s not without precedent even in South Woden; we used this very chant last year to accompany an inspiring work by Hildegard. It’s worth re-reading the post for the psalm of the day here>.

It is also the fourth Sunday this week, so your ever-faithful men’s group await to lead you in this blast from the past. With some difficulty we have resisted the urge to enter stage right in long cloaks and dark cowls.

Seriously, though, the beauty and inspiration of Gregorian chant have been recognised over the centuries. The tones were designed to allow clarity of the words in the vast spaces of cathedrals and monasteries with their reverberant acoustics. Sung by voices in unison they have their own special atmospherics. Contact me if you want to be in it. Continue reading

Psalm 96, 25Dec13

Red and green for the season

Christmas Day at South Woden is a joyful and sometimes fairly noisy event.

True, some of our membership are travelling away from Canberra: we shall miss you but wish you safe and happy visits.

On the other hand, relatives, friends and particularly children and children’s children (bearing new gifts) appear from far away places.

Some of our regular leaders of the young people will sing a paraphrase of the selected verses.

Children will join us to help lead the antiphonal response, one we have enjoyed previously:

Sing a new song

Sing, sing a new song; God’s wonders abound

LISTEN here >

The psalm thus forms a precursor to our regular ‘conversation with the children’ spot.

Seen at the Pearce carols, just before the star appeared

Psalm 72, 8 Dec 13

Nelson Mandela, 2008. Image: Wikimedia commons

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013. Image: Wikimedia commons

Give the leader your justice O God. (v. 1)

This psalm asks for the ruler to show justice, compassion and goodness to his people. Surely a common enough theme, but more poignant since we see how often rulers around the world are more interested in grasping power and its benefits than rescuing the poor (v. 4).

We give thanks for the remarkable life and example of the late Nelson Mandela –  a humble giant of the century.

What is an appropriate musical treatment for this psalm? We could simply use a hymn based on the psalm text, like NCH 104, We hail you God’s anointed; it’s relevant to leadership, has a sense of social justice and is listed for Advent.

However, especially after that psalms summary gem in my most recent post, let’s stick to the lovely tradition of the antiphon.

Not too many antiphonal settings come to hand. Some sources use these first few verses to proclaim the justice of God and, hopefully, the anointed king or good leader in such demand. Isaac Everett chose verse 4:

For he shall deliver the poor who cry out in distress and he shall have pity on the needy and the weak.

Image: Wikimedia commons

Image: Wikimedia commons

At South Woden we respond to such a social justice theme. Unusually, however, Isaac’s tune is not too captivating; Lectionary Singer, in her excellent blog Singing from the Lectionary, says of this response:

It’s not amazing, but I’m having trouble finding good … refrains for this particular Psalm.

Further, poverty and weakness are only a part of the agenda. The pressing need for the extension of peace and justice through good leadership, underlined by the life of Mandela, leads us to the broader, and perhaps more poetic, reference in verse 3:

Mt TaylorMay the mountains bear peace to the people, and the hills righteousness

There seem to be no off-the-shelf antiphons written around that one. So here is another home-grown tune for Psalm 72:Ps 72 antiphon 8Dec13-1

You can listen to the tune here >.  I’d love to have collaborators as usual – contact me or turn up early!


  • We strive to make our references to God free of gender as often as possible. In this case, the psalm seems to refer to a king, perhaps Solomon, so some lack of gender neutrality is acceptable. We may still validly address this prayer of hope to God, seeking enlightenment in our and others’ governments.
  • The final verses 18-20 are the psalmist’s doxology to conclude this group of songs. It will therefore be sung in a separate chant style to set it slightly apart from the foregoing text.
  • For those with a good memory, we sang from this psalm in January 2013, albeit hearing different verses. The setting we used then is here >

Psalm 119, 3 Nov 13

Soaring male voice harmonyOur male voice group returns to lead us as we revisit that longest psalm, 119

– on this occasion from verse 137 to 144.

Ps 119

Annotated text for singers may be found here > (Link will expire soon after 3 Nov.)

We follow the familiar model of a cantor singing the first line or phrase, with all voices responding to sing the second half in harmony – rich, full, delightful, and inspiring of course. Well, that’s our take from the inside looking out.

Carving at St Peter's, Zürich

Weave a pleasant pattern

All are welcome to join us to help us weave a pleasing pattern of words and music:  arrive in fine voice at 9:15 for a short rehearsal.

Coming up

A canticle to a John Bell tune, with the children, on 17 Nov. People with children or helping with them on Sundays, please join in. Already posted on Dropbox.


I must say how much I enjoyed Everett’s antiphon for Psalm 65; it seemed to swing naturally to the guitar’s gentle beat. Unplanned, we sang it twice each time as it seemed to need that additional space to feel the meaning fully and enjoy the easy groove.

Psalm 119, 20 Oct 13

Candleholder from Abbé de Cîteau
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

– Psalm 119:105

Great verse – perhaps you think back to Scripture Union days – but actually you won’t hear it this Sunday, as it’s just outside our Lectionary reading which includes verses 97 to 104. Never mind, the glow permeates the whole psalm.

As for the verses we do hear, one poet has captured the meaning of the whole of this long psalm in short verses. This is his rather neat riff for our bit:

Mindful of your truth inside me

Meditate with every breath

Needing only you to guide me

Never turning from your path.

This week we are blessed with the return of our regular male quartet (‘B3J’; thank you in advance, gentlemen) maybe even augmented with a couple more men if they are available. The more the merrier so please join in if you wish.

As has been our habit, we again share the verses between one or two cantors and the full group in true call-and-response.  The people respond with the antiphon:

O how I love your teaching; my meditation all day long

which goes like this:

Psalm 119 antiphon

Click to enlarge

I understand that ‘teaching’ in this case is drawn from the Hebrew word Torah. However, it implies a wider meaning than just the early Hebrew books of scripture.

[Thinks: hmm; you could also sing the short verse above to this one.]

By the way, we return to Psalm 119 in another two weeks (3 Nov), a communion Sunday. So rather than the regular antiphon for the first Sunday, we may use this one again. Let me know of any preferences.

Singers: for more information …

Continue reading