Psalm 134

Ascent

This short psalm, another ‘skip‘ as it does not appear in the RCL, is a song of ascent, or gradual. Hence the illustration, one I have used for songs of ascent over several years. It took my fancy since it looks like inspiring countryside and a great view, but a perhaps a tough and indirect climb. Who has climbed that path over the years, I wonder?

But let’s not be daunted —  the songs of ascent (fifteen psalms numbered 120 – 134) are usually simple, short and sweet.

Psalm 134

Like the preceding 133, this one has but three verses. Does that make a song? What do you do with three verses? (Psalm 124 runs to four verses). Three approaches might be taken:

First, just do the usual thing; find a good setting and sing with pleasure.

Silence entering Taizé

Urging silence at Taizé in France (silence — the same word in English and French)

Second, at the other end of the scale we can make more space, simplicity and silence in our music. So three  verses is a true gift. Leave space for thought and reflection on the catalytic lines the psalmist is feeding us. (I humbly admit to omitting the odd verse from time to time in my cantor duties.) Create your own way of presenting verses, holding atmosphere during silence with restrained tones, and leading a meaningful response.

  • Psalms for all seasons 134C is right for this. The refrain, accompanied by light keyboard and flute but taking care to leave some ‘daylight’ between phrases, goes: Silently, peacefully, we will rest in you. Verses are sung to a simple tone with nice chords and, again, plenty of space.

Third, even if you add an antiphon after each verse (as in Psalm 136 which has this approach inbuilt) it’s still short. So you could repeat the refrain as a round or ostinato for situations like a vigil or reflective period.

  • The Emergent Psalter takes this approach, using verse 1 and a tune that can be sung as a three-part round.

Psalm 134 may not included in the lectionary but it could still be employed to excellent effect, taking any approach, as music for reflection.

Psalm 62, 25 Jan 15 (2)

Ps62 in the TWode Psalter 1564-1625

Psalm 62 in the Wode Partbooks 1564-1625

An earlier preliminary post on this psalm, since refined, featured the Wode Partbooks (pronounced ‘wood’)  in the British Library. Tempting, but this Sunday being close to Australia Day we shall not sing from its ancient treasures.

The Psalm

Turning initially to the text, the first verse we read or hear (this reading being verses 5-12) is one that caught our attention in the previous post:

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God (v.5)

David (the psalm is attributed to him) goes on to declare that we have a firm foundation and refuge in God. In verse 10, he takes a heavy swipe at the pursuit of status, wealth and power. I wonder if then as now, 1% of people hold 99% of the wealth.

On a lighter note, I was not going to reblog this good one from Theologygrams as it was more relevant during Advent (the purple, of course), but…  My excuse: verse 10 (‘extortion’) made me.I’m not sure that Thomas Wode would have appreciated it, but you never know. Thanks to Rich Wyld.

Music

Libby is looking for everything Australian to mark the national day on Monday, including an aboriginal version of ‘Our Father’ and other good Australian songs to enjoy. A home-grown psalm response will be offered.

RoosVerses. Psalm 62 in TiS No. 33 is not by an Australian composer such as Christopher Willcock. However it does include verses that, unusually, coincide with the lectionary reading. Further, they are [I regret that I must repeat ‘unusually’] inclusive.

These verses are used by permission from A New Zealand Prayer Book and the tone is from a ‘source unknown’. Is that close enough?

Response. Composers have taken various approaches to that opening verse, interpreting our accessional state as resting, being still or silent, waiting or walking. The response in TiS 33 says:

Rest in God alone my soul.

Simple and gracious, while the first line of the verses says:

Yet be still my soul, and wait for God.

The idea that captured our attention in the Wode partbooks (see the earlier post on Psalm 62) was:

Yet towards God with silence have I walked; in whome alone all health and hope I see.

We shall sing a local composition referring back to the slightly more active interpretation of the old Scottish version in a modern context. Linking the key words, it is built around the following refrain:

In silence walk with God, our refuge and our hope (vv. 5, 7)

Additional notes –

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Psalm 62, 25 Jan 15 (1)

Ps62 in the TWode Psalter 1564-1625

Psalm 62 in the Wode Psalter 1564-1625; British Library MS33933

This must be in the nature of a little holiday reading, as this psalm and the third Sunday after Epiphany, 25 January 2015, are still some way off.

So using Psalm 62 as an excuse, here is a preliminary note on a manuscript having historical interest — although we shall not be singing it when it finally comes around.

The Wode Psalter

The manuscript shown is an excerpt of Psalm 62 from the an early post-Reformation Scottish psalter.

The web-site of the Wode Project, a University of Edinburgh activity, tells us:

The Wode [pronounced ‘Wood’] or St Andrews Psalter comprises important manuscript musical settings from the Book of Psalms.

Thomas Wode, who was a monk previous to the Reformation in Scotland, collected harmonisations of the 105 metrical psalms from the 1564 Scottish Psalm Book into these partbooks along with other songs, creating the ‘gold standard’ for post-Reformation devotion and worship in Scotland.

The SATB settings are mainly by David Peebles. The page illustrated has only one line of music as it is from a Partbook: Dr James Reid-Baxter at the University of Glasgow has kindly written to provide some useful expert advise:

The Wode Psalter consists of separate partbooks for each voice, which is why I have always resisted the term “Wode Psalter” in favour of “Wode Partbooks”

The collection, built up by Wode over a considerable period, also included 168 sacred songs, canticles, sonnets and rounds.

The psalter is highlighted here not only for its historical interest, particularly to readers with Presbyterian roots, but also since the text is beautiful and easily read (click on images to enlarge). The quality of script and illustrations is probably not regarded by experts as of the highest order, but the sum of the parts is most impressive.

The translation is worth a closer look. In the New Revised Standard Version, verses 1 and 2 read:

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken

In the Scottish Psalm Book we find a different rendering with a pleasing flow and flavour:

Althought my saule has sharply been assalted, yet towards God with silence have I walked; in whome alone all health and hope I see. He is my health and my salvation sure, my strong defence which shall ever indure.

Cloister, Aix-en-ProvenceIn one, both here and in verse 5, the soul waits, in one it walks. NKJV says ‘waits silently’, other versions, ‘made subject’ or ‘at rest’. No single word seems adequately to capture the breadth and depth of this blessed state of being.

The lectionary selection for Year B begins in verse 5 with this soul waiting or walking in silence, and continues to extol divine virtues, dependability and justice.

A later post will look again at the text and music choices of the day.

Additional historical notes  Continue reading

Psalm 139, 20 July 2014

Bike in lakeWhat you see and what you think you see are not always the same thing. Is this an image of smoke-rings, a bicycle or a piece of post-modern art?

Have you ever thought you knew someone well only to find out they have a very different side to them from that which you have known?

This may be true of ourselves too. We don’t always analyse our own character and behaviour as objectively as we might.

This, according to Psalm 139, is why we need to submit ourselves to the spotlight of God’s loving but frank scrutiny:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (verses 23, 24)

Fine, but it’s not as simple as that, is it? It’s not as though you have a direct line or interactive web-site to fill in a survey form, get instant feedback.  Psalm 13 that we sang  a couple of weeks ago (Brian and I loved singing this Steve Bell song for you) still rings in my head. It was all about that frustrating silence from the heavens. How long do we have to wait to get some sort of answer, comfort, guidance or voice on our doubts and dilemmas, let alone a personal report card?

How long, O God, will you turn your face from me?

Who is God anyway?

Lurking behind these apparently conflicting poetic ideas is the question of how personal is your God. Is YHWH a powerful but vague force out there somewhere, a spirit moving upon the face of the waters sweeping silently in grand scale across the vast universe, unconcerned by a Western preoccupation with individualism yet benevolent toward the aggregate fate of a flawed humanity?

Or an intimate and individual God whose eye instantly notices the fall of the sparrow, numbers the hairs of your head, and knows when you sit or stand? And somewhere in the middle is that still small voice of calm.

Maybe like the bike in the water, our perspective will change with the light and times?

Only you can answer that but the god’s-eye view, it would seem from the psalms, is crystal clear and all of the above, yesterday, today, forever. We trust that reflecting on the psalms from week to week —  How long? in Psalm 13, You see me in Psalm 139 and many other songs — will somehow clarify the picture.

Music

Bruce has found a nice setting of this psalm by Michael Card and will sing it for us on Sunday 13 July. The response, repeating a couple of bars of the tune after each verse, is:

Search me O God, and know my heart

Ps139 RefrainThe lower line is a plain pedal note on g that  you can sing in harmony if the upper note is too high.

And if you got this far and are still interested…

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