Psalm 27, 22 Jan 2017

This psalm offers encouragement in difficult times, weaving together two contrasting but commanding threads. First is the imagery of light, beauty and goodness. Calling to mind references to the ‘light of the world’ (John 8:12) and ‘light upon my path’ (Psalm 119:105), it is a theme found in many psalms. Many readers will be familiar with the opening verse:

“God is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? God is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”

The psalmist asks but one thing, to dwell in that divine aura forever, to see beauty all around and commune with that spirit of love. (v.4)

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 19.08.
Image: E O’Loghlin, rowinggirl.com

Second is the idea of refuge — protection, salvation and shelter from danger or persecution. This second theme of heavenly care in adversity is also mentioned frequently elsewhere in the Psalter, perhaps even more often than light — maybe there was more adversity than light in those days. Here, David feels that his enemies surround him; his answer is to sing. (v.6) The psalmist thus merges illumination, guidance and clarity together with security and forgiveness.

Music

Considering that this poem is set only twice in three years of the Lectionary cycle, it has been unusually popular with musicians. Perhaps the potency of the blend of those two themes is the key. Verse 1 quoted above is clearly suitable as an antiphonal response, and many of our sources base a refrain on some variation of this idea. Looking first at modern settings, one blog suggests over 20 songs. A partial summary of some good choices follows.

  • The Taizé round The Lord is my light is appropriate in this context. A gathering used to singing these songs will relish two tunes blended together as well as the two entry points for each theme, making effectively four parts. The sound will be effective unaccompanied or with a light backing of guitar, flute or such instruments.
  • Psalms for All Seasons offers no less than ten settings, including this Taizé round. A discussion of the whole list is tempting; but since responsorial settings are preferred, suffice to note that all (27A from Taizé, B, E, F and H) rejoice in that first verse, highlighting either the ‘light and salvation’ or the ‘strength and courage’ topics, or both.
  • Everett in TEP also uses the second of these two themes.
  • A different approach, using as response a verse from Isaiah “Do not be afraid I am with you”, will be found in Together in Song no 16, a paraphrase of the verses with a beautiful setting by Christopher Willcock. Enchantment springs in part from his imaginative and unusual harmony changes, moving between Eb and EΔ tonalities accompanied by related chords, and all supporting a lilting tune.
  • The home-grown setting shown below is equally restrained but a little more challenging for singers.

Ps27 HdimsThis little piece is locally known as the ‘Half-dim’ antiphon acknowledging several half-diminished chords (minor seventh flat five, subject of longer discussion in a February 2016 post) — perhaps an unfortunate title when rejoicing in the bright rays of divine light on our meandering path. Cantors sing the paraphrased verses to the same tune.

Psalmus David, priusquam liniretur. Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea: quem timebo?
Ps. 27, 13th c. manuscript, Getty Museum

Turning briefly to the classical scene, remarkable in the listing online are not only the plethora and variety of settings for Psalm 27, but also the occurrence of little-known composers. Ever heard of Supply Belcher, Giovanni Paolo Cima, Sigismundo d’India or Orazio Tarditi?  More familiar and exciting names are there too, like Charpentier, Lassus and Sweelinck. But they write demanding music for five or more voices and often basso continuo. Dream on.

The illustration (click to enlarge) from an early French manuscript shows David being anointed by Samuel. The Latin version of the first verse quoted at the outset reads: “Psalmus D[avi]d, priusqua[m] liniretur (before he was anointed). Domin[us] illuminatio mea et salus mea quem timebo?”

Psalm 103, 21 Aug 16

Note. The primary reading for this Sunday is Psalm 71:1-6. Please see the relevant post here>. The secondary readings include Psalm 103, said to be ‘of David’.

This song is a well-rounded tour of all the ingredients for worship — praise, why we are blessed despite the brevity of human life, and the kindness inherent in the divine spirit who pardons, heals and seeks justice.

New land

One of the benefits of writing about music on a theme is coming across composers of whom you have never heard … or completely forgotten. Like Ivo de Vento whom we met in another post.

In amongst commonly appearing names like Jeremiah Clark, Lassus, Schütz and Tomkins, there are a good dozen names listed under Psalm 103 that are seldom heard. These include names like Stephen Jarvis, a sail maker from Devon who wrote a set of psalms; Henri Dumont, Flemish then Paris, 17th C; and Claudin de Sermisy in the French tradition of Luly and Couperin, whose Ps. 103 for vespers Benedic anima mea was first published in Paris in 1535.

Then we find in the Orthodox tradition that Messrs Voznesensky and Ledkovsky came up with introductory psalms, also for vespers in the all-night vigil. These are both arrangements of a popular traditional Russian and Slavonian melody. It will be instantly recognisable to those familiar with the great Rachmaninov All Night Vigil. Voznesensky gives the entry tune to the bass voice:

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 10.57. 1Rachmaninov has a sonorous alto solo sing that tune in the second movement of the Vigil, Благослови душе моя, Господа (Blagoslovi dushe moya, Gospoda; Praise the Lord, O My Soul). Listen to the YouTube clip in the post on Psalm 104 — which psalm begins with the same phrase.

Familiar territory

Closer to home, TiS and PFAS have a couple of unremarkable hymns including one by Tallis, of whom one tends to expect more adventurous scribbles. The latter source makes up for it by offering several other choices including a short Spanish responsorial setting, 103G, which comes from a longer work Sing all You Lands: Bilingual Psalms by Peter Kolar.

It also gives us at 103C a nice Taizé song using that same verse 1, Bless the Lord my soul. The congregation or a small group may continue to repeat the chorus in the background while a solo voice sings the verses. Each verse tune is a variation (and in a slightly different range) so could be sung by different soloists. The ostinato needs to be quiet and peaceful but the overall effect can be very inspiring.Entering Taizé village For South Woden:  Continue reading “Psalm 103, 21 Aug 16”

Psalm 146, 5 June 2016

IMG_3012An article in the local paper today tells me that polls — in Australia at least, though I do not doubt that readers in other countries will nod in agreement — are revealing a loss of confidence in governance. Part of that is due to perceived weaknesses in both national leaders and opposing aspirants.

People are, in this respect at least, doing just what Psalm 146 recommends:

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish (vs. 3, 4)

There’s a second reason why people might follow this psalm. It’s suffused with calls for equity and justice for all people, a situation that is certainly not being provided by current leadership and governments. Many would be delighted to see a social, community, health, justice and financial structure that:

Image: Wikimedia commons

executes justice for the oppressed; gives food to the hungry; sets the prisoners free; opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down; loves the righteous; watches over the strangers; upholds the orphan and the widow (vs. 7 – 9)

Sounds very much like Jesus quoting Isaiah in Luke 4:18. I am compelled to insert that image of the scales of justice again. It appears in so many posts (sometimes I have used a different image of the scales) as an indicator of how often this theme leaps out of the psalms at us, contrasting with the reality we see about us and challenging us to work harder for outcomes based on love rather than selfish interests.

However, that’s probably as far as the parallel goes. Indeed in governance terms, separation between church and state is good insurance against these human weaknesses. The average voter is not likely to take it a step further by praising a divine spirit who promises that all these things are a fundamental part of creation, and therefore of humankind however compromised.  The song finishes with a system of governance for that purpose, in which “God shall reign forever, for all generations. Praise God!” (v.10)

Music

Hymns (we prefer antiphonals) on this theme are manifold. TiS 90 is the old favourite (1719) hymn by Isaac Watts, I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath. Regrettably, we cannot quite muster the time and resources this Sunday to introduce a nice piece à4 by Lassus, Lauda anima mea,Ps146Lauda

let alone his longer setting à6 under a similar title.

Antiphonal settings often feature refrains full of Hallelujahs. Why? The final handful of psalms from 146 to 150 are songs of praise, all starting and finishing with a ringing Hallelujah – praise YHWH. That last line in verse 10 quoted above is just one example.

  • Everett in TEP emphasises this as well as the prince thing and its alternative.
  • Psalms for all Seasons includes three hymns (146A, sure enough, is the Watts hymn) as well as 146B with Taizé refrain. Note also the alternate Refrains 1 (traditional Muscogee Creek Indian) and 2 (Indonesian, in Phrygian mode) for interest and additional tempting musical experiences.

At South Woden Continue reading “Psalm 146, 5 June 2016”

Psalm 25, 29 Nov 15

Image: Wikicommons
Image: Wikicommons

Psalm 25, an acrostic psalm in Hebrew, runs to 22 verses. The alphabetical arrangement is lost in our translations.

The psalmist seems to swing between two states, first soaring then penitential. Our selection is the first ten, more aspirational, verses. David then goes on to lament his failings and seek forgiveness in the second half.

Here’s the opening verse,  from the old BCP translation:

Unto thee, O Lord, will I lift up my soul; my God, I have put my trust in thee : O let me not be confounded, neither let mine enemies triumph over me.

And progressing to that very familiar and recurrent of prayers in the psalms:

Shew me thy ways, O Lord : and teach me thy paths. Lead me forth in thy truth, and learn me: for thou art the God of my salvation; in thee hath been my hope all the day long.(v.3, 4)

Music

Ps19Genevan
Another Genevan psalm; genevanpsalter.org

Many early settings of this psalm may be found, including those by Boyce, Lassus, Goudimel (Genevan) and Blow. Composers of any era usually chose to use either first aspirational or second penitential section; an impressive total suggests that this psalm was of particular interest and widely loved.

Confining our attention to responsorials in modern sources, we again find several options:

  • Together in Song, from which we sang a (modified) setting of Psalm 93 last week, offers a composition by Christopher Willcock, whose work we find reliably beautiful. The verses are a little tricky for those who do not read music.
  • Everett in The emergent psalter uses verses 4 and 5 for the antiphon. The Carers’ Group used this one last February.
  • Psalms for all seasons gives us 25A, again using verse 1 as the refrain and verses to a tone; as well as a more formally arranged 25C.
  • The Taizé chorus Ad te Jesu quotes verse 1 of this psalm.
  • South Woden has a home-grown refrain and verses based on a simple tune we used in recent years as the monthly ‘communion chant’, called into service as a vehicle to sing many different verses and psalms, in this case verses 3-4:

Ps25 SWCC

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:

Ps139 TaizéStyleAll SINGERS WELCOMED