The Psalms, Alive and Well

A few weeks ago I posted regarding the lasting significance of the Genevan Psalter.  Since then, I discovered a great example of how these psalm settings are still being used today.

If you subscribe to Christian Renewal magazine, you may have recently read about a group called “The Psalm Project.”  Led by Dutch composer Eelco Vos, these musicians recently toured the Great Lakes area, performing psalms set to modern music.  Though their style is definitely contemporary, the melodies of the music are based on the original Genevan Psalter tunes corresponding to each psalm!  Apparently, The Psalm Project’s work has been enthusiastically received in certain Reformed circles, like the Christian Reformed Church and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Whether or not The Psalm Project’s arrangements should be incorporated into congregational worship could be a matter of great controversy in the Reformed arena.  But I don’t think this goal is what Eelco Vos and his musicians had in mind.  Rather, it seems to me that the mission of The Psalm Project is to expand the reach of the psalms from worship into every area of life.  By setting the psalms to contemporary texts and tunes, they can reach believers and unbelievers alike, in settings outside church gatherings, with the message of God’s Word.

This same approach has been proposed by others in the Reformed community, such as Calvin Seerveld.  Seerveld (incidentally, a former organist here at West Sayville) has long been an influential figure in Christian Reformed circles, and has authored many contemporary adaptations of psalm texts for the 1987 CRC Psalter Hymnal.  I’m not convinced that all of his psalm adaptations are Scripturally accurate, but this argument (as quoted in a Calvin Institute of Christian Worship article) is a significant one:

[Seerveld] believes that bringing the psalms back into public life would remedy the current “weakness of biblical consciousness.  There is so little, if any, common song (much less Psalms!) among followers of Christ.  ‘Amazing Grace,’ the doxology, and ‘Silent Night’ are probably about the most Christians could muster to sing impromptu without printed notes (not counting the Bible choruses).

“We need to start way back and have leaders fall in love with the psalms, get current language, recite certain psalms, exercise certain tunes, and then-after a generation?—they may begin to live in our voices,” Seerveld says.

He hopes that the Voicing God’s Psalms book and CD will inspire ordinary and younger believers to start reading the psalms for devotions, using them in Bible studies and outreach programs, and sharing the CD at hospitals, nursing homes, and on military bases.

“If believers ask their pastors to give attention to the psalms, and then if pastors and music leaders show they do take God’s psalms to heart, not just as token items in a Sunday liturgy, then maybe the CD and careful translations will endear the psalms to God’s people and the curious disbelievers,” Seerveld says.

Again, as URC members holding to a more traditional Reformed perspective, we may be inclined to shy away from the modern sound and idiomatic language of the settings of Eelco Vos and Cal Seerveld.  I’m not making an argument for bringing this style of song into congregational worship.  But could it be that this perspective—the mission of applying the psalms to every area of life—is one we should seriously consider?  How might the psalms have a greater impact on us and our unbelieving neighbors if we don’t limit them to Sunday services, but instead bring them anywhere God leads us?  And in this way can we make a permanent place for God’s Word in our hearts?  It’s not an easy question, but it may be worth some careful thought.

To God be the glory!

–MRK

References

  • For more information about The Psalm Project, visit their website.  On the home page, excerpts from several of their arrangements are available for listening.
  • The Calvin Seerveld article I referenced, entitled “Voicing God’s Psalms,” is available from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship here.  As it relates to our current discussion in the “Meet the Psalm-Hymn” series, I especially recommend reading the sidebar on “Translation, Paraphrase, Versification: What’s the difference?” near the bottom of the article.
  • To get an idea of Calvin Seerveld’s versification style, take a look at his psalm settings in the gray 1987 CRC Psalter Hymnal, including numbers 22, 91, 105, 131, and 150, or number 22 in the URC Hymn Proposal (which the Songbook Committee has since decided to remove).
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3 Responses to “The Psalms, Alive and Well”


  1. 1 Norm V. February 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Another resource that would be worth taking with you is the Psalter of the Free Church of Scotland that was recently released. It is a fine piece of work.

    The OPC is developing a fresh Psalter that uses strong translations of the Hebrew originals and pairs each Psalm with an appropriate tune. As you may have read, the URC Songbook Committee is seeking the approval of the churches to collaborate more closely with the OPC songbook committee in order to publish a joint psalter hymnal. This would be a tremendous blessing to both of our churches!

    Great blog, subjects, and use of contemporary tools to stir up a necessary conversation within our Federation of churches! Keep it up!

    • 2 Michael Kearney February 25, 2012 at 10:11 am

      Thanks for the recommendation. Do you know where copies of this new Scottish Psalter are available?

      Indeed, the merge of the URC and OPC efforts in producing a joint Psalter Hymnal would be a great blessing. I’ve included some information about the merge on my URC Psalter Hymnal page. If you have any additional details about this merge, I’d be glad to include them.

      Thank you for the encouragement!

      –Michael

  2. 3 Michael Kearney August 31, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    Could URC Psalmody go into print? Maybe yes, maybe no, but here’s a prototype of a printable version of this article:

    https://urcpsalmody.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/actions-12-02-24-the-psalms-alive-and-well.pdf

    Feel free to share!

    –MRK


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