Online Resources for the Psalter Hymnal

It’s a thought that has probably crossed every church musician’s mind at one time or another: “If I could only hear this song instead of just looking at it in the hymnal, it would make sense.”  Listening to a good recording of a particular psalm or hymn, especially if it’s not a familiar one, can be of immense help to accompanists as they try to determine the mood, tempo, and phrasing of the piece.  Unfortunately, it’s often hard to find such resources for Psalter Hymnal music.  Reformed psalms and hymns occupy a very small sector of the Christian music available on the internet, often leaving us wondering how a piece should be played.

Thankfully, though, there are still sufficient resources to enable a careful musician to piece together a reasonable idea of how a song should sound.  Today I’d like to share some of the websites and collections I’ve discovered in my online wanderings.

  • The Online Psalter Hymnal (at TwoAgesPilgrims.com) is an under-construction project by the Malabuyos which includes the texts of the songs from the Psalter Hymnal, and some middling-quality piano recordings.
  • If you don’t mind the computerized sound of MIDI recordings from the Psalter Hymnal, you can download a ZIP file that contains the entire collection here, from the website of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC.
  • Another website called “Examine-Expound.Net” contains the sheet music from every page of the Psalter Hymnal, as well as some (frankly awful) recordings with digital organ and a man singing.  BE WARNED, however: this website contains some wacky end-times materials in the vein of Family Radio; and I am also not sure that the page scans from the Psalter Hymnal are actually legal (the book is still copyrighted, after all).  Also, for reasons I don’t understand, this particular online Psalter Hymnal doesn’t stop at number 493 but goes all the way up to 514.  So use this resource only at your own discretion.
  • Psalter.org, a beta website administered by Crown and Covenant, contains good MIDI files of the tunes from the Book of Psalms for Singing and the Book of Psalms for Worship.  If your congregation uses either of these songbooks, you will probably find this website to be significantly helpful.  And for the rest of us, there is still a significant overlap between these tunes and those of the Psalter Hymnal.

Although these are all useful websites, I still kept missing one crucial element: Not one of these resources included recordings of congregational singing.  In order to obtain the full effect of a psalm setting or hymn, we church musicians must hear how a real congregation renders it—where they breathe, how they phrase, how fast they sing, and how well they sing it.  To my great joy, however, I soon stumbled upon two more resources that helped to bridge this gap.

  • The PRPsalmChoir channel on YouTube contains videos of the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir singing arrangements of 1912 Psalter selections (many of which are included in the Psalter Hymnal).
  • Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, has produced real recordings of their congregational singing for quite a few songs in the Psalter Hymnal!  As you may have noticed from our articles in the “Thoughts” category, this is my preferred resource for Psalter Hymnal recordings.  With a congregation as large as theirs and a talented roster of pianists and organists, just about every song is a pleasure to the ears.

To this significant list of references I feel obligated to add the URCPsalmody channel of YouTube—our own small contribution to the cause.  Right now this channel contains mostly recordings of the singing from Synod 2012, but as time goes on I hope to post more instrumental and vocal renditions of Psalter Hymnal tunes.

Now, let’s say it’s the Saturday night just before you have to play in church, and the pastor has picked one song that you simply don’t know.  How can you quickly find a good recording of it?  Well, you could painstakingly sort through the sources I’ve just listed until you come across something helpful.  But if only there were a website that did all of that work for you, and merely directed you to the best resources and recordings available for each selection…

Well, I’m extremely excited to announce that URC Psalmody just might have a solution.  Currently under construction is a whole new network of pages and links that we hope to call “The Psalter Hymnal Resource Library.”  Central to this library will be a table listing each Psalter Hymnal number with links to audio and video recordings, texts and sheet music, and meditations from the archives of URC Psalmody.  Along with this collection there will be lists of links to the best psalm and hymn resources available on the internet.  And, Lord willing, there’s a good possibility that this project will be ready for release by this weekend!

Psalter Hymnal Resource Library Preview

A preview of the PsHRL!

To conclude this post, readers, do you know of any online Psalter Hymnal resources besides the ones I’ve listed here?  Is there anything in particular you’d like to see added to the new Psalter Hymnal Resource Library?  Questions, comments, and feedback are all welcome.

To God be the glory,

–MRK

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2 Responses to “Online Resources for the Psalter Hymnal”


  1. 1 Gary August 7, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    I was sent a copy of the MIDI performances of the Psalter Hymnal shortly after their production but have been very circumspect in their use due to the copyright question you mention regarding another resource. Can you confirm whether such recordings of copyrighted material are themselves free of related copyright restrictions?

    Thank you for yet another helpful, instructive post.

    • 2 Michael Kearney August 7, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      Mr. Fisher,

      Here we enter into the deep, dark, and sticky quagmire of copyright. Sadly, I don’t have a simple answer (I’ve struggled with this issue myself many times over the course of my musical endeavors), but here’s the way I generally treat these online Psalter Hymnal resources.

      As a publication, the Psalter Hymnal is copyrighted, so all scans or photocopies of its pages without permission from the CRC Board of Publications are in violation.

      But the majority of the content of the songbook is in the public domain (with the exceptions noted inside the front cover), so arrangements and recordings of these songs can be made with no copyright infringement.

      My conclusion: The MIDI recordings of non-copyrighted songs, so long as the author of the files has made them freely available, are not under any restrictions. As to the copyrighted songs, the violator would theoretically be the author of the files, not you, but I too would be inclined to act circumspectly and try to avoid using them if possible.

      (Note: If you visit the URC Psalmody channel of YouTube you’ll notice that some of the songs there are copyrighted as well. However, from what I understand, YouTube has an allowance for this because it simply includes additional ads next to those videos to recoup the royalty fees.)

      It’s a really cloudy problem, and I must add myself to the ranks of those who would like to see the entire copyright system reworked. For now, though, when I can’t see my way out of a particular copyright quandary, I try to ask the general question, “Will this action rob the creator of this song, book, &c. of something to which they are entitled?”

      Any additional insight you may have would, of course, be appreciated.

      –Michael


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