Psalm 122

My heart was glad to hear the welcome sound,
The call to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer;
Our feet are standing here on holy ground,
Within thy gates, thou city grand and fair.

Ever since Psalm 122 was sung as the opening selection at Synod Nyack 2012, it’s held a special place in my church-musician heart.  Its praises of the holy city and its Builder are wrapped in a beautiful package of corporate praise and personal emotion.  It declares the glory of God’s house and the psalmist’s lifelong devotion to its service.  And the fact that Psalm 122 is a Song of Ascents, meaning that it was sung by Israelites on their yearly journey to Jerusalem, gives it all the more significance.

So, without further ado, let’s plunge into the riches of Psalm 122 as adapted for the Psalter Hymnal.

262, “My Soul Was Glad”

“My Soul Was Glad” is the Psalter Hymnal’s contribution to Psalm 122 from the Dutch/Genevan Psalter.  Its text, set by Dewey Westra in 1931, is a little beneath the songbook’s typical standards for accurate versifications (for instance, there is no correlation to v. 8 in this setting, although many other passages in the psalm are unnecessarily elaborated).  Nonetheless, it’s certainly a workable versification and a great selection for an adventurous congregation.

(Above: Psalm 122 from the Dutch Psalter)

Although JERUSALEM’S PEACE isn’t the easiest of Genevan tunes, it’s extremely rewarding when played properly.  The version in the Psalter Hymnal is quite similar to the original arrangement, although its rhythm was tweaked in a few places and its harmonization updated in 1954 by Henry Bruinsma.  Nevertheless, for modern congregational singing, I think this version will prove to be the least problematic.

A few stylistic comments, however, may be helpful for the thoughtful accompanist.  First, take note of the melodic pattern in the second and third, fifth and sixth, and eighth and ninth measures.  Each pair is melodically identical, but should never be played identically—this kind of musical error is often what gives the Genevan psalms a reputation for monotony.  Bruinsma’s shifting harmonies will prove to be quite helpful in adding variety here.  In addition, consider slight dynamic changes or different focal points in each line.

Second, to assist the singers in determining the end of each line, I would highly recommend treating each whole note as a dotted-half note with a quarter rest (as is indicated in the 1984 Book of Praise).  This will provide a powerful hint to the congregation regarding where to breathe; just make sure you breathe along with them!

Third, there is the matter of tempo.  Although speed can usually be a major problem in renderings of Genevan tunes, I believe an unexpectedly wide range of tempi could be appropriate here—but only if each musical line has a clear direction and a strong half-note beat.

With regard to organ registrations, I wouldn’t shy away from using some reeds, maybe even festival trumpets in a few spots.  After all, this is an absolutely exuberant psalm!  Some well-placed 16’ stops in the manuals (or a soft 32’ in the pedal) can help to emphasize the references to Jerusalem’s “securely knit” foundations.  A constant crescendo is undoubtedly justifiable in the final stanza, and the very last phrase should be unequivocally thunderous.  A solid organ accompaniment, combined with a competent congregation, is all that’s needed to make this Genevan tune shine.

263, “With Joy and Gladness in My Soul”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“With Joy and Gladness in My Soul,” from the 1912 Psalter, is in some ways an entirely different interpretation of Psalm 122.  In contrast to the brilliance of number 262, this setting is soft and meditative—yet no less appropriate to this psalm’s theme.

Number 263 falls more or less within the realm of literal psalm settings, although it takes some very justifiable liberties in elaborating on worship and interpreting “the thrones of the house of David” as “Messiah’s kingly throne” in stzs. 2 and 3.

Chant-like tunes like this one can pose trouble for accompanists in keeping their tempo consistent.  It’s easy to hold the opening note a bit too long, rush through the six following quarter notes, and then cheat the whole note at the end of the line.  Instead, HARVEY’S CHANT should have a reasonable tempo (a little quicker than one half note per second) and a subdued but ever-present beat.

264, “My Heart Was Glad to Hear the Welcome Sound”

Although it is perhaps the most literal of the three settings of Psalm 122 in the Psalter Hymnal, “My Heart Was Glad to Hear the Welcome Sound” possesses some exquisite poetry.  Where it departs from the exact wording of the Scripture, it is still clear and accurate in meaning; and the rest of the text, as far as human compositions can go, is flawless.

(Above: Number 264 sung at Synod 2012)

Among the Psalter Hymnal’s renditions of this psalm, number 264 also has unquestionably the most familiar tune.  MORECAMBE, commonly associated with “Spirit of God, Dwell Thou within My Heart” (number 394), can convey both quiet meditation and heartfelt passion.  Be sure to emphasize the interaction of the inner voices (especially the two-note slurs in the tenor part) and the crescendo built into the constantly rising melody line.  In the version sung at Synod 2012, the very last phrase—“To thee my love shall never be denied”—was rendered so passionately as to leave no doubt of the worshippers’ sincerity.  Their hearts, like David’s, were truly glad to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
‘May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!’
For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.

–Psalm 122:6-9 (ESV)

–MRK

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