“Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah”: A YouTube Survey

Searching for Psalter Hymnal songs on YouTube is an unbelievably challenging task.  No matter how I phrase my search, I’m usually bound to come up with the same list of hymns and praise songs, related to the desired item only in some completely unhelpful way—the same title, for example, or the same number in a different songbook.  So I’ve learned not to expect much when it comes to finding a psalm video on the web.

But the other day, on a random whim, I decided to search YouTube for the versification of Psalm 148 known as “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” (blue Psalter Hymnal number 304).  And the results blew me away.  Actually, what I found was so unexpected that I’d like to share some of the highlights with you here.

The first result I got was this one—a simple a cappella rendition of the song.

What primarily surprised me was not the quality of the singing (which was excellent), but the fact that this recording appears to have originated from a clearly non-Reformed background!  The only other Psalter Hymnal selection that might be able to claim this honor is 94, “God Be Merciful to Me,” from Psalm 51.  I reflected a bit on this.  Then I watched the next video.

Not just another rendition of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah,” but a gospel version!  Sung a cappella, again, and with great gusto!  I began to seriously wonder, “What is it about this song?”

My jaw dropped further and further as I progressed through the rest of the search results.  Next in the list was a recording from a congregational singing workshop of a church in Cincinnati—again without accompaniment, and again with exuberance.  Number 304 was also rendered by two solo YouTube artists (1 and 2), who recorded over their own voices to preserve the harmonization.  Then there was this congregational recording from a channel entitled “ipohchurchofchrist,” and another from the Westside Church of Christ in Salem, VA.  “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” was also sung here at some kind of conference, although this recording is quite humorous since the song leader doesn’t quite seem to know the words.  In all of the above cases, there were no musical instruments whatsoever.  And it seems like there was no need for any.

Now, this wouldn’t be a balanced survey if I didn’t mention that there were some other—er, more instrumental versions of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” in the search results as well.  One worship team attempted, not very successfully in my opinion, to adapt the psalm to the contemporary Christian music genre.

Eagle Rock Community Church posted a similarly contemporized rendition of number 304, but their song leader gains some bonus points in my book for mentioning that “there’s actually a whole tradition of music-writing that is psalm-writing—and this is in that tradition.”

Whew—this is a weighty list of videos.  And these recordings comprise only a part of the first page of search results!  So, with my ears thoroughly flooded with the various sounds and styles used in the singing of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah,” I returned to my initial question.  Why did this seemingly ordinary Psalter Hymnal song “break through the lines” of Reformed worship and become a favorite among such a wide variety of denominations?

As in all such cases of hymnological research, I turned to the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship project known as Hymnary.org.  This website, quoting from the CRC Psalter Hymnal Handbook, informed me that “PRAISE JEHOVAH was composed by William J. Kirkpatrick (b. Duncannon, PA, 1838; d. Philadelphia, PA, 1921) and joined in the 1890s to this versification of Psalm 148, with the original seventh stanza becoming the refrain. The tune was published with an 1899 copyright date in Life Songs, a 1916 publication of the Mennonite Publishing House.”

Wow!  That came as a surprise.  Not only did “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” originate outside the Reformed tradition, but its first known appearance was in a Mennonite songbook!  Additionally, I discovered that this song isn’t even included in the 1912 Psalter, the source for the majority of the Psalter Hymnal’s content.  We put it into our songbook; other churches already had it in theirs.

But I still wondered what had made this song so popular in such a broad range of cultures and denominations.  In fact, it just might be the only complete (or very nearly complete) psalm versification I’ve ever heard sung outside a Reformed context of worship.  Why?  While we can’t know for sure, the following thoughts occurred to me:

  1. Both the words and the music of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” are simple and easy to learn.  This psalm is comparable to popular hymns like “How Great Thou Art” in terms of its basic structure and simplicity.
  2. The tune and format of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” place it squarely within the perennially popular gospel genre of Christian music.  With its simple part-writing, strong rhythmic structure, and exciting refrain, this tune is just plain fun to sing.
  3. “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” is perfectly suited for impromptu a cappella singing, leading to endless possibilities for its use in many different circumstances.
  4. The mere age of “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah,” and its inclusion in such a wide variety of songbooks, has allowed it to sink into the ears and hearts of multiple generations of worshipers.

Now, with the above characteristics in mind, we must approach number 304 with a bit of caution.  As with many gospel-style hymns, there’s an underlying danger that we may sing “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” merely because it’s a fun song—not for its faithful versification of Scripture.  But I would like to hope that many Christians sing this selection with gusto mainly for its beautiful expressions of psalm-based praise to Jehovah.  In today’s self-centered worship culture, that would truly be a refreshing sight.


2 Responses to ““Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah”: A YouTube Survey”

  1. 1 Reita Julien September 22, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I can see why Contemporary churches sing this song because they can “jazz” it up with all their instruments. Start doing that and you forget all about the beautiful words of the Psalm. ( by the way, on the side of the “Rejoice” Church video there was Psalm 116 with the same church—did you check that one out? Oh my!!!)

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