“Dutch Door” Psalters

A few months ago, I wrote about mini-psalters, the handy take-along size of many popular psalters.  Today, I want to take a few moments to share about another fun branch of psalter history, the “Dutch door” psalter.

The “Dutch door” psalter, also known as a split-leaf psalter, is so called because its pages are reminiscent of the Dutch doors common in so many fairy tale cottages – where the top and bottom halves of the door swing separately.  So too with these psalters.  The pages are split down the center so that you can turn the bottom and top halves of the page separately.

“Dutch Door” Psalters in action

In most “Dutch door” psalters, the tunes are printed on the top halves and the texts on the bottom.  Each text, on the bottom halves, indicates what meter it follows, either CM (Common Meter), LM (Long Meter), SM (Short Meter), or a series of numbers.  Each tune, on the top halves, also indicates which meter system it follows.  Usually, the tunes are arranged in such a way that similar meters are grouped together.  Otherwise, there are substantial indexes indicating which tunes follow which meters.  In other cases, like the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland’s The Psalms in Meter (1957) have suggested tunes listed along with the text.  Some “Dutch door” psalters, such as The Scottish Psalmody (1650), made sure that all the psalms were set to CM tunes, making all the tunes and psalm texts interchangeable (meaning one could, I suppose, sing all 150 psalms to one tune, if so desired).  If you’re still a bit rusty on how meters work in various psalters, Michael explained the process very well in part 2 of his “Tunes” series.

Perhaps this seems confusing.  Perhaps you’re wondering how or why this would ever be used in a worship service.  I’ve only attended one church where “Dutch door” psalters were used, and it was really an uncomplicated process.  The worship leader simply called out the psalm number followed by the tune number.  For instance, if using the aforementioned Irish Psalter, he might call out, “Psalm 108, sung to St. George, 103.”  The congregation would then find Psalm 108 in the bottom half, then turn to tune number 103 in the top half.

Psalm 108 in the Irish Psalter

“Dutch door” psalters are still used by many churches in a variety of denominations.  To most of us in the URCNA, “Dutch door” psalters are merely a historical curiosity.  To be honest, I wrote this post merely because I find these psalters interesting and thought our readers might, too.  I love the few “Dutch door” psalters that I own, they’re fun to use and help me feel connected to my psalm-singing brothers and sisters throughout history and around the world.  But upon further thought, there are a few advantages to the “Dutch door” psalter that are worth some meditation:

  • In many “Dutch door” psalters, there is only one text entry per biblical psalm.  Provided it’s an accurate and complete versification, could there not be some pedagogical benefit to this?  That is, when we sing Psalm 108, we always sing the same versification, helping us to memorize it more efficiently.  I know the Trinity Psalter (1994) shares this philosophy.
  • In addition, this feature (one text selection per biblical psalm) encourages congregations to sing psalms in their entirety, rather than just selections.
  • The split level allows you to sing the same psalm to multiple different tunes.  This could be a downside (causing confusion), but it could also help unpack more meaning.  Different tunes can help emphasize different points.  Last week, my church sang “I will Sing of My Redeemer” (usually sung to the rollicking, revivalistic tune found in the blue Psalter Hymnal number 439) to the more reverent and meditative HYFRYDOL.  For me, personally, the tune change made the words “come home” in a way that they haven’t in a while, because I had grown so “used” to the tune used in 439.

Just food for thought.  In addition, I’d be interested to know, have any of you ever used “Dutch door” psalters at home or in worship?  What did you think?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.



5 Responses to ““Dutch Door” Psalters”

  1. 1 Reita Julien September 26, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    We have one but have never done much with it. Ours is very old.

  2. 2 Michael Kearney September 26, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    This is fascinating! Jim, when you first described “Dutch-door” psalters to me, I had a very different idea in mind. I was thinking of some of the old hymnbooks I have whose texts and tunes are separated–but not on independent pages! While I suppose the split-leaf format does tend to complicate things a bit, I love the idea just for its uniqueness. Provided its special capabilities are utilized wisely, of course…


  3. 3 Norm V. November 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Great article and here’s a bit more food for thought:

    You know how some psalms open with one mood, then shift to another in the middle, and then close with another mood altogether? A split-leaf would allow you to sing verse 1 to one tune, verse 2 to another, and verses 3-4 to another! How awesome would that be?! (except for people with numerical dyslexia I suppose).

  1. 1 A Words-Only Psalter (Review) | URC Psalmody Trackback on February 3, 2016 at 10:57 am

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