Archive for December, 2014

Psalms for a New Year

Sunrise on Bridge

“The Smartphone of the Soul”—that’s how Reformed Presbyterian minister and blogger James Faris describes the Book of Psalms. Drawing a fascinating parallel between the physical versatility of a smartphone and the spiritual versatility of the Psalter, Rev. Faris comments:

God has given us the whole Scriptures for our aid. But, God created the human heart to respond in special ways to his word set to music. In song, the word of God penetrates the soul. In song, we experience union with Christ. In the throes of life–the crisis moments–it is words set to music that first come to mind. In those moments, we can’t always run to the desktop, but we should have the smartphone of soul embedded in our hearts.

In summary, Rev. Faris says, just as for every task “there’s an app for that,” for every occasion in the believer’s life “there’s a psalm for that.” His original post and related sermon is worth your time. But along the way, consider these psalms that relate especially well to the coming of a new year:

  • Psalm 1. “[The righteous man] is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Have you found your righteousness in Jesus Christ, so that as the years pass you will continue to be refreshed by his living water? Do you possess a heart of grateful obedience motivating you to yield the fruits of the Spirit with the changing seasons of life?
  • Psalm 37. “In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” In 2015 the doom of God’s enemies will be nearer than it was in 2014. But those who trust in him “shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.”
  • Psalm 49. “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.” Will you enter 2015 pursuing the worthless things of this world, or seeking the things that are above and looking to your reward in heaven?
  • Psalm 56. “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Even if 2015 proves to be a year of trial and testing for you, be sure that the same God who knows the hairs of your head knows the afflictions you suffer, and will save you to walk before him “in the light of life.” “This I know, that God is for me.”
  • Psalm 66. “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.” What did God do for you in 2014? How have you seen his steadfast love at work in your life? Tell others!
  • Psalm 90. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” In light of the frailty and brevity of your own life, look to the Lord, “our dwelling place in all generations,” to establish the work of your hands.
  • Psalm 102. “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.” Remember that God holds the power to roll up heaven and earth, and compared to the glory he has prepared for you, all tribulation is but light and momentary.
  • Psalm 145. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” Do you worry about your future? Are you anxious about what tomorrow may bring? Look to God, who satisfies “the desire of every living thing.” Praise him for his provision!

In summary, as we look forward to the start of a new year, what better way to do so than with the “spiritual smartphone” of the Psalter in our hands (and our hearts). Equipping us for days of prosperity and days of adversity, times of sickness and health, the Psalms are an incredible gift from God for our spiritual walk. In the wisdom and comfort they provide, we can advance confidently into 2015 knowing that “the LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 148:10).

Happy New Year!

–MRK

URC Psalmody’s New Year’s Resolution

Psalm of the Month

URC Psalmody has a New Year’s resolution for 2015, and it’s a simple one: Get to know the new Psalter Hymnal.

The songbook under construction by the United Reformed Churches in North America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is potentially less than three years away from completion. But surprisingly few church members—even musically inclined ones—are aware of the details of this project, and even fewer are acquainted with the new Psalter Hymnal’s actual contents. While browsing through the sheet music of the already-approved Psalm Proposal (online at PsalterHymnal.org), I’ve often wondered: Shouldn’t we get a head start on all this new music?

As I pondered ways to become familiar with the new texts and tunes of the Psalm Proposal, the idea for a set of monthly bulletin inserts gradually took shape. Many churches already devote themselves to learning a particular psalm or hymn each month in worship or in song services; why not recommend several new but easy-to-learn selections from the proposal?

URC Psalmody’s Psalm of the Month series of bulletin inserts for 2015 is an attempt to do just that: to encourage churches and church members to begin exploring the wealth of new material in the URC/OPC Psalter Hymnal, both corporately and individually.

Interested? Here are a few questions you may be asking:

How do I download the bulletin inserts?

PDF files of all thirteen bulletin inserts (12 months + 1 introductory insert) will be posted here. As I write this, all but five inserts are complete.

How should the bulletin inserts be printed?

The inserts are designed to fill both sides of a half-sheet inserted in your church’s weekly bulletin. For efficient duplication, these documents should be printed double-sided with the flip on the short side. Alternatively, you can print both halves of the inserts single-sided and print the sheet music of the psalm on the reverse.

Where do I get the sheet music?

All of the Psalm Proposal’s sheet music is available online at PsalterHymnal.org. Follow the directions posted there to obtain access to the database, then find the PDF of the psalm selection matching the monthly bulletin insert. The filename for Psalm 92A, for example, is “Psalm_092A-Darwall.pdf.” Download, print, and enjoy! (Note the copyright-related printing restrictions described on PsalterHymnal.org’s home page.)

Are these inserts produced by the Psalter Hymnal Committees?

No, they’re not. As you read, keep in mind that the views and opinions I present are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Psalter Hymnal Committees, or, for that matter, the URCNA and OPC.

Is this series only for URC churches?

Not a bit. Although these inserts are written with the URCNA as their primary audience (and make frequent reference to the blue Psalter Hymnal our churches already use), I’d love to see them used in Orthodox Presbyterian congregations and other churches interested in the new songbook as well.

Also, while these articles are intended to be used as church-wide bulletin inserts, they can certainly be utilized individually as well. Their contents will be published monthly as blog posts here on URC Psalmody for that purpose.

Where can I find more information?

This introductory bulletin insert is intended to give you and your church’s members an overview of the project. I’d suggest distributing it with the first insert in the series, or a week in advance.

Visit the Psalm of the Month Series page for updates, downloads, and additional information.

In summary, I’m eager to start a new year with a survey of an excellent new psalter. May this project encourage congregations as they “sing to the Lord a new song” and “tell of his salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96)!

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

Christmas Psalms: Psalm 98

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

As often as it appears in cards, plaques, and Christmas carols, the little word “Noel” evades precise definition. The old English Christmas shout “Nowell” can be traced back to the French form “Noel,” and from there the etymological road splits. On one hand, “Noel” could be derived from the Latin natalis, meaning “born”—thus, “He is born!” The second possibility, however, and the one that intrigues me more, links “Noel” with the French word nouvelle, meaning “news.” Rather than the direct statement “He is born,” then, “Noel” takes on a broader meaning: “Good news!”

Fire Island Lighthouse

Fire Island Lighthouse

This year, “good news” has become a recurring theme in many of my experiences. From enjoying the robust psalm-singing of the Reformed Presbyterian Church I attend at college, to singing with The Genevans Choir first in Ohio and then in southeast Asia, to hosting Geneva’s small vocal ensemble New Song at my home church, to participating in a TASC (Teens Actively Serving Christ) trip on Long Island, to preparing organ and choir music for The Genevans’ Christmas concerts this fall, the year 2014 left me both with a deeper understanding of what that “good news” means and with a more vigorous joy to proclaim it.

The good news, of course, is that God has provided a way for sinners to be reconciled to himself, through the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of his Son Jesus Christ. But the ramifications of that statement—on either an individual or a global level—are hard to process for minds and hearts as thick as mine.

Heinz Chapel

Heinz Chapel

Just before the end of the spring semester, The Genevans sang for a wedding in the architecturally overwhelming Heinz Chapel in Pittsburgh. Three weeks later, we were visiting a chapel in rural Mindanao with one wall and a dirt floor. I got to sing psalms in locations as disparate as the summit of 13,435-foot Mount Kinabalu and the cavernous tower of a Long Island lighthouse. The choir’s Christmas concerts drew a full house at Beaver Falls’s magnificent First Presbyterian Church, but our audiences in the Philippines sometimes consisted only of a few villagers and a dog. Yet almost anywhere we visited, there were signs that the good news of the gospel had been there.

In places like Heinz Chapel, the gospel has become so commonplace—so un-extraordinary—that the colossal building may represent nothing but a shell of once-vibrant faith. In other places, the physical amenities may be meager, but the good news has brought true hope and real transformation, incorporating new “living stones” into the spiritual edifice of the Church universal (I Peter 2:5). For me, some of the most powerful evidence of the gospel’s work emerged from the fellowship I enjoyed with Christian brothers and sisters in the congregations we visited, whether stateside or around the globe. What a wonder it is to belong to “one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4)!

Psalm 98 expresses the joy of these “glad tidings” better than any human tongue can:

Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. . . .

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

–Psalm 98:1,3 (ESV)

Perhaps the psalmist penned these words with ardent longing for the day when God’s salvation would be revealed to the nations as never before, when his “steadfast love and faithfulness” to his people would be remembered and the earth’s ends would see his redeeming work. That would be good news indeed—but it would be long in coming.

The angels’ first words to the shepherds in Luke 2—“Fear not . . . I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people . . .”—marked the beginning of the best announcement this tired world could hope to see. Christ has come! He has come, as he promised through Isaiah,

to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

–Isaiah 61:1-3

In the last few weeks of the fall semester I put together the following video (with footage from several of the sites we visited this year and audio from Geneva’s campus chimes and the First Presbyterian Church pipe organ) in an attempt to connect as many of these themes as possible—“The First Noel,” the good news of Christ’s coming, and the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

[youtube http://youtu.be/5c2u1Q9d5rM]

May this season offer you the opportunity to see the Lord’s salvation, to rejoice in his righteousness, to know his steadfast love, and to “sing to the Lord a new song.” Truly he has done marvelous things.

–MRK

NEW Grotenhuis Music Collection Released!

Are you a Reformed church musician who struggles to find musical resources related to the blue Psalter Hymnal? For the 1912 Psalter, there are accompaniment tracks, choral arrangements, and even entire conferences produced by members of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And an entire section of the publishing house of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Crown and Covenant, is devoted to selling their own psalm-singing resources. But for us in the URCNA, besides the occasional MIDI track that reaches our computers through the internet grapevine, there isn’t much beyond the bare sheet music of the blue Psalter Hymnal.

Except for the work of the late Dale Grotenhuis.

Choir Settings by Dale Grotenhuis

Choir Settings by Dale Grotenhuis

Painfully aware on my own part of this great need for Psalter Hymnal resources, I discovered some of Grotenhuis’ choral settings fairly soon after beginning URC Psalmody. As I listened to his versatile and varied arrangements on Dordt College’s 6-CD set Be Thou Exalted, LORD, I fervently wished I could somehow get my hands on the sheet music. Since most of Grotenhuis’ music was never formally published, however, it seemed a fruitless task.

Just this week, however, a reader sent me a link to a new database in Dordt’s digital collections. After his death, Dale Grotenhuis’s family authorized Dordt to make his extensive collection of unpublished sheet music available on the internet . . . for free! Here’s what the database home page says:

The Grotenhuis Music Collection was deeded to Dordt College by the Grotenhuis Estate in 2013. The physical collection includes over 500 unpublished music scores composed or arranged by Dale over the course of his career and is housed in the Dordt College Archives. Choral and instrumental pieces make up the majority of the collection with the instrumental category being further subdivided into band, brass, and keyboard compositions and arrangements. Most of the scores are undated. The few dates specified range from 1973 to 2002. All scores were scanned in their original state to preserve the primary format of the works.

The Estate assigns a Creative Commons Attribution/Noncommercial/No Derivatives (CCC BY-NC-ND) license to all of the material in the Grotenhuis Music Collection. Individuals who wish to publish materials from the Grotenhuis Music Collection must secure permission from both the Estate and from Dordt College in its capacity as the owner of the physical property.

It would take days, if not weeks, to even scratch the surface of this exhaustive collection, but here’s a tiny cross-section of the wonderful resources it contains:

Whether you’re a pastor, an accompanist, or just a musically-minded member of a Reformed congregation, this collection of Grotenhuis’ works just might become your new standard resource for sheet music related to the blue Psalter Hymnal. I’m thinking especially of small churches which, in the absence of pianists or organists, often need congregational accompaniment from whatever instrumentalists happen to be on hand. With access to a library like this, finding a trumpet transposition or clarinet arrangement of a Psalter Hymnal tune becomes a manageable, maybe even easy, task. Reformed musicians owe the Grotenhuis family a huge thank-you for making such a valuable resource available to the church at large.

As more and more people become acquainted with Dale Grotenhuis’ collection, I’d love to see the development of a topical index or search function to make locating a particular piece or instrumental part more efficient. For now, though, this incredible library of music for Reformed churches is all there, ready to continue its service for God’s kingdom—just as its composer had always intended.

Visit the Grotenhuis Music Collection »

–MRK


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