Posts Tagged 'Audio'

Solace (Review)

My friends at Crown & Covenant are aware of one of every niche blogger’s Achilles’ heels: free review copies. Over the past two years they’ve sent me several books and CDs to feature on URC Psalmody, and I’m always more than happy to do so. The only problem is that they’re the only publishing company that currently offers me this incentive, which means my reviews are not as well-balanced as they could be! Nonetheless, since I may be waiting a long time for Reformation Heritage or P&R to add their contributions, I’ll happily continue to review C&C resources.

Solace: Selections from the Book of Psalms for WorshipOver the past several years Crown & Covenant has published a series of albums with simple recordings of psalms from The Book of Psalms for Worship. Currently twelve such albums exist (if my count is correct), and more are expected to appear in the coming months. The most recent is Solace, a collection of twenty psalm settings that focus on the Lord as a source of protection and strength in times of trouble. Utilizing multi-track recording technology, Solace was produced by three members of a very musical Reformed Presbyterian family in California who recorded over their own voices to create the auditory illusion of a small choir.

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know this family a little bit and can attest to their love for psalm-singing, as well as their skill in doing it. Recording twenty psalm settings at professional quality for commercial distribution is no easy task! And overall, this is a recording worthy of the long heritage of psalm-singing that Reformed and Presbyterian churches have enjoyed.

The primary use I would have in mind for this album would be a reference recording. That is, I would go to Solace mostly to find out how an unfamiliar tune goes or to explore possible tempi, arrangements, etc. Because most of the arrangements are very simple, Solace would be especially helpful for those seeking familiarity with The Book of Psalms for Worship or a cappella psalm-singing in general. But the recording quality is generally good enough that the album could make for enjoyable listening music as well, particularly in the area of personal devotions. Again, the simple singing style makes it almost impossible not to meditate on the words as they are sung.

Some aspects of Solace are not as aesthetically pleasing as they could be. The multi-track recording can sound too manipulated at times, especially the female vocals. And, to return to one of my typical complaints about many kinds of psalm-singing, I would love to hear a little more variety in the pacing and dynamics of some of the psalms. In general, I always prefer real-time recordings like those of the Syracuse RP Church, also in this series, which are excellent.

Still, Solace and this series in general set a high standard for psalm-singing albums of all kinds. The closest comparison I can make to a series from the CRC/URC tradition would be Dordt College’s Be Thou Exalted, LORD! series from the 1980’s. As we look ahead to the publication of a new Psalter Hymnal, the OPC and URC’s talented musicians and singers ought to give careful thought to producing a similar set of recordings. Singing the psalms does not need to be beautiful in order to be worshipful, but it certainly deserves our best effort!


(Per FCC rules, I need to note that I was sent a complimentary review copy of this book, and I was not required to write a positive review.)

Twenty Twelve in “Film”

Most of the action on URC Psalmody occurs right here on our WordPress-hosted blog.  But did you know that URC Psalmody also has a twin YouTube channel that’s regularly being updated?

As I wandered the world-wide web looking for resources related to the Psalter Hymnal, one thing that particularly grieved me was the sore lack of real recordings of its songs.  You can find a computer-generated MIDI file for any psalm or hymn tune fairly easily with websites like and, but it’s a much more difficult quest to obtain an MP3 recording of an actual congregation singing.  I was quite excited to discover the online music recording library of Cornerstone United Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI, yet even this resource was somewhat lacking in convenience and accessibility.

A YouTube channel seemed to be an ideal solution to this problem.  Thus, on May 21 I uploaded our first video, in which I played the Gloria Patri (Psalter Hymnal #491) on the pipe organ at Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC.  After that came a simple organ recording of #181 (“Jehovah Sits Enthroned”) and a piano improvisation on #74 (“As the Hart, About to Falter”).

Then came Synod 2012.  As I prepared for this meeting, I inquired of the synodical planning committee whether it would be possible to professionally record the singing of the 200+ delegates, which I knew would be otherworldly.  They answered in the affirmative, and by the end of synod I had all of the resulting audio files ready for editing on my computer.

One result of this project was the CD recording My Heart Was Glad to Hear the Welcome Sound, which was produced and distributed by Pompton Plains Reformed Bible Church, the convening church of Synod 2012.  As it turned out, however, URC Psalmody’s YouTube channel proved to be the perfect place to share this incredible music with the whole world at no additional cost.  Thus, our next 30 (yes, thirty) videos contained the various songs from synod, combined with a slideshow of pictures taken during the week.  Of these, the recordings of “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” (#399), “For All the Saints” (#442), and “Jesus Saves” (#377) have become the most often-viewed videos on the entire channel.

Later in the summer I uploaded more videos to YouTube—some musical selections from West Sayville’s Teens All Serving Christ (TASC) project, an improvisation on Psalter Hymnal #168 (“Lord, the God of My Salvation”), and a few recordings of the congregational singing of West Sayville Reformed Bible Church.  When considering songs for uploading I try to pick some of the Psalter Hymnal’s lest familiar selections, since these are always the hardest to locate online.

One fruit of my October trip out to Community URC and Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Indiana came in the form of two new videos: the recording of my Sunday School class, “Psalms for a New Generation,” and a video interview with Jim concerning Chapter 8 of Sing a New Song.  These are much longer entries than single pieces of music (about 35-40 minutes each), but they constitute an exciting and important part of the channel!

When I got back from Indiana, there was a package awaiting me from my good friend and loyal blog reader Reita Julien.  Inside was a cassette tape from Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church in St. Catharines, ON.  Mrs. Julien had obtained permission for me to digitize this sparkling 1989 recording and post it online.  The result was the 17-track album Songs of Praise, which is now available on YouTube in its entirety.

Most recently I’ve created ten playlists that arrange our videos, as well as videos from other channels, by numerical order in the Psalter Hymnal: #1-50, #51-100, #101-150, #151-200, #201-250, #251-300, #301-350, #351-400, #401-450, and #451-493.  And I’ve also continued to upload a variety of other recordings of Psalter Hymnal psalms and hymns.  All in all, just like the rest of the blog, I am confident that URC Psalmody’s YouTube channel will continue to expand and grow in the year 2013!

Below is our very latest upload: the West Sayville Reformed Bible Church choir singing Psalter Hymnal #198, “Thou, O Lord, Art God Alone.”  This arrangement was created for New Year’s Day 2012, and it seems to merit a special mention here as we look forward to yet another new year.  Enjoy!


The Psalter Hymnal Library Gets Bigger

You may not have noticed jackhammers, hard hats, or yellow tape, but URC Psalmody has been undergoing one of its regular construction projects.  Now that the dust has cleared, I’d like to introduce you today to the result.

One of the key objectives of URC Psalmody’s recently-opened Psalter Hymnal Resource Library is to collect as many audio recordings of the Psalter Hymnal as possible into an easily-accessible database.  The main way we accomplish this is through the Library Tables, which contain links to audio and/or video recordings for each selection in the songbook.

This seems to be proving an extremely convenient system for looking up a particular tune, but it has its drawbacks as well.  For audiophiles, the sound quality is less than optimal.   Understandably, some find YouTube’s interface unbearably annoying.  And others might just want to put on an LP, cassette, or CD, and listen to psalms the old-fashioned way.

Hence our new addition.

I’ve just put the finishing touches on the Psalter Hymnal Albums page (accessible under the “Resource Library” tab above), which contains descriptions and links to entire albums of Psalter Hymnal songs.  Yes, they do exist—and they’re far from expensive.  In fact, some of them are free!  So far, there are only four entries in this list, but I am confident that this number will grow as time goes on.  If you know of any additional collections of Psalter Hymnal music, won’t you please let me know?

There’s not much else to say; we just hope you’ll enjoy listening to these marvelous collections of the great psalms and hymns of the faith!

Visit the Psalter Hymnal Albums page



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