Posts Tagged 'Featured Recording'

Improvisation on Psalm 84

Psalm 84 is a soundtrack of the soul, and Konstantin Zhigulin’s tune for it may be one of the most beautiful contributions to church music in the 21st century.

Russian composer Konstantin Zhigulin leads Psalom, an internationally acclaimed a cappella group singing original compositions on the Psalms and other Scripture passages.

The high point of Zhigulin’s setting, entitled “My God and King” in English, is its refrain: “For the Lord is a sun and a shield, my hope and my song in the night,” a paraphrase of Psalm 84:11. Since its composition in 2006, “My God and King” (first published in Russian) has been translated into English, German, French, Spanish, and Estonian and is used in worship by congregations around the world.

I first encountered Zhigulin’s music at Geneva College, where the college’s a cappella ensembles performed a variety of his psalm settings and paraphrases. Since then, Psalom has made multiple visits to western Pennsylvania, and I hope once travel restrictions are lifted they will return once again.

Here is my organ improvisation on “My God and King,” with thanks to Zhigulin for his significant contributions to the psalmody of the church.


Announcing “Psalms for the King” Giveaway

2014 Genevans CD Insert COVER frontOne of the most common questions I receive on this blog is from readers looking for good recordings of the psalms. The list of psalm-singing recordings available on the web is already quite large, including some enjoyable (though outdated) recordings of the blue Psalter Hymnal and entire websites devoted to Scottish metrical psalmody. Today I’m happy to announce a wonderful addition to that list with the online release of one of my favorite CD’s, Psalms for the King.

Psalms for the King was recorded by my college choir, The Genevans, during the season that included a three-week international tour in the Philippines and Malaysia (you can read about that tour here). A freshman at the time, I got to sing all of these pieces as well as accompany a solo psalm setting on the organ (Track 14, “The Lord is my Shepherd”).

With the exception of the organ piece, Psalms for the King is entirely a cappella. That’s not for principled reasons as much as for practical ones: when you’re visiting concert locations that require piling into jeepneys and hiking through jungles, you can’t always guarantee there will be a piano or organ at your destination. But if you thought a cappella singing represents a single musical style, think again. Psalms for the King bridges the worlds of congregational psalmody and sacred classical music, with everything from Bruckner’s spine-tingling Os justi (Psalm 37:30-31) to a jazzy version of Psalm 118 arranged for men’s chorus by our director.

A lot of college choirs choose repertoire that shows off their technical skills. And The Genevans certainly have the chops for difficult music, including Mendelssohn’s motet on Psalm 2 and a choral fugue on Psalm 150 by J.S. Bach. But when the choir sings simple tunes, they do so just as beautifully. Despite my appreciation for intricate choral counterpoint, some of my favorite tracks are the traditional CRIMOND setting of Psalm 23 and a setting of Psalm 16 by Dr. Bob Copeland.

A drawback of this recording is that a few selections are sung in different languages, so a casual listener might not immediately benefit from those particular psalm texts without consulting the liner notes. However, the second half of the disc more than compensates for this shortcoming. Overall Psalms for the King remains one of my favorite psalm albums to listen to—not just because of my emotional attachment to the choir, but because it captures some of the best of psalm-singing from a wide variety of times and places. Below is a sample track from the album, a new setting of Psalm 130 by Geneva College professor Dr. Byron Curtis.

Psalms for the King was released in early 2015, but the album wasn’t available online until very recently. Crown & Covenant, the publishing house of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, has just begun selling the CD’s on their website for $15.

Even better, I’ve obtained permission to hold a contest for a free copy of Psalms for the King on CD (the first of its kind on URC Psalmody!). Simply submit your information here, and the sixth person (in the US or Canada) to contact me will receive a free copy. I’ll even cover the postage!

Even if you don’t win the contest, consider getting yourself a copy of Psalms for the King. It will bring joy to your ears and your soul.


Buy Psalms for the King (C&C) »

Enter the giveaway contest »

Trinity Sings!

Even when blog posts have been sparse, URC Psalmody’s YouTube channel has been growing slowly but steadily over the past year.  In the next few weeks, however, it looks as though it will grow much more substantially.

Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church

Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church, 2003

In February of 2013 a member of Adoration URC in Vineland, ON, contacted me about an album of congregational singing Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church (URCNA) in nearby St. Catharines had produced in 2003.  Having recently digitized Trinity’s 1989 album Songs of Praise, I was eager to obtain more recordings of this church’s energetic singing.

This blog reader managed to get a copy of this two-CD album from relatives and kindly mailed it to me.  In spite of both discs being heavily scratched, I was able to salvage all of the tracks with minimal audio problems.  Trinity Sings! includes a whopping forty-three congregational songs from the blue Psalter Hymnal, with Len Van Geest playing the organ and coordinating the recording.  This was a rare find!

The next step was to obtain permission from Trinity ORC to post these recordings online, a query I didn’t get around to sending until January of this year.  Trinity’s council quickly assented to this request.  With the second semester of my first year of college already underway, however, I simply didn’t have the time needed to produce and upload all the YouTube videos involved in this undertaking.

Featured RecordingThankfully, with this July comes the chance to breathe a little bit and bring this project to completion.  I’d like to upload at least the best selections from Trinity Sings! over the next few weeks, particularly the Psalter Hymnal songs for which URC Psalmody doesn’t already have recordings.  Below is a sample video which I’ve already uploaded.


In other news, I’ve begun a new YouTube playlist which I hope to fill with psalm settings that appear in the recently-approved URCNA/OPC Psalm Proposal (to avoid the possibility of copyright infringement, only those settings which already appear in a published songbook).  As our congregations and musicians look forward to the release of the new Psalter Hymnal as early as 2017, we would do well to familiarize ourselves with as many of the “new” texts and tunes as possible.  The playlist is available here.

Thanks again for your patience, and for keeping up with URC Psalmody!


Featured Recording: Luzon and Psalm 121

Featured Recording

Unfortunately, our post on today’s Featured Recording here on URC Psalmody finds itself cut short for lack of time.  Not to worry, however; the Psalter Hymnal Handbook available online at provides a fascinating background story to today’s selection.  “I Lift Up Mine Eyes to the Mountains,” a beautiful and unique versification of Psalm 121, was created specifically for the blue Psalter Hymnal (number 261).  Here’s the Psalter Hymnal Handbook’s explanation of this psalm setting and the choice of its tune name, LUZON:

Dick L. Van Halsema composed LUZON in 1954.  The tune was published with the Zylstra text in the 1959 Psalter Hymnal on whose committee both writer and composer served.  Zylstra and Van Halsema also served together as United States servicemen stationed on the Philippine island of Luzon at the end of World War II (hence the name of this tune).  At that time both men experienced the truth of Psalm 121 in their lives.

The tune and harmonization make use of repeated tones and pedal points to portray the stability and dependability of God’s care; the final phrase of the melody originally repeated one note throughout.  The E-flat chord in the third line provides a delightful touch of color.  LUZON is suitable for either unison or harmony singing.  Maintain one pulse per measure.

Below is a recording of the congregation of Grace Reformed Church (URCNA) in Dunnville, Ontario, singing Psalter Hymnal number 261.  How assuring it is to be protected by the Lord who “nods not, nor slumbers, nor sleeps”!


(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Featured Recording: Psalm 122 and the Two Kingdoms

Featured Recording

The “two-kingdoms debate” here in the United Reformed Churches in North America often reminds me of a Fourth of July fireworks show—a steady smattering of firecrackers punctuated by the occasional attention-grabbing “ka-boom!” of the larger explosions.  And this week’s events in the blogosphere have caused some fairly deafening crashes.

If you are yet unfamiliar with the debate, I’m not going to attempt to summarize it here.  It is too controversial a topic with too many complex facets; I’ve done a bit of reading on the subject, but I’m still not sure I thoroughly understand it myself.  Suffice it to say that a Christian’s view of the church and its relationship to the world has much to do with this discussion, and its implications are far-reaching for individuals and for the URCNA as a whole.

What grieves me immeasurably is not the debate itself, which I think is a necessary one, but the prevailing tone of the interactions.  Too often the loudest and brightest fireworks on either side seem to be colored not with humility and brotherly love, but with a certain measure of arrogance.  Sometimes the actual issues are blurred beyond recognition and superseded with a disturbing desire to “one-up” the other side with satirical comebacks and ad hominem attacks.

“This is just the way we work out our disagreements,” someone might say.  “We still respect each other, and neither side takes the insults seriously.”  This may be true—and I humbly admire men who are willing to fight for the truth of Scripture at all costs.  But through the battle, what impression are we giving of our federation to the watching world?  I fear for those whose first impression of the URCNA is derived from these virtual skirmishes.  Worse, I fear for our federation itself when theologians, ministers, and members are more concerned about promoting their own agendas than fighting together for the unity of the churches.

I say this as someone who has little right to plunge into the debate or to judge its participants—but I cannot help that it saddens me deeply.  In stark contrast to this situation, I thought of the delight of the psalmist in Psalm 122 as he considered the glories of Mount Zion (the Church):

I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!

–Psalm 122:1,2 (ESV)

David describes a place to which all the “tribes of the LORD” go up in beautiful harmony “to give thanks to the name of the LORD.”  Can this kind of unity be reached here on earth?  Admittedly, no; the tribes of Israel fought among themselves all too often, and we cannot expect perfect union in the church either on this side of eternity.  But it’s the last four verses of Psalm 122 which, for me anyway, carry the most powerful punch:

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.

–vv. 6-9

Why should we strive for peace in the church?  Not only for the sake of our brothers and companions, but also by the very fact that it is the house of the Lord our God.  This is no human institution, or it would have perished in discord long ago.  For that reason Psalm 122 is both a call to rejoice, and a call to act.  We can rejoice in the fact that the Lord builds his Church, despite all the attacks it endures from without and within.  But we are also called to strive with all our might for peace, so that we may always be able to say, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”

How appropriate it is that Psalm 122 was sung as the very first selection at the prayer service that opened Synod 2012 of the URCNA.  There two hundred delegates from every corner of the continent, and even from across the globe, rose to sing these words from Psalter Hymnal number 264, today’s Featured Recording:

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.

The “two-kingdoms debate” is a weighty one, and I hope I’ve not exceeded my bounds in sharing these thoughts and concerns.  Let it merely be said that I have a deep love and respect for our small group of churches and the ministers that serve them, for their unwavering mission to follow Christ and preach his gospel.  I hope and pray that goal will never change.

If nothing else, I’d simply like to pose a call for reflection: Are we praying and striving for “the peace of Jerusalem” in our little federation?  Or has the fireworks show become the main attraction?

For all my brethren and companions’ sakes,
My prayer shall be, Let peace in thee abide;
Since God the Lord in thee His dwelling makes,
To Thee my love shall never be denied.


(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

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