Posts Tagged 'Genevan Psalter'

Resource: The New Genevan Psalter

The New Genevan Psalter

Fans of the 450-year-old Genevan Psalter had good reason to get excited last year when the Canadian Reformed Churches released a new edition of their Book of Praise with updated settings of all 150 Genevan psalm tunes. For all of this songbook’s great features, however, many of its elements—such as the hymns, doctrinal standards, liturgical forms and prayers, church order, and subscription forms—are only useful in a Canadian Reformed context. Individuals and churches from other denominations or traditions would have little use for this extra material.

Just this week, however, I got word that the Book of Praise’s publishers have released a New Genevan Psalter containing all the updated Genevan psalm texts and tunes without CanRC-specific material! This psalter is intended for use by psalm-singing individuals or congregations from any tradition. For United Reformed congregations, it could serve as a solid Genevan supplement to the current Psalter Hymnal. As its website says, “A congregation that sings the Psalms is rooted in the church of all ages, and a congregation that sings the Psalms set to the Genevan tunes is embedded in the church of the Reformation.”

Rev. George van Popta explains more about the New Genevan Psalter’s purpose in its Preface:

In response to the ever-increasing interest in and appreciation for this precious legacy of John Calvin [the Genevan Psalter], it was thought good to publish a new English Psalter without the specifically Canadian Reformed elements that are included in the Book of Praise. With gratitude to our God we present the New Genevan Psalter to the English-speaking church. May our God be ‘enthroned on the praises of Israel’ (Psalm 22:3) through the use of this book. To him alone be the glory, now, and forever!

For more information, to look inside, or to order, you can visit the New Genevan Psalter’s website: http://newgenevanpsalter.wordpress.com/.

–MRK

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Featured Recording: Psalm 79 and Young Organists

Featured Recording

I’m always immensely encouraged to meet a fellow young musician who is learning, or desires to learn, how to play the organ.  When I mention my interest in the “king of instruments” to friends who aren’t familiar with Reformed worship, they usually respond, “Oh, really?  I thought that was a lost art.”  I have to admit that organists may have been a dying breed in the recent past, but from the many encouraging conversations I’ve had with other young people, it seems that organ-playing is once again on the rise.  And while I’m not about to argue that the pipe organ is the only instrument worthy of the worship of God (or that instruments are an essential part of worship at all, for that matter), I can only hope this renewed interest points to a renaissance of other elements of historic Reformed worship as well.

That’s why I was thrilled to discover the videos and website of Gert van Hoef, a virtuosic 18-year-old Dutch organist.  His bio page notes that he was introduced to the organ at the age of thirteen, but had no formal musical training until 2008.  To everyone’s surprise, he quickly began winning an incredible number of young organist competitions, and his YouTube videos went viral—well, at least as viral as recordings of Dutch psalm improvisations and classical organ music can get.

As far as I know, Gert is now in college and planning to attend conservatory after he graduates.  He serves (or served) as organist for the Reformed Church of Voorthuizen.  Since that is the Hervormde Kerk as opposed to the Gereformeerde Kerk, however, it may be Reformed in name only.

One of the most important characteristics of a good musician, which Gert clearly has, is the ability to put one’s whole heart into the music.  This aspect comes out especially well in his renditions of Dutch Psalter improvisations.  Today’s Featured Recording is his improvisation on Genevan/Dutch Psalm 79, based on W. H. Zwart.  Interestingly enough, this tune appeared in the red 1934 CRC Psalter Hymnal as “Thy Land, O God, the Heathen Have Invaded,”  but it was sadly omitted from the blue 1959/1976 edition.  I recorded my own piano improvisation on Psalm 79 including this gorgeous tune a few months ago, though of course Gert’s rendition is better in every way.

It ought to be mentioned that Psalm 79 is a particularly poignant lament calling for the restoration of God’s people to the Promised Land—analogous perhaps to the tribulation the New Testament church faces in this world.  In a powerful climax the psalmist cries:

Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!

–Psalm 79:8, 9 (ESV)

Then in confidence he declares, “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise” (v. 13).  The promise of restoration gives hope to God’s afflicted people, no matter how great the trials they face.

Now, here’s Gert van Hoef rendering Genevan Psalm 79 in the Dorpskerk in Voorthuizen.  (Watch for a pretty funny blooper around the 6:45 mark.)  For your added enjoyment, I’ve included the English lyrics of this psalm setting below the video.

Thy land, O Lord, the heathen have invaded;
Thy holy heritage they have degraded.
Jerusalem, the temple and its altars
Are ruthlessly defiled by the assaulters.
Thy land in ruin lies,
And cries for vengeance rise
To heaven for all this evil.
Our foes have given to beast
And vulture, for a feast,
The bodies of Thy people.

Recall no more the sins we have committed,
But may they all in pity be remitted.
O Lord, make haste; O may Thy mercy tender
Now strength and help unto Thy people render!
To us salvation show
In all our grief and woe,
O God, forsake us never!
Free from the tyrant’s chain,
Purge from all sin and stain,
For Thy Name’s sake deliver.

Incline Thine ear to all in bondage sighing;
Those doomed to death, on Thee alone relying,
Preserve, O God! Lift by Thy mighty power
The awful scourge of this relentless hour.
O Lord, our foes restrain,
Avenge Thy servants slain,
Thou Lord of all creation.
By those within Thy fold
Thy Name will be extolled,
Through every generation.

–MRK

(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Featured Recording: Meet the Korean-Genevan Psalter!

Featured Recording

When I think of the Genevan Psalter, I usually imagine its contents being sung in medieval French, or Dutch, or English.  I wasn’t expecting to find a set of YouTube recordings of Genevan psalms being sung in Korean.  Until now, I didn’t think the Korean language was even compatible with the structure of Western music!

Today’s Featured Recording comes from the Samyang Presbyterian Church in Seoul.  It’s a recording of the congregation singing Genevan Psalm 68, which corresponds to number 124 in our blue Psalter Hymnal.  Sadly, I don’t know much about the church, the hymnbook they’re singing from, or the uploader of the video.

Thankfully, knowing all the details isn’t necessary in order to appreciate the beauty of this recording.  Obviously the congregation is very familiar with the Genevan Psalter, because they sing this selection with confidence.  If you browse through the 128 other videos on this uploader’s channel, you’ll find psalm after psalm rendered in just the same way.  Some of the more recent uploads include the English translation of the lyrics for easier following along.

What can we conclude from the fact that a church in South Korea sings the timeless words of the psalms in their own language to a collection of tunes composed in 16th-century Switzerland?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  But if nothing else, at least this recording serves as a reminder that God’s church is, as the hymn puts it, “Elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth.”  I can’t help but think of the closing words of Psalm 68 as we sing them from the Psalter Hymnal:

Ye kings and kingdoms of the earth,
Extol Jehovah’s matchless worth
With psalms of adoration.
Praise Him whose glory rides on high,
Whose thunders roll through clouded sky
With mighty intonation.
Ascribe ye strength to God alone,
Whose worth in Israel is known,
For whom the heavens tremble.
O Lord, our strength, to Thee we bow,
For great and terrible art Thou
Out of Thy holy temple.

–MRK

(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Featured Recording: The Depths of Psalm 88

O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.

–Psalm 88:14, 15 (ESV)

Featured Recording

Let’s not kid ourselves: Psalm 88 is shocking.  It is a lament of laments.  Charles Spurgeon said of Psalm 88 that “this sad complaint reads very little like a song, nor can we conceive how it could be called by a name which denotes a song of praise or triumph; yet perhaps it was intentionally so called to show how faith ‘glories in tribulations also.’  Assuredly, if ever there was a song of sorrow and a Psalm of sadness, this is one.”

Lord willing we’ll consider the contents of Psalm 88 when we arrive at it in our progression through the Psalter.  Today, though, I’d like to ask a tough question: How do we sing Psalm 88?  How can a musical arrangement be crafted to adequately reflect the darkness and despair of this text?

The valuable vaults of the World-Wide Web give us a glimpse into historical attempts to set this psalm to music.  The Genevan Psalter of 1562 includes a sufficiently doleful tune in the Dorian mode, though I believe this recording is much too fast.  Of course, Psalm 88 was versified in a host of other historic Psalters, but recordings of the music used there are much more difficult to find.

What of our own Psalter Hymnal?  How does it treat Psalm 88?

About a year ago, a member of a United Reformed Church in Iowa and a friend of my co-author James Oord posted some thoughts on this psalm setting on her blog, Free Indeed.  Tierney lamented, and rightly so, that the version of Psalm 88 in the Psalter Hymnal is (or, at least, is often rendered as) “an atrocity.  How can you possibly sing words written from the depths of a soul so utterly desolate and torn apart, to a tune that belongs at a carnival—and really mean what you’re singing? It’s a musical lie, and borders on making a mockery of the text.”

Along with a few other readers, I commented on this post, and a thoughtful (and, I think, very profitable) discussion followed.  Both of us saw the same problems with this versification of Psalm 88—a weakly paraphrased text set to a jarringly jolly piece of music.  Tierney’s solution was to create a new and beautiful minor tune to be used to the words in the Psalter Hymnal; mine was to play around with varying harmonizations and stylistic approaches to try to redeem the original tune.  Along the way we shared thoughts about some of the notorious issues that plague any set of psalm paraphrases—scriptural accuracy, tune choices, and songbook loyalty, among others.  (If you’ve got a few extra minutes, I’d humbly encourage you to read the comments!)

That’s a rather roundabout way to introduce today’s Featured Recording here on URC Psalmody.  The very same day I commented on Tierney’s post, the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir uploaded a video to their YouTube channel with a new arrangement of Psalm 88.  They had kept the original tune, IRVING, and they had kept its original harmonies—but it was the most hauntingly appropriate rendition of Psalm 88 I’ve ever heard.  As I re-listen to it now, the power of this recording almost transcends description.

I’d encourage you to give some thought to Psalm 88 and how it ought to be sung.  Does this rendition convince you as fully as it convinced me?  Do you instead prefer Tierney’s alternate tune, or maybe my own rather sloppy arrangement?  Your wisdom, thoughts, and comments are always appreciated.

As we conclude this post, it might be helpful to call attention to Spurgeon’s further words on Psalm 88.  He points to a single but permeating “ray of comfortable light which shines throughout the psalm.”  Whatever the troubles of the psalmist may be, he still addresses his prayer to the God of his salvation.  “The writer has salvation, he is sure of that, and God is the sole author of it.  While a man can see God as his Saviour, it is not altogether midnight with him.  While the living God can be spoken of as the life of our salvation, our hope will not quite expire.”  Indeed, even in the valley of the shadow of death, we can rest assured that the Lord remains our Savior.  It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that the Christian can sing Psalm 88.

–MRK

(Click here for our last Featured Recording, posted three weeks ago)

Featured Recording: An Introduction to the CanRC

In Wednesday’s post on Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism, I pointed you to a video recording of the Genevan setting of Psalm 138 as sung by a Canadian Reformed Church in Langley, BC.  This song is nearly identical to Psalter Hymnal number 287, “With All My Heart Will I Record.”  For today’s Featured Recording, I’d like to call your attention back to this video and examine it in a bit more detail.

The organist is Frank Ezinga, who has a YouTube channel, a personal website, and a website on Reformed church music from the Canadian Reformed perspective.  First of all, I give anyone credit who can prepare their registrations and open their songbook while simultaneously playing a well-crafted introduction to a psalm.  After this rousing opening, the congregation begins to sing in unison.  Ezinga’s accompaniment throughout the psalm is rhythmically steady, harmonically interesting, and melodically supportive.  In the second stanza he uses a reed solo stop which, although it may sound strange at first, blends perfectly with the voices of the congregation.  The third and fourth verses contain a gradual building-up of sound, until he wraps up with a brilliant concluding cadence at the end of the versification.  If you’re unfamiliar with the worship style of our brothers and sisters in the Canadian Reformed Churches, this video serves as a perfect introduction.

All in all, I greatly admire Ezinga’s accompaniment style, and I’d encourage you to check out his other videos and his websites for more insights into the world of Reformed music.

–MRK

(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)


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