Posts Tagged 'Genevan Psalter'

Psalm 25: The Paths of the Lord

This month marks nine years (!) since my first attempts as an over-eager teenager to spark some discussions about the Psalms and church music on this blog. The Lord has ordained a series of events that have shaped my life into something much different than I could have imagined nine years ago. And that’s true on a global scale as well; could you have imagined nine years ago that we would be where we are today, politically and socially?

Certainly we are living at some kind of a crossroads in the history of the West, although it is not yet clear exactly what that crossroads may be. Crossroads can be places of great anxiety. In the past existential crises of my little life, I have often turned to the words of Psalm 25 for comfort. I’ve even written about Psalm 25 before on this site. Recently, Psalm 25 popped back into my head, this time through a particularly tranquil setting of the Genevan tune arranged by Dutch organist Willem Hendrik Zwart. Earlier this week I recorded this fantasy on a beautiful new pipe organ in Sayville, not far from the West Sayville URC.

Psalm 25 is a song about the paths of the Lord. Mercifully, it promises that he “instructs sinners in the way” (v. 8 ESV). Past failures and mistakes cannot separate the children of God from loving counsel and admonition in the way of Christ. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness” (v. 10). Although we look at the world and the church and see great calamities and distress, we also look to a covenant-keeping God who will never change, and because he will never change, we will not be consumed. So the psalm concludes with a prayer of faith: “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles” (v. 22).

The Trinity Psalter Hymnal includes a Genevan setting of Psalm 25 in its Selection A, “LORD, to You My Soul Is Lifted.” An earlier translation can be found in the blue Psalter Hymnal, number 43. As you listen, reflect on the words of Psalm 25, either from one of these psalters or from the Scriptures, and allow the comfort and wise counsel of the Lord to point the way forward for you into 2021.

–MRK

Propitius: Fantasie over Psalm 42

Here is a treat from the Dutch psalm-singing tradition to brighten the bleakness of a fall marked by crisis and uncertainty. John Propitius’s organ fantasy on the Genevan tune of Psalm 42 offers a wonderful treatment of a classic chorale tune known throughout the Western church. For many years this music was almost impossible to find in North America; it was not until this year that I was actually able to purchase a copy online. Recently I had the privilege of recording this piece on the 1962 Rudolf von Beckerath tracker organ at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh.

The text of the psalm, versified by Dewey Westra in 1931, offers comfort and hope in trying times:

But the Lord will send salvation,
And by day His love provide;
He shall be mine exultation,
And my song at eventide.
On His praise e’en in the night
I will ponder with delight,
And in prayer, transcending distance,
Seek the God of my existence.

O my soul, why art thou grieving;
Why disquieted in me?
Hope in God, thy faith retrieving;
He will still thy refuge be.
I shall yet through all my days
Give to Him my thankful praise;
God, who will from shame deliver,
Is my God, my Rock, forever.

A happy Thanksgiving to our American readers, and may God bless us as we hope in him.

–MRK

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

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)


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