Posts Tagged 'Music'

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.

–MRK

Interview with Gert van Hoef

gertRecently I had the opportunity to interview 25-year-old Dutch organist Gert van Hoef for Christian Renewal. We covered a wide range of subjects, including the place of the Psalms in corporate worship, the history of the Genevan Psalter in the Netherlands, and advice for aspiring young organists.

I asked Gert what it takes to be a good church musician. His response is worth pondering:

Church organists should always realize that they do not only play for themselves. They are to enjoy themselves, and it is their own worship, but they are also playing for the congregation. The principle is that those with talents are supposed to use them to serve the body. So church musicians are responsible to do their very best to make beautiful music as servants of the church. That was something I had to realize. The music should not be too complex but should reflect the meaning of the text. When I first started, I tried to show people how great I was. This attitude in myself was not good. Fast and glorious passages are sometimes appropriate, but our job is to serve and lift people up and encourage them. Also, they should not play pieces that are too difficult and cause them to make many mistakes. When I’m in the congregation singing, I should not have to think about the organist. I should be able to trust the organist and sing without interruption.

Click here to read the full interview.

Resources for Remote Worship

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has created numerous challenges for churches in many countries where public gatherings are now temporarily forbidden. As church leaders wrestle through questions of live-streaming services, singing is a major question. To my knowledge, no free streaming platform can deliver the synchronization needed for a group of church members to sing digitally together.

So, at this point, many of us are settling for second-best options. One of these is simply for the pastor to lead the singing as part of the livestream, if he has a strong singing voice. Another option is to gather a small slice of the congregation in person to provide the music for the livestream, which other members can follow along with from their own homes. Still another option is to leave singing out of the livestream entirely and to encourage families to sing together in a separate time of household worship before or after the service.

There are plenty of online resources that can assist with some aspects of planning music during this time of upheaval and confusion. For the sake of time, I will only mention two right now; I will gather more resources as I have the opportunity.

  1. The publishers of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal have announced temporary permission for churches that already own the songbook to use any of its music that is under the public domain or copyrighted by the OPC and URCNA in livestreamed services until May 11, 2020. At this point I am not clear on whether this includes digitally reproducing the sheet music for these songs, or merely for streaming a recording of them.
  2. The website Hymnary.org, the most comprehensive index of hymns and hymnals available to my knowledge, includes a vast array of free resources including sheet music and sometimes audio recordings. Page scans of all public domain songs and OPC/URCNA copyrighted songs from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal can be viewed for free on this website. A more limited set of resources is also available for the 1959/1976 CRC Psalter Hymnal (blue).

Worship leaders may also find some of the archives of URC Psalmody useful during this time. In particular, our YouTube channel includes playlists with many recordings of the songs in the blue Psalter Hymnal. (Unfortunately, there is no such resource yet available for the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.) Many of these recordings were created by congregations and choirs and are thus easy to sing along with. Some of the recordings even have lyrics integrated into the video.

The West Sayville URC has asked me to provide a list of songs available online to suggest for family worship tomorrow, and I am including them here in case they are helpful to other churches as well. Depending on how the next days and weeks play out, I may continue to post suggestions for singable family worship music here for future Sundays.

(The numbers are coordinated with the Trinity Psalter Hymnal for those who have personal copies of the songbook.)

148b. Hallelujah, praise Jehovah
Lyrics and music: https://hymnary.org/hymn/TPH2018/148B
Recording with lyrics: https://youtu.be/g4_i-6QPjZ0

415. We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing
Lyrics and music: https://hymnary.org/hymn/TPH2018/page/678
Recording (lyrics for v. 1 only): https://youtu.be/l6gAE_ODosM

476. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
Lyrics and music: https://hymnary.org/hymn/TPH2018/page/745
Recording (no lyrics): https://youtu.be/_jonnV9j4-c

245. Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
Lyrics and music: https://hymnary.org/hymn/TPH2018/245
Recording (no lyrics): https://youtu.be/zuMIDDNK2b0

I am sure we all look forward to worshiping with one another in flesh and blood as soon as it is safe and feasible to do so. May God get the glory during this time of change and uncertainty.

–MRK

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.

–MRK

Buy Psalms for the King (C&C) »

Enter the giveaway contest »

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!

–MRK

(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.)


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