Posts Tagged 'Psalms'

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

Virtual Organ Recital to Benefit Geneva College

It has been a music-filled week, which is always a blessing in a time of plague. On Saturday I spent several hours with an audio-visual team at the First Presbyterian Church of Beaver Falls, PA, recording a pipe organ recital for Geneva College.

As a Christ-centered and Scripture-centered institution of higher education, Geneva is well prepared to weather the pandemic on both a spirtitual and a practical level. Nevertheless, the college is facing a several-million-dollar budget gap due to the unexpected expenses that COVID-19 has generated, combined with losses in tuition, room, and board. The college has asked alumni and friends to raise $1 million towards bridging this gap. I don’t have a million dollars to give, but I do have ten fingers and two feet–so this concert represents an opportunity to inspire others to support an institution that has contributed so much to my own spiritual development and the lives of many thousands more.

The concert is entitled “Welcome the Morning Star,” with a nod to the star that hangs on Geneva’s Old Main each Christmas season. For this program, I chose pieces that focused on the theme of light appearing in darkness, including a wide variety of psalm, hymn, and carol settings both old and new. The spiritual centerpiece of the concert is Konstantin Zhigulin’s setting of Psalm 84, “My God and King,” which I have previuosly talked about here.

The recital will broadcast on URC Psalmody’s YouTube channel at 7 p.m. EST on Friday, December 18. The program is below:

Processional on Personent hodie – Michael R. Kearney, b. 1995

Chorale prelude on “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern,” BuxWV 223 – Dietrich Buxtehude, c. 1637–1707

Nouveau Livre de Noëls, op. 2 – Louis-Claude Daquin, 1694–1772
               10. Grand jeu et Duo

Cathedral Windows, op. 106 – Sigfrid Karg-Elert, 1877–1933
               3. Resonet in laudibus
               4. Adeste fideles

12 Pièces nouvelles pour orgue – Théodore Dubois, 1837–1924
               
8. Fiat lux                                                   

Chorale prelude on “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” BWV 645 – J. S. Bach, 1685–1750

Morgensonne (“Sunrise”), op. 7, no. 1 – Sigfrid Karg-Elert, 1877–1933

Liedbewerkingen – Gert van Hoef, b. 1994
               Nu zijt wellekome
               God rest ye merry, gentlemen/Carol of the bells 

Improvisation on Konstantin Zhigulin, “My God and King” (Psalm 84) – Michael Kearney, b. 1995

Sixth Organ Symphony, op. 42, no. 2 – Charles-Marie Widor, 1844–1937
               1. Allegro

I hope you can join me virtually on December 18 as an expression of support for this faithful Christian institution.

–MRK

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

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 »

Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land

fergusonA week ago, I heard an extremely unusual commencement address. Although I’ve only graduated twice, I’m fairly familiar with the genre of commencement speeches: usually a motivational talk that congratulates students on surviving four years of high school or college while spurring them on to pursue their dreams. Even in a Christian context, a typical graduation speech might focus on discovering God’s grand plan for your life and serving him with your utmost potential.

My graduation ceremony featured Dr. Sinclair Ferguson as guest speaker. As soon as I saw the title of Dr. Ferguson’s address, I realized this speech was going to be different. It was entitled, “How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?” Yes, the text Dr. Ferguson had chosen to unfold for us in the last minutes of our college career was from one of the most abject laments of the Bible, Psalm 137.

Although a warm and engaging speaker, Dr. Ferguson was not interested in the personal hopes and dreams of us college graduates. His main question was this: “Has your education prepared you to sing the Lord’s song, the song of your Lord Jesus Christ, in the land in which you are being called to serve him?” Pointing us to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as four “college graduates” who sang the Lord’s song in a strange land, Dr. Ferguson enjoined the graduating class of 2017 to follow their examples.

These young men were able to remain strong in the face of opposition because they knew God’s sovereignty, they knew God’s truth, and they knew God’s presence. Their faith in God allowed them to sing. Their faith was tested in the fires of persecution and affliction—and not merely metaphorical fires.

Dr. Ferguson also pointed us to the example of David, the author of the beloved 23rd Psalm. David was not a cherubic shepherd boy when he wrote this psalm. He could speak about the valley of the shadow of death because he had been through it himself, numerous times.

Two thoughts pressed themselves upon me as I heard Dr. Ferguson’s words. First, the Psalms were written in real life. The author of Psalm 137 was not trying to tune into his “bluesy” side any more than the author of Psalm 23 was inspired by a Thomas Kinkade painting. No, the contents of the Psalter were written by real people suffering through real trials, and determined to seek the face of God nonetheless. As such, the psalms are for us. We ought not to shy away from the full spectrum of emotions and situations in the Psalter. Days that call for Psalm 137 will come, and when they do, we must have the courage to take this psalm and others upon our lips.

The second thought is that Dr. Ferguson’s message resonates especially at a place like Geneva College, where the psalms are regularly sung. Geneva has taught me to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, not just by training me to be a truthful communicator in a world of deceit, but actually by teaching me to sing the Lord’s songs. To cite just one example, Psalm 117 is sung at the end of every chapel service at Geneva. When it was announced as the closing song at Saturday’s commencement ceremony, the graduates stood unbidden, recognizing the gravity and joy of the occasion. By teaching the psalms, Geneva has given to me and others a spiritual vocabulary that we can turn to when we encounter those trials and temptations. For that I am exceedingly grateful.

A memorable commencement address to conclude a memorable college career. I go forth rejoicing, with Dr. Ferguson’s charge still resounding in my soul: “Go and sing the Lord’s song in what is becoming an increasingly strange land, and trust his power and trust his truth and trust his presence, and he will be with you to the end of your life, and then by his grace for all eternity.”

–MRK

(The entire commencement ceremony, including Dr. Ferguson’s remarks, can be viewed here.)


URC Psalmody on YouTube

Geneva College Benefit Concert

With this feature, just enter your email address and you'll receive notifications of new posts on URC Psalmody by email!

Join 228 other followers

Categories