Posts Tagged 'Psalters'

On Psalm Marathons and Similar Endeavors

It’s an exciting time in the history of psalm-singing. In the six years since its release in 2009, the Reformed Presbyterian Church’s Book of Psalms for Worship has become one of the most trusted modern psalters and is gaining use in a wide variety of churches. The Reformed Churches in New Zealand are currently finishing their own carefully compiled psalter-hymnal, Sing to the Lord, which includes the best from a wide variety of psalm-singing traditions. As I mentioned last week, the Canadian Reformed Churches recently completed revisions of the Book of Praise and the English Genevan Psalter. And the United Reformed Churches and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church are hard at work completing our own new Psalter Hymnal.

With a new psalter comes a big learning curve, of course. Realizing this, many churches and individuals are exploring creative methods to become familiar with the contents of these new songbooks.

The Book of Psalms for WorshipThe Reformed Presbyterian Church prepared for the release of The Book of Psalms for Worship by publishing several “Psalter Supplements” containing provisional versions of texts and tunes, in addition to creating an extensive library of recordings, resources, and informational videos. Now, with the psalter in its fifth printing and available in a dazzling array of formats (even smartphone apps), RPCNA members have no excuse not to be well-acquainted with their new songbook.

The Canadian Reformed Churches ensured that each congregation had a chance to interact with the revised Book of Praise by releasing a provisional version to the churches in 2010. Revision committee chairman Rev. George van Popta comments, “In addition to the quality of the work, the near universal positive reception is also due to how involved the churches were in the process” (see “Book of Praise revision completed,” Christian Renewal, 2/4/2015, p. 16).

Another creative venue for learning the contents of the new psalter is an 8-session “Psalm Marathon” coordinated by CanRC organist Frank Ezinga and hosted at two Canadian Reformed churches on several Saturday evenings this spring. With accompaniment on trumpet, violin, piano, organ, and flute, these singing sessions attempt to familiarize participants with all 150 psalm settings from the revised Book of Praise. For more information, visit

Hearing about these unique opportunities for learning new psalm settings makes me long to see similar efforts being put forth in the URCNA and OPC. In particular, we need opportunities to learn these new songs not only individually, but corporately. For example, every night some of my Reformed college friends and I get together to sing two or three selections from the Psalm Proposal and give a rough evaluation of each as regards textual accuracy, singability, and tune choice. So far we’re up to Psalm 22, and while our approach isn’t that rigorous or organized, we’re already finding new favorites in the Proposal’s contents. These informal (or formal) opportunities are critical for a smooth transition to the new songbook in just a few years.

How are you currently learning about the new Psalter Hymnal? What ideas might you have for helping your church or a group of your friends begin to explore its contents? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Whether it’s a “psalm marathon” or just an informal get-together, I encourage you to actively engage now with the songs future generations will be singing.



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:


“Dutch Door” Psalters

A few months ago, I wrote about mini-psalters, the handy take-along size of many popular psalters.  Today, I want to take a few moments to share about another fun branch of psalter history, the “Dutch door” psalter.

The “Dutch door” psalter, also known as a split-leaf psalter, is so called because its pages are reminiscent of the Dutch doors common in so many fairy tale cottages – where the top and bottom halves of the door swing separately.  So too with these psalters.  The pages are split down the center so that you can turn the bottom and top halves of the page separately.

“Dutch Door” Psalters in action

In most “Dutch door” psalters, the tunes are printed on the top halves and the texts on the bottom.  Each text, on the bottom halves, indicates what meter it follows, either CM (Common Meter), LM (Long Meter), SM (Short Meter), or a series of numbers.  Each tune, on the top halves, also indicates which meter system it follows.  Usually, the tunes are arranged in such a way that similar meters are grouped together.  Otherwise, there are substantial indexes indicating which tunes follow which meters.  In other cases, like the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland’s The Psalms in Meter (1957) have suggested tunes listed along with the text.  Some “Dutch door” psalters, such as The Scottish Psalmody (1650), made sure that all the psalms were set to CM tunes, making all the tunes and psalm texts interchangeable (meaning one could, I suppose, sing all 150 psalms to one tune, if so desired).  If you’re still a bit rusty on how meters work in various psalters, Michael explained the process very well in part 2 of his “Tunes” series.

Perhaps this seems confusing.  Perhaps you’re wondering how or why this would ever be used in a worship service.  I’ve only attended one church where “Dutch door” psalters were used, and it was really an uncomplicated process.  The worship leader simply called out the psalm number followed by the tune number.  For instance, if using the aforementioned Irish Psalter, he might call out, “Psalm 108, sung to St. George, 103.”  The congregation would then find Psalm 108 in the bottom half, then turn to tune number 103 in the top half.

Psalm 108 in the Irish Psalter

“Dutch door” psalters are still used by many churches in a variety of denominations.  To most of us in the URCNA, “Dutch door” psalters are merely a historical curiosity.  To be honest, I wrote this post merely because I find these psalters interesting and thought our readers might, too.  I love the few “Dutch door” psalters that I own, they’re fun to use and help me feel connected to my psalm-singing brothers and sisters throughout history and around the world.  But upon further thought, there are a few advantages to the “Dutch door” psalter that are worth some meditation:

  • In many “Dutch door” psalters, there is only one text entry per biblical psalm.  Provided it’s an accurate and complete versification, could there not be some pedagogical benefit to this?  That is, when we sing Psalm 108, we always sing the same versification, helping us to memorize it more efficiently.  I know the Trinity Psalter (1994) shares this philosophy.
  • In addition, this feature (one text selection per biblical psalm) encourages congregations to sing psalms in their entirety, rather than just selections.
  • The split level allows you to sing the same psalm to multiple different tunes.  This could be a downside (causing confusion), but it could also help unpack more meaning.  Different tunes can help emphasize different points.  Last week, my church sang “I will Sing of My Redeemer” (usually sung to the rollicking, revivalistic tune found in the blue Psalter Hymnal number 439) to the more reverent and meditative HYFRYDOL.  For me, personally, the tune change made the words “come home” in a way that they haven’t in a while, because I had grown so “used” to the tune used in 439.

Just food for thought.  In addition, I’d be interested to know, have any of you ever used “Dutch door” psalters at home or in worship?  What did you think?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.



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