Posts Tagged 'Tunes'



July’s Psalm of the Month: 54

The seventh installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

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See how God has been my helper,
How my Lord sustains my soul:
To my foes He pays back evil—
In Your truth destroy them all!

Does it seem strange to sing Psalm 54? This song of lament and imprecation, calling down God’s judgment on the psalmist’s enemies, may feel out of place on Christian lips. However, as this month’s study aims to show, Psalm 54 is both a song of comfort and a battle cry for faithful believers in a faithless world.

In the Psalm Proposal, the minor key and rolling triplets of the Welsh tune EBENEZER (TON-Y-BOTEL) capture the turmoil of this psalm’s spiritual battlefield as well as the psalmist’s passionate prayer. The text of this setting, drawn from the Book of Psalms for Singing, is a literal and straightforward versification. Sing Psalm 54 not vengefully but confidently, recognizing that a righteous God sits on the throne.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 54B in The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 54 in the Trinity Psalter

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 360, Revised Trinity Hymnal 283, 535

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 54

  • A cry for help (vv. 1,2)
  • The treachery of strangers (v. 3)
  • The trustworthiness of God (vv. 4,5)
  • A response of thanksgiving (vv. 6,7)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 54

The occasion for this psalm was David’s betrayal to Saul by the Ziphites, foreigners to whom he had fled for protection. Christ, too, “endured from sinners such hostility against himself” (Hebrews 12:3). In fact, Jesus quoted a line from a similar psalm, Psalm 41, in reference to his betrayal by Judas (see John 13:18). Psalm 54 alludes not only to Jesus’ innocent punishment at the hands of “ruthless men” (v. 3) but also to the colossal battle between God and the devil. Like the psalmist, we can give thanks that God’s victory is certain.

But there is encouragement in Psalm 54 for us, 21st-century followers of Christ, as well. Although suffering is an expected part of the Christian walk, we confidently await the return of Jesus when we will be “delivered from every trouble” (v. 7). After warning believers about their “adversary the devil,” the apostle Peter concludes his first letter with a comforting doxology that reinforces the psalmist’s closing words: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:10,11).

Applying Psalm 54

  • Why does David pray to be saved by God’s name (v. 1)? What attributes does God’s name express (cf. Heidelberg Catechism LD 47)?
  • What enemies do you face (v. 7, cf. Catechism LD 52)? How do they seek to take your life (v. 3)?
  • How can God’s punishment be a sign of his faithfulness (v. 5)?
  • Is it wrong to pray for vengeance on one’s enemies?

David did not direct his prayers randomly into the air, but offered them in the exercise of a living faith.…It is as if he points his finger directly to that God who stood at his side to defend him. Is this not an amazing illustration of the power with which faith can surmount all obstacles, and glance, in a moment, from the depths of despair to the very throne of God? He was a fugitive amongst the dens of the earth…he was pressed down to the very mouth of the grave…he was trembling in the momentary expectation of being destroyed; and how can he possibly triumph in the certain hope that Divine help will soon be extended to him?…Even in the complete absence of all human defenders, David asserts that the help of God would abundantly compensate for all.

—paraphrased from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 54:4

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

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June’s Psalm of the Month: 122A

The sixth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

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 I was filled with joy and gladness
When I heard them say to me:
“Let us make our pilgrim journey,
Then the Lord’s house we will see.”

Welshman John Hughes’ 1905 tune CWM RHONDDA is most often associated with the hymn “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” but it makes a great fit for the text of Psalm 122. Not only does it convey the psalm’s jubilant enthusiasm, it also evokes climbing hilly terrain to reach a long-sought destination—in this case, Mount Zion, the city of God.

Speaking of hilly terrain, this setting of Psalm 122 provides numerous crags and corners that make singing it challenging but rewarding. Look out for slight rhythmic differences between the vocal parts, the repetition of one phrase (“We were standing! We were standing!”), and an alto/bass echo before the final line. Hold the fermata in the third-to-last measure as long as feels natural before continuing triumphantly on to the end of the stanza. As you sing Psalm 122A, let your heart fill with gladness at the opportunity to go up to God’s house with his people and worship him there.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: Psalm 122B in The Book of Psalms for Singing, Psalm 122A in The Book of Psalms for Worship, Psalm 122 in the Trinity Psalter

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 407, Revised Trinity Hymnal 598

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 122

  • The pilgrims’ joy in Jerusalem (vv. 1,2)
  • The pilgrims’ esteem of Jerusalem (vv. 3-5)
  • The pilgrims’ concern for Jerusalem (vv. 6-8)

—outline by Matthew Henry

Seeing Christ in Psalm 122

Psalm 122 refers to the temple as “the house of the Lord” (v. 1)—the dwelling-place of God among his people. But what the temple foreshadowed, Christ incarnated. He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” Amidst the rampant strife of a fallen world, the psalmist’s prayer “Peace be within you!” (v. 8) offers a foretaste of the angels’ joyful announcement when Jesus was born: “Peace on earth!” (Luke 2:14). Praise God for the peace that Jesus came to bring!

When Jesus drove the merchants and money-changers out of the temple, John notes that the disciples connected his actions with the fulfillment of another passage from the psalms, Psalm 69:9: “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (John 2:17). With this zeal Christ came to ransom “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Through his work of redemption we are adopted as “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), becoming his “brothers and companions” (Psalm 122:8). Now “the house of the Lord” takes on an entirely new meaning: Peter writes that we “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). Because Christ sought the good of his people (Psalm 122:9) we have the privilege of seeking the good of his Church.

Applying Psalm 122

  • Are you glad to be called to worship in the house of the Lord (v. 1)?
  • What hinders the church from being “bound firmly together” (v. 3)? How should we seek unity with the rest of the visible church?
  • What are some practical ways you can seek the good of the people of God (v. 9)?

First we love [the church] and then we labor for it, as in this passage; we see its good, and then seek its good. If we can do nothing else we can intercede for it. Our covenant relation to Jehovah as our God binds us to pray for his people,—they are ‘the house of the Lord our God.’ If we honor our God we desire the prosperity of the church which he has chosen for his indwelling.

—Charles Spurgeon

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

May’s Psalm of the Month: 113A

The fifth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

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O’er all nations God alone,
Higher than the heavens His throne;
Who is like the Lord Most High,
Gazing down on earth and sky?

By and large, this setting of Psalm 113 will be new to URC and OPC members alike; the tune MONKLAND appears only in the Trinity Psalter and the gray Psalter Hymnal, not the blue Psalter Hymnal, the revised Trinity Hymnal, or even the Book of Psalms for Worship. However, this regal tune, combined with the eloquent praise of Psalm 113, could easily become a new favorite.

This tune is beautiful any way you sing it, but its majestic aura is best brought out in four-part harmony. Look for places where the rise and fall of the musical lines complement the poetry—for example, “From the dust He lifts the poor” in stz. 4 aligns perfectly with the glorious rise in the melody line, echoed by the bass part under “And from ashes those forlorn.” Especially bring out the psalm’s interjections to “Praise the Lord!” or its Hebrew equivalent, “Hallelujah!” As you sing, let Psalm 113A express your own experience of God’s greatness and his particular goodness to you.

Suggested stanzas: All

Source: New versification by the OPC and URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committees; see also Psalm 113 in the Trinity Psalter

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 113

  • Who should praise him? (vv. 1-3)
  • Who is like him? (vv. 4-6)
  • Whom does he bless? (vv. 7-9)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 113

The psalmist’s exclamation “Who is like the Lord our God?” (v. 5) is due not only to the knowledge that he is “seated on high,” but particularly to the fact that he stoops to look on the heavens and the earth from that immeasurable height (v. 6). The Lord’s condescension (literally, “coming down”—not haughtily but compassionately) is revealed throughout Scripture, and above all in the advent of Jesus Christ.

In her song of praise, Mary rejoiced in this merciful condescension in words reminiscent of Psalm 113 (Luke 1:46-55). The apostle Paul powerfully summarized it in these familiar words from Philippians 2: Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 6-11). What cause for praise!

Applying Psalm 113

  • Who are the Lord’s servants (v. 1, cf. Ps. 116:16)?
  • How are you poor and needy before God (v. 7)?
  • How might v. 9 apply in contexts besides physical barrenness?

The Psalm is a circle, ending where it began, praising the Lord from its first syllable to its last. May our life-psalm partake of the same character, and never know a break or a conclusion. In an endless circle let us bless the Lord, whose mercies never cease. Let us praise him in youth, and all along our years of strength; and when we bow in the ripeness of abundant age, let us still praise the Lord, who doth not cast off his old servants. Let us not only praise God ourselves, but exhort others to do it; and if we meet with any of the needy who have been enriched, and with the barren who have been made fruitful, let us join with them in extolling the name of him whose mercy endureth forever. Having been ourselves lifted from spiritual beggary and barrenness, let us never forget our former estate or the grace which has visited us, but world without end let us praise the Lord. Hallelujah.

—Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 113:9

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

April’s Psalm of the Month: 71

The fourth installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

Spring at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church

Upon You I have leaned from birth,
You’ve guarded all my days;
You took me from my mother’s womb.
I’ll give you constant praise.

Although the twenty-four verses of Psalm 71 form a relatively long text to set to music, the themes of this prayer for deliverance are so interwoven that splitting it into multiple settings would be detrimental. This versification strikes a good balance, offering a compact yet thorough treatment of the psalm. The Psalter Hymnal Committees paired their own new versification of Psalm 71 with Frederick C. Maker’s 1881 tune ST. CHRISTOPHER, most often associated with the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.”

To avoid losing focus amidst the eight stanzas of this setting, try to identify and bring out patterns, themes, and contrasts in the text as you sing. Offset the plaintive cries of stanzas 2-4 with the confident praise of stz. 5. Give special attention to the words of the enemies at the beginning of stanza 4. Place your breaths at special points in the text for emphasis: for example, at the close of the eighth stanza, consider “Who sought to do me hurt,” (breathe) “O Lord, I’ll magnify Your name.” Reflect on your own experience of God’s faithfulness in both your youth and your old age (stz. 6), and sing Psalm 71 not just as a prayer for help but also as a song of triumph.

Suggested stanzas:

  • 4/5: stanzas 1,2
  • 4/12: stanzas 3-5
  • 4/19: stanzas 6-8
  • 4/26: all

Source: New versification by the OPC and URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committees

Tune only: Blue Psalter Hymnal 353, Revised Trinity Hymnal 251

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 71

  • Present affliction (vv. 1-13) vs. anticipated praise (vv. 14-24)
  • Accusations of God’s distance (v. 11) vs. assurance of God’s nearness (vv. 1-3)
  • The cruel hand of enemies (v. 4) vs. the loving hand of God (vv. 3, 20, 21, 24)
  • The self-confident speech of the wicked (v. 10) vs. the trustful words of the godly one (vv. 15, 16, 18, 22-24)
  • Leaning on God in both youth (vv. 5, 6, 17) and old age (vv. 9, 18)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 71

As he hung on the cross, the words of Psalm 71:10,11 (“For my enemies speak concerning me . . .”) were true in all their desolate horror for Jesus. “There was none to deliver him,” because he had willingly delivered himself over to death in order to redeem us. In the words of one of our Lord’s Supper formularies, “He was once forsaken by God that we might forever be accepted by Him.” Because he has so mercifully saved us, we can rest assured that God will never “cast us off in the time of old age” (v. 9).

Applying Psalm 71

  • Psalm 71 has been called “The Prayer of the Aged Believer” (cf. vv. 9, 18). How does it apply to believers in other stages of life as well?
  • How can suffering in your own life be a “portent” (an evil sign) to others (v. 7)? How can filling your mouth with God’s praise (v. 8) change their perspective?
  • Why does the psalmist ask to be supported in his old age (v. 18)? Do you possess the same motivation?
  • Why does God allow you to “see many troubles and calamities” (v. 20)?

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)

March’s Psalm of the Month: 42B

The third installment in URC Psalmody’s Introduction to the URC/OPC Psalm Proposal

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Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why are you so disturbed in me?
Trust God, for I will praise Him yet;
My Savior and my God is He.

If you happen to compare Psalms 42B and 42C in the Psalm Proposal, you may notice that their texts and tunes are interchangeable—you can easily sing one set of words to the other melody. That’s because these two versifications share the same meter, or poetic structure. But while selection C (taken straight out of the blue Psalter Hymnal) only treats vv. 1-5 of Psalm 42, selection B is a new and complete versification from Sing Psalms. The text is nicely complemented with the American folk tune O WALY WALY.

Singing Psalm 42B requires special attention not to let the extremely long melody notes sag. For a unique effect consider singing the tune (in unison) as a round, with one half of the congregation beginning a measure ahead of the other half. This musical technique is particularly appropriate for the question-and-answer motifs of Psalm 42.

Suggested stanzas:

  • 3/1: stanzas 1,2, 5
  • 3/8: stanzas 3-5
  • 3/15: stanzas 6-8
  • 3/22: stanzas 8-11
  • 3/29: all

Source: Psalm 42 in Sing Psalms; see also Psalm 42C in The Book of Psalms for Worship

Digging Deeper

Themes for Studying Psalm 42

  • “When shall I come and appear before God?” (vv. 1,2)
  • “Where is your God?” (vv. 3,4)
  • “Why are you cast down?” (v. 5)
  • “Why have you forgotten me?” (vv. 6-9)
  • “Where is your God?” (v. 10)
  • “Why are you cast down?” (v. 11)

Seeing Christ in Psalm 42

“I thirst,” said Jesus as he hung on the cross (John 19:28). The sour wine his crucifiers gave him calls to mind Psalm 69:21, but surely Jesus felt more than physical thirst in his anguish. In words reminiscent of Psalm 42:3, the watching crowd jeered, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now” (Matt. 27:43). As he experienced utter separation from the Lord’s favor, Jesus must have thirsted for God spiritually “as a deer pants for flowing streams” (Psalm 42:1). Truly all of God’s breakers and waves went over him (v. 7), but God also raised him up for our justification.

Through Christ we have access to living water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14), and we have this promise: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17). Hope in God, your Rock and Savior!

Applying Psalm 42

  • What water-related images does the psalmist use to portray his affliction (e.g. vv. 1, 7)? Which ones are most vivid to you?
  • Does frequent absence from God’s house of worship grieve you (v. 4)?
  • Do the breakers and waves of v. 7 indicate God’s absence or his presence?
  • In times of affliction, how would you answer the challenge, “Where is your God” (v. 10)?

Note well that the main hope and chief desire of [the psalmist] rest in the smile of God. His face is what he seeks and hopes to see, and this will recover his low spirits, this will put to scorn his laughing enemies, this will restore to him all the joys of those holy and happy days around which memory lingers. This is grand cheer. This verse, like the singing of Paul and Silas, looses chains and shakes prison walls.

—Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 42:5

Michael Kearney
West Sayville URC
Long Island, New York

(A PDF version of this post, formatted as a bulletin insert, is available here.)


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