Apr 18, 2014

The Cithara Sanctorum


Here is more information about The Cithara Sanctorum, which recorded the performance of Psalm 22 posted earlier:

Mission Poland - Cithara Sanctorum from Miwaza Jemimah on Vimeo.

Psalm 22


This performance of Genevan Psalm 22 in Polish was posted just ahead of today's Good Friday observance.


Here in Polish is the information posted by The Cithara Sanctorum:

Wykonanie Psalmu 22 według Psałterza Poznańskiego.
Agata Polaszek & Mate.O.

Agata Polaszek: śpiew, gitara klasyczna, lira korbowa, psalterium
Mate.O: śpiew

Tekst: Tomasz Kruczek - Psałterz Poznański, 2013
Melodia: Psałterz Genewski, wydanie z roku 1562
Aranżacja: Agata Polaszek
Nagranie: Mate.O
Mix: Mirek Stępień
Foto: Mate.O

The google translator has given us the following:

Performance of Psalm 22 from the Psalter Poznanski.
Agata Polaszek & Mate.O.

Agata Polaszek: vocals, guitar, hurdy-gurdy, psaltery
Mate.O: singing

Text: Thomas Kruczek - Psalter Poznanski, 2013
Melody: Geneva Psalter, edition of 1562
Arrangement: Agata Polaszek
Recording: Mate.O
Mix Mirek Stepien
Photo: Mate.O

The Cithara Sanctorum's website is posted here.

Mar 31, 2014

The Niagara Psalter


I have finally come up with a title for my second psalter project: the Niagara Psalter. I chose it because we live atop the Niagara escarpment, which cuts through Hamilton and the entire Niagara peninsula.

The origins of this project extend back to the 1980s when I began to set a few of the biblical Psalms to verse. Psalm 137 may have been the first, although a very loose paraphrase of Psalm 25 either preceded or came shortly thereafter. In 1985 I came into contact with the tunes of the Genevan Psalter and was utterly captivated by this 16th-century psalter. For the next nearly thirty years I undertook to come up with fresh English-language texts to which these tunes could be sung. Shortly before the turn of the century, I began arranging these tunes to accompany the new texts, the results of which are posted at my Genevan Psalter website.

In late summer of 2013 I began a new metrical psalter project prompted primarily by a bout with depression and secondarily by a desire to enter the annual psalm contest sponsored by Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This quickly took off and, over the following months, I managed to produce more than forty metrical psalms set to fresh tunes. For all their beauty and sturdy durability, the Genevan Psalms were originally written for the French language, and the drawbacks quickly become evident in trying to fit the tunes to English texts. In 2012 I attempted a revision of my Psalm 29 text from some years earlier, trying mightily to capture the seven occurrences of qol Adonai, the “voice of the LORD,” in English, which had not appeared consistently in my earlier versification of the text. Later that year I undertook a fresh versification using a different metre entirely. The expression, “the voice of the LORD,” suggests a more dactylic metrical structure, which I used for the tune I came up with for my new text.

These then are the principles undergirding this new project, which I anticipate will lead to a book about my own personal pilgrimage through the biblical Psalms:

1. Rather than the tunes dictating the texts, this project has the texts determining the tunes. These versifications have generally started with one of the major English translations of the Bible, such as the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version or the English Standard Version. Reading a Psalm in one or more of these has usually suggested to me a metrical structure and a length for each line.

2. Unlike most hymnic songs or metrical psalms, not all of the stanzas here are of equal length, reflecting the grouping of thoughts in the original texts. A metrical psalm that generally has, say, four lines per stanza may occasionally require a stanza of five or six lines, in which case I have simply repeated the last one or two musical lines to accommodate the longer stanza. Partial stanzas are often found in the Genevan psalters, but not in those standing in the English and Scottish traditions.

3. Unlike the English and Scottish psalters, which make disproportionate, if not exclusive, use of common metre (CM) or double common metre (CMD), this psalter makes use of a variety of metres while not neglecting common and long metres. This makes for a certain similarity to the Genevan Psalter. Unlike the latter, however, I have made an effort to avoid odd-numbered lines in individual stanzas (e.g., five or seven lines per stanza), which tend to mask the parallelism in the original Hebrew texts. The metrical structures of my tunes are also somewhat more symmetrical than many in the Genevan corpus.

4. Some of the versified texts are rhymed, while others are not, if rendering them as such would seem to do violence to the translated prose texts.

5. The tunes in this new psalter, like those of the Genevan Psalter, make use of the traditional ecclesiastical modes. I have made an effort to choose a mode for the tune that in some fashion reflects the emotional feel of the text. Psalms 22 and 88, for example, have tunes in the phrygian mode, while many more tunes are in the dorian, hypodorian, mixolydian or hypomixolydian modes, which accommodate more thematic and emotional diversity.

6. As best as I am able, I have tried to compose tunes that will be singable by ordinary people but that also have some interesting twists in tonality. This means that the tunes do not keep strictly to a particular mode but may shift, for example, between mixolydian and ionian modes within the same melody.

7. Unlike the Genevan tunes, my tunes generally employ time signatures and bar lines. A slight majority of tunes use triple metre, i.e., 3/4 or 6/8 time, with 4/4 time coming next. A very few tunes alternate between time signatures. Once again, the English texts have usually influenced my choice of time signature.

8. The tunes for these texts contain no melismata in the melody line, that is, more than one note assigned to a single syllable, to facilitate greater ease of singing. Two of my texts, namely those for Psalms 51 and 137, were previously published in a hymnal back in 1989. I have now come up with fresh tunes for both, because the previous tunes contained numerous melismata, which I have sought to avoid. In this too my collection has something in common with the Genevan corpus, which uses very few melismata.

9. The names I have thus far chosen for the tunes are taken from areas I have lived, especially the Hamilton, Ontario, and DuPage County, Illinois, regions, although some represent a theme in the psalm itself.

This is, of course, an ongoing project which could follow one of a number of possible paths over the next few years. At this point, as mentioned above, I plan to write a book about my personal pilgrimage through the Psalms, but I may find a way to publish separately a collection of my sung psalmody as well.

I have now posted nine Psalms in this series on my website, including Psalms 8, 23, 29, 51, 95, 98, 130, 137 and 150. Clicking on the title of each psalm will bring up an mp3 file of the music. Scores are posted for Psalms 23 and 29. Thus far there are 45 sung psalms in this collection, of which I have now posted a representative sample.

Mar 30, 2014

Psalm 140


For the first time in not quite a year I have made another addition to my online collection of Genevan Psalms. This latest effort is Psalm 140, one of the so-called imprecatory Psalms that calls down God's wrath on the wicked. The imprecatory Psalms are sometimes an embarrassment to Christians, who may find themselves uncomfortable with references to God's anger and judgement. After all, does not Jesus command us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies? Do these commands not supplant the harsher logic of the old covenant? In fact, however, Psalm 140 and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount are not in conflict with each other, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out:

The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge into his own hands. He calls for the wrath of God alone (cf. Romans 12:19). Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge. Otherwise, the vengeance would not be seriously commanded from God.

Furthermore, in no way can we truly access the mercy of God if we do not first recognize that God is a God of justice who rightly judges sin. Only when we bring ourselves to fear God's righteousness can we freely accept his forgiving grace in our own lives. If we dare to rush too quickly into God's mercy, bypassing his justice, we are left with a permissive god of our own making, not the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Grace then becomes "cheap grace," as Bonhoeffer famously labelled it.

The melody to this Psalm is in the Hypoionian mode, or what we nowadays would call a major key. The score is posted here. The Decalogue is also set to this tune in the 1562 edition of the Genevan Psalter. The text is my 83rd Genevan versification, and it is unrhymed.

Incidentally, I might point out here that the 11-month gap between my versification and arrangement of Psalms 66 and 140 has been due to two factors:

First, I have been preoccupied recently with preparations for the publication of my most recent book, We Answer to Another. which was released just over two weeks ago.

Second, since September of last year I have been working on a second psalter project, with psalm versifications set to original melodies of my own composition. Although I have thus far posted only two of these on my website, Psalms 23 and 29, I have actually written forty-five fresh metrical psalms to be sung to a slightly fewer number of tunes. This too is an ongoing project for which I have not yet come up with a satisfactory title.* I plan to post a few more of these at some point in the near future, along with a description of the principles undergirding this project.

* My tongue-in-cheek working title for this growing collection is Psalms of David (Koyzis).

Mar 19, 2014

Book published: We Answer to Another


My new book is finally out. We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God is now available from Pickwick Publications. It is also available from amazon.com, although it is listed as temporarily out of stock, undoubtedly because they have not yet received copies of the book. Thus far it is not listed on amazon.ca, but I will let Canadian readers know when it appears there. In the meantime, your best bet would be to phone the publisher at 541-344-1528 or email them at orders[at]wipfandstock[dot]com.

Here is the description of the book from the back cover:

The quest to escape authority has been a persistent feature of the modern world, animating liberals and Marxists, Westerners and non-Westerners alike. Yet what if it turns out that authority is intrinsic to humanity? What if authority is characteristic of everything we are and do as those created in God's image, even when we claim to be free of it? What if kings and commoners, teachers and students, employers and employees all possess authority?

This book argues that authority cannot be identified with mere power, is not to be played off against freedom, and is not a mere social construction. Rather it is resident in an office given us by God himself at creation. This central office is in turn dispersed into a variety of offices relevant to our different life activities in a wide array of communal settings. Far from being a conservative bromide, the call to respect authority is foundational to respect for humanity itself.

Here are endorsements:

"In this timely and highly valuable book, Koyzis exposes the problems and points the way to solid, balanced answers. The subtitle of We Answer to Another sums it up: 'Authority, Office, and the Image of God.' Humans have been created in the image of God and called to serve the Creator—the One to whom we are ultimately accountable. To exercise a responsibility is to hold an office of real authority as servant-stewards of one another. We can thus participate in holding one another accountable to the responsibilities of those offices. Sound old-fashioned? It's the most contemporary word of wisdom we and our neighbors throughout the world need to hear today!"
—James W. Skillen, President Emeritus, Center for Public Justice

"Liberal societies, regarding themselves as premised on the generative moral autonomy of the individual, have a constitutive problem with authority—freedom needs no justification, only authority. In this highly illuminating, wide-ranging, and exceptionally clear book, David Koyzis shows how this view not only destabilizes authority but actually diminishes our humanity. Authority is not autonomy but 'responsible agency,' exercised individually and corporately in many diverse human settings—'offices'—that arise from our being created in God's image. Recovering authority as 'answering to another' makes us more, not less, human."
—Jonathan Chaplin, Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge

Update: The book is now available on amazon.ca.

Mar 4, 2014

Selected Psalms or all 150?


Two of the smaller Reformed denominations are collaborating on producing a psalter hymnal: the United Reformed Churches (URC), which originated in a split from the Christian Reformed Church two decades ago, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), which broke in 1936 with the former Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, now part of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Because both are highly confessional denominations, it is not unusual that they would work together on this project.

However, I am somewhat surprised to read this from the Rev. Donald M. Poundstone, a retired OPC minister: Do We Really Need a Psalter-Hymnal? Defending the OPC's Trinity Hymnal (I myself grew up with the first 1961 edition), he writes:

Trinity Hymnal contains a marvelous, albeit imperfect, collection of hymns and psalms. . . . What precious, enduring truth revealed in the Old Testament is missing from this catalog and thus absent from our current hymnal? . . .

One member of the Psalter-Hymnal Composition Committee wrote of his conviction that God nowhere directs his people—either in the Old or the New Testament—to sing all the biblical psalms in worship. This view has been the overwhelming consensus within the OPC since her founding, and I concur in it. But a few years ago, without concerted or church-wide discussion, the General Assembly suddenly decided to abandon this consensus. This is what I mean by speaking of the Psalter-Hymnal project as a radical one. A founding member of our church recently called it “revolutionary”!

Rather than embracing the “total psalmody” view of a Psalter-Hymnal, I’m convinced we ought to continue our venerable practice of using carefully selected metrical psalms, psalm versions, and paraphrases for sung praise and prayer in our corporate worship, along with scripturally faithful hymns.

Why? Briefly—and maybe too bluntly—not all the psalms as originally written are suitable for corporate Christian praise and prayer. . . .

The Old Testament points us to Christ. But the Psalms, and the rest of the Old Testament, were written before the incarnation of the uncreated Son of God, prior to his earthly life and ministry of humble obedience and love, and before his death on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, his glorious resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church. Our Lord Jesus, both in his teaching and in his way of life, revealed the fullness of God’s will for us.

The Rev. Peter J. Wallace, another OPC minister, quite adequately responds to Poundstone here: Why Should We Sing All 150 Psalms? Here's Wallace:

It is true that the Psalms are the songbook of an obsolete covenant—in the same sense that the Ten Commandments are the law of an obsolete covenant—and the whole Old Testament itself is an obsolete covenant! And yet, Paul writes that “all Scripture [the whole obsolete testament] is breathed-out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Furthermore, there is not a single sentiment in the Psalms that is not echoed in the New Testament as well. . . .

Why should we sing all 150 psalms? Because it is right and proper to sing God’s word back to him. This is why our congregation sings versions of Deuteronomy 6, Habakkuk 3, Jonah 2, Joel 2, Zephaniah 3, Zechariah 9, Micah 7, and the songs of Daniel, Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, Hannah, Deborah, and Moses (Ex. 15). Too often we assume that the songs of the church are “prayers,” but in fact, the songs of the church may also be where the church takes up the Word of God on our lips and sings it back to him. After all, many psalms are not “prayers,” but recitations of the mighty deeds of God. Singing is not just the “prayers of the people,” but also the admonition of the Word of God!

I would add two historical reasons to the biblical ones adduced by Wallace.

First, there is evidence that the early church followed the synagogue in singing through the biblical Psalms on a regular basis, although the practice would come eventually to be limited to the monasteries. The Rule of St. Benedict prescribes the singing of all 150 Psalms each week for the members of the monastic community: "Let him take care, however, above all that each week the entire Psalter of one hundred fifty psalms be recited and be always begun anew at the Night Office on Sunday." St. John Chrysostom similarly enjoins the singing of the Psalms:

If we keep vigil in church, David [the author of the psalms] comes first, last and central. If early in the morning we want songs and hymns, first, last and central is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of those who have fallen asleep, or if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last and central. O amazing wonder! Many who have made little progress in literature know the Psalter by heart. Nor is it only in cities and churches that David is famous; in the village market, in the desert, and in uninhabitable land, he excites the praise of God. In monasteries, among those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, last and central. In the convents of virgins, where are the communities of those who imitate Mary; in the deserts where there are men crucified to the world, who live their life in heaven with God, David is first, last and central. All other men at night are overcome by sleep. David alone is active, and gathering the servants of God into seraphic bands, he turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.

Both Sts. John Chrysostom and Benedict are obviously heirs of the new covenant, yet they continued the historic pattern of singing through the entire psalter on a regular basis and urged others to do so as well.

Second, during the 16th century the Reformers in Geneva, Strasbourg, Scotland and England undertook to render all 150 Psalms in singable form. By 1562 Christians in continental Europe and England had complete psalters in the Genevan and the Sternhold & Hopkins collections respectively. Not only is there no indication that Calvin, Bucer and others were content with limited Psalter selections in their liturgies; they expended a great deal of effort in producing a complete sung psalter — one that would be translated into German, Hungarian, Czech and other languages before long. When Sternhold & Hopkins was supplanted by Tate & Brady's New Version Psalter at the end of the 17th century, it was replaced, not by selected favourites, but by a complete metrical psalter containing, yes, all 150! No one would have thought to question this. From the outset, moreover, the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer divided the entire Psalter so that it could be sung at morning and evening prayer over a 30-day period.

Anyone arguing for "our venerable practice of using carefully selected metrical psalms, psalm versions, and paraphrases for sung praise and prayer in our corporate worship" does so against the weight of considerable historical evidence to the contrary.

Feb 18, 2014

Psalm 116


Our friend Ernst Stolz continues his steady recording pilgrimage through the Psalms. Last week he posted this exquisite performance of an exquisite melody:

Dec 20, 2013

‘To you belong all the nations’


Although the biblical Psalms are a product of the old covenant, for centuries the Christian Church has sought and found Jesus Christ in its historic song book. A number of Psalms have been designated messianic in character, including Psalms 2, 22, 30, 69, 72, 110 and 118. This is due either to their explicit reference to the LORD’s Anointed (Messiah) or to their anticipation of an event related to Jesus’ life, suffering or death.

Psalm 82 is not always placed in this category, although it does anticipate God’s judgement over the nations of earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In the Revised Standard Version, the Psalm begins, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.” The footnote to this verse in the New Oxford Annotated Bible tells the reader: “Making use of a conception, common to the ancient Near East, that the world is ruled by a council of gods, the poet (presumably a priest or temple prophet) sees, in a vision, the God of Israel standing up in the midst of the council and pronouncing judgment upon all other members.”

Such an interpretation owes much to an evolutionary worldview which treats religion as merely an artifact subject, like all other products of human culture, to growth and development. Within this worldview, the ancient Israelites’ primitive polytheism developed under various influences into henotheism (in which YHWH is chief among the gods) and finally into monotheism (no God but YHWH) around the time of the Babylonian exile. By contrast, the biblical narrative itself portrays the Israelites repeatedly abandoning fidelity to the one true God and worshipping false gods for which they were punished throughout their history.

There is another interpretation of Psalm 82 less beholden to this evolutionary worldview. The translators of the New International Version place “gods” in inverted commas, as if to indicate the improper assumption of divine status by these beings. But who are these beings? I believe a good case can be made for their identity as earthly rulers who have come to esteem themselves as gods.

The key to this can be found in verses 2-4: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” All of these imperatives are ordinary tasks undertaken in the course of political rule. The setting is not a mythological council of gods, but the one true God calling those to whom he has given political authority to do justice as they discharge the weighty responsibilities of office.

A decade and a half ago, I set Psalm 82 to verse to be sung to the proper Genevan melody. My own versification draws on the interpretation set forth above:

Judging among divine pretenders,
in council God his verdict renders:
“How long,” says he, “shall wickedness
be favoured over righteousness?
Give justice to the poor and needy,
rescue the helpless from the greedy.
Treat widows as is right and fair,
defend all orphans in your care.

“Blindly you grope about and stumble,
while earth's foundations start to crumble.
Gods you may think yourselves to be,
yet you shall taste mortality.
Like earthly kings whose days are numbered,
death's claim on you will not be cumbered.”
Rise up, O God, and judge the earth,
to you the nations owe their birth.

During Advent and Christmas we do well to pray Psalm 82 acknowledging that its ultimate fulfilment is in the person of Jesus Christ, who, in the words of Isaiah 9:7, will sit upon the throne of David and establish his kingdom of righteousness and justice for ever.

David T. Koyzis teaches politics at Redeemer University College. His next book, We Answer to Another: Authority, Office and the Image of God, is forthcoming from Pickwick Publications.

Dec 4, 2013

Review: Old Paths, New Feet


Last evening I was privileged to talk by phone with Chris Reno, who, along with Jordan Brownlee and others, is part of the group Brother Down. Chris teaches English at a christian secondary school and is a member of Trinity Covenant Church in Aptos, California. This congregation is part of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. According to Reno, the group's name was taken from Genesis 43:7:

They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”
A decade ago the group produced another album called To the Black Land.

This most recent album is called Old Paths, New Feet, a reference to a new generation rediscovering ancient liturgical resources. The texts are from Cantus Christi, a psalter and hymnal widely used within the CREC.

In response to my question as to the style of their music, Reno said he is hard-pressed to come up with a single description, but admits the influence of Ghoostly Psalms, Celtic music and Mumford and Sons. The project was spearheaded by Douglas Wilson as part of a Psalm-Off contest two years ago.

Having listened to the album, I am most favourably impressed with what I've heard. The quality of the recordings is most professional, and the instrumentation is very good indeed. Reno spoke highly of Brownlee's musical gifts, especially his ability to pick up new instruments such as the banjo on short notice. Perhaps Celtic folk rock would characterize the group's unique style. The album is produced by Canon Press's Bultitude Records and is available for download from amazon.com. As I mentioned earlier, eight of the psalms are Genevan in origin (Psalm 100 is set to the tune for Psalm 134, a match that goes back to the 1650 Scottish Psalter), one is from Thomas Tallis and the other by Johann Graumann and Hans Kugelmann.

I strongly recommend this wonderful blending of 16th-century tunes and 21st-century musical styles, which comes in time for the Christmas gift-giving season.

Dec 2, 2013

Nov 25, 2013

A Wesleyan Psalter


Although the singing of the Psalms is nowadays associated with those churches standing in the Reformed tradition, the current revival of the liturgical use of the biblical Psalter is affecting even those standing in the Wesleyan and Holiness traditions. Evidence can be found for this in the Seedbed Psalter. From the front page of the website:

All of Scripture is given to us for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” which, of course, includes the Book of Psalms. We can certainly study the psalms, learn from them, be corrected by them, and be trained by them for righteousness, just like the rest of the Scriptures. But the Psalms are unique – they are the hymnbook of the people of God, and they are meant to be sung. Join us on this exciting journey as we learn to sing the Word!

Not surprisingly perhaps, the Seedbed Psalter borrows from the 1650 Scottish Psalter and Reformed Presbyterian (Crown and Covenant) resources. Among the fine items to be found on this website is the following quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.” Amen!

Nov 18, 2013

Psalm 104


Our friend Ernst Stolz has now passed the one-hundred mark in his journey through the Psalms. Here is his lovely rendition of Psalm 104, posted just today:

Nov 1, 2013

Brother Down sings the psalms


In recent years there have been a number of efforts to reinterpret the Genevan Psalms, including that of the Dutch group, The Psalm Project. Just over two years ago, I wrote of a group called Brother Down, which has finally released its new album to coincide with yesterday's observance of Reformation Day. The album, titled Old Paths, New Feet, is available from the usual sources, including amazon, which permits listeners to sample the individual tracks.

I plan to review the album here and on my Genevan Psalter discography page, but I will give a few initial impressions now based on what I've seen and heard thus far. To begin with, one observer has characterized these renditions as "pub music style." Perhaps. Second, although most of the tunes are Genevan, two of them, namely, those for Psalms 63 and 103 are not. Psalm 63 is set to Thomas Tallis' haunting THIRD MODE MELODY, which formed the basis of Ralph Vaughan Williams' classic 1910 composition, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Third, I find it somewhat curious that the performers opted for texts in Jacobean English, which does not exactly fit their style of music.

But, as I said, these are preliminary thoughts that I hope to flesh out after I've heard the album in its entirety.

Oct 10, 2013

The Next Psalter: a sample


Last week I wrote of my intention to author a book on the Psalms, complete with fresh, non-Genevan versifications and melodies. Although for the most part I will not be posting these new ones here, I have decided to include a sample of what I am provisionally calling The Next Psalter. This is the universally beloved Psalm 23, for which I wrote a common-metre versification four years ago. I had originally set it to the tune, DUNFERMLINE from the 1650 Scottish Psalter. Now I have come up with a new tune, GATEVIEW, with a quite different feel. A pdf copy of the score can be found here.

Oct 7, 2013

Wright on the Psalms


Few authors can boast the prolific output of N. T. "Tom" Wright, and, among those who can, fewer yet are capable of bridging the gap between the scholarly and the popular. But Wright moves easily between the two genres, and The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential is definitely aimed at a lay readership. Although Wright is a New Testament scholar, he wrote this book out of his lifelong experience of praying through the Psalms on a regular basis. The immediate occasion for this writing was his participation at a conference at Calvin College a year ago this past January.

Among Reformed theologians, the Dutch figures, such as Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and (on this side of the pond) Geerhardus Vos are especially well-known for their redemptive-historical approach to the Bible, which reads the Bible not simply as a disparate collection of ancient religious texts but as a unified story of God's creation, followed by man's fall into sin, redemption in Jesus Christ and ultimate consummation at his second advent. Nevertheless, this way of reading the Bible is by no means limited to those with Netherlandic roots, and Wright is a worthy example of a similar approach among British scholars. Those familiar with Wright's Surprised by Hope, will recognize here as well his typical eschatological emphasis on the new creation to be inaugurated by Christ on his return. Salvation is not simply a matter of saving disembodied Platonic souls, but extends to the entire created order, which will eventually be suffused with God's glory, as it was intended to be from the beginning. Wright has done his readers a service by tracing this central biblical story through the Psalms.

Because so many of the Psalms were intended for Temple worship in Jerusalem, they see the Temple as the unique setting for God's presence in this world. Nevertheless, once the Temple was gone, God's glory did not go with it. This is where Wright's eschatological vision enters the picture, because the New Testament writers applied the Old Testament passages dealing with the Temple to the person of Jesus Christ, the new Temple and the unique vessel of God's glory. Moreover, the early Christian writers foresaw a time when the promises associated with Jerusalem and its Temple would extend to the whole creation. This is how God's people of the new covenant can sing Psalms 42-43 and 84, recognizing that the longing for God's house of worship is fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ.

Wright is, of course, a former bishop in the Church of England, and this colours his treatment here. As such he has experienced the chanting of the Psalms at Holy Communion and at Morning and Evening Prayer. Miles Coverdale's somewhat unpolished 16th-century translation of the Psalms has shaped generations of Anglican worshippers, including Wright. Yet Wright seems unaware that his tradition once made more use of the Psalms than contemporary Anglicans remember. He writes: "The Scottish church developed a well-known set of metrical psalms, translating the whole book into poems that could then be sung to regular hymn tunes" (168). But it didn't begin in Scotland. It actually started in England with the publication of the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter in 1562, the same year that saw the completion of the Genevan Psalter. Generations of Anglicans grew up singing first Sternhold & Hopkins and later Tate & Brady's Psalter before metrical psalmody faded from the scene by the end of the 18th century. This tradition of sung metrical psalmody was as much an Anglican tradition as it was Scottish. Yet given that most Anglicans these days are unaware of this heritage, Wright can hardly be faulted for neglecting it here.

What I most appreciated in this book is Wright's emphasis that immersing oneself in the Psalms will transform one's worldview. This has been my experience as well. Some 35 years ago I discovered the Daily Office, with its pattern of praying through the Psalms on a regular basis. It didn't take me long to get "hooked" on the Psalms, drinking in their praises, lamentations, angry imprecations, complaints and, of course, thanksgivings.

Read Wright's book, and then read the Psalms. Not once, but regularly for the rest of the journey. And prepare to be changed.

Oct 5, 2013

Singing the Psalms: my next project


Dear readers:

Now is the time to share with you what I've been up to these past few weeks. I've not posted anything on my Genevan Psalter site recently, because I've now turned my efforts towards writing fresh English-language versifications of the Psalms set to original tunes. My 2009 CM versification of Psalm 23 now has music which I have expressly composed for it. Last sunday I wrote a metrical versification (11.11.11.11) of Psalm 1 and on wednesday I came up with a tune, which I arranged the following day. These are coming fairly quickly now, and I want to take advantage of the momentum for as long as I am able. Eventually I may post some of these new sung psalms, but not for now.

I am still waiting to hear from my editor on the final draft of the book manuscript I submitted in June on another topic, so I am using the time until then to work on other projects, including this one. Increasingly I am thinking that my next book will be on the liturgical use of the Psalms, and I plan to incorporate some of my own work with metrical psalmody in this. I've got a lot of material to work with, so I need to get as sharp a focus as I can on this.

This takes me outside my formally credentialled field of political science, of course, yet all of this is considerably more than a mere avocation for me, and it's a real labour of love. Your prayers for this project would be most appreciated.

Thank you in advance.

Yours in Christ,

David Koyzis

Sep 11, 2013

The Wright Stuff: on the Psalms


Many of us have been looking forward to the publication of Tom Wright's latest, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. The book is now out, and Christianity Today carries an interview with the prolific former Bishop of Durham: N.T. Wright Wants to Save the Best Worship Songs. An excerpt:

What do you mean by the phrase "nonpsalmic worship"?

When people give up using the Psalms, they often invent poor substitutes—songs, prayers, or poems that have a bit of Christian emotion and a bit of doctrine, but nonetheless lack the Psalter's depth, passion, and rich variety of expression. If one tries to do without the Psalms, there is an identifiable blank at the heart of things.

How can the Psalms transform us?

Within the Jewish and Christian traditions, you get your worldview sorted out by worship. The Psalms are provided to guide that worship. When we continually pray and sing the Psalms, our worldview will actually reconfigure according to their values, theology, and modes of expression.

Once I have read this book, I will review it here. Stay tuned.

Aug 25, 2013

Rising at Midnight: Changing Sleep Patterns and Daily Prayer


Most western adults try to sleep between seven and eight hours a night, with some needing less and others more for proper functioning during the day. However, many of us suffer from insomnia, unwillingly lying awake for hours in the middle of the night. As it turns out, however, fretting about wakefulness seems to be a modern preoccupation. Our ancestors appear to have taken this as a normal state of affairs, as reported here: Your Ancestors Didn’t Sleep Like You.

Your ancestors slept in a way that modern sleepers would find bizarre – they slept twice. . . . The existence of our sleeping twice per night was first uncovered by Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech.

His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.

References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.

Although unfamiliar to us today, a perusal of the Bible appears to support Ekirch's discovery. Here are a few telling references:

But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron (Judges 16:3).

At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! (Ruth 3:8)

At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules (Psalm 119:62).

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning (Mark 13:35).

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).

What did people do with these wakeful hours in the middle of the night? According to Stephanie Hegarty, writing for the BBC,

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.

This answers a question that has puzzled many of us who have studied the ancient patterns of daily prayer practised by God's people of the old and new covenants. Nowadays we have difficulty imagining why anyone would willingly consent to be roused from a supposedly deep slumber by the summons to prayer at such an (if you'll pardon the expression) ungodly hour. Yet they may already have been awake. Both Roman and Orthodox monasteries prescribed a midnight office, with certain psalms assigned to be prayed at that hour. According to chapter VIII of the Rule of St. Benedict:

Making due allowance for circumstances, the brethren will rise during the winter season, that is, from the calends of November till Easter, at the eighth hour of the night [between 12 and 1 am]; so that, having rested till a little after midnight, they may rise refreshed.

Some of us who have suffered from insomnia in the past have already discovered the benefits of prayer during these periods of wakefulness. Perhaps it is time to change our attitude towards these times. Rather than see them as occasions for suffering, at least where obvious illness is not a factor, perhaps we might view them as opportunities to bring our praises, petitions and thanksgivings before a gracious and loving God, who, as the psalmist assures us, neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4) and for whom night is as bright as day (Psalm 139:12).

Aug 16, 2013

Le psautier de Genève à Taizé


The Genevan Psalter finds a place even at Taizé. Here is Psalm 92:

Aug 7, 2013

Bert Polman (1945-2013)


My former colleague, Bert Polman, died last month after suffering a number of health setbacks in recent years. He taught music at Redeemer University College between 1985 and 2004, when he went to Calvin College to teach. Polman was on the committee that produced the 1987 edition of the Christian Reformed Church's Psalter Hymnal and was highly respected in the field of hymnology. A collection of Polman's liturgical material has now been compiled and posted here: God, We Sing Your Glorious Praises: Hymns and Prayers for Devotional Use. This is from John Witvliet's introduction:

Bert had a particular concern for the faithful use of the biblical Psalms in public worship, and frequently took up the challenge of versifying many lesser-known Psalms for inclusion in volumes of congregational song. These texts reveal Bert’s passionate commitment to the Psalms and a large-scale view of God’s peaceable kingdom which comes through Jesus Christ.

Those of us who knew him personally will miss Bert, yet, as St. Paul the Apostle puts it, we grieve but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). May Bert rest in peace until the resurrection, and may God grant comfort to those he has left behind.

Aug 5, 2013

Why sing the psalms?


Rob Slane puts forth an argument for what he calls "inclusive psalmody": Why the church needs to sing the Psalms. Here's Slane:

The Psalms, which form the biggest book in the Bible, were clearly meant to be sung, and the Bible gives many exhortations for us to sing them. This is most clearly seen in the Psalms themselves: “Sing to him, sing psalms to him; talk you of all His wondrous works” (Psalm 105:2); “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to him with psalms.” (Psalm 95:2); “Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm” (Psalm 98:5). . . .

One of the most striking things about the Psalms is that perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, they establish the antithesis, with wickedness on one side and righteousness on the other. This is seen clearly in very first Psalm which divides between on the one hand, the blessed man who “walks not in the counsel of the ungodly” and on the other hand the ungodly man who is “like the chaff which the wind drives away.” The righteous man, it goes on to say, is like “a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season,” in contrast to “the way of the ungodly (which) shall perish.”

Jul 1, 2013

Eu Pertenço


This year marks the 450th anniversary of the publication of the widely loved Heidelberg Catechism, commissioned by Elector Frederick III the Pious and written by Caspar Olevianus and Zacharias Ursinus. Back in 1986 I set the text of the first question and answer to verse under the title, I Belong, and composed a tune, HEIDELBERG, in 2001. In 2011 my good friend and collaborator Lucas Grassi Freire wrote an original versification in the Portuguese language in two stanzas to be sung to my tune. The title is Eu Pertenço, and I have just posted it at my website.

We were privileged to have Freire as a guest in our home during his recent visit to North America. We wish him and his new wife Emma God's richest blessings as they begin married life together.