1650 Scottish Psalter: asking for critique

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Logan, Oct 9, 2013.

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  1. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    I have looked at various psalters and want to continue to evaluate them. Ones I currently own are the

    Comprehensive Psalter (1650 Psalms of David in Metre)
    1912 United Presbyterian Psalter
    RPCNA Psalms for Singing
    RPCNA Psalms for Worship

    And I'm waiting my order of "Sing Psalms" and "Psalm Singing in the 21st Century" which both promise to be updated versions of the 1650 Psalter.

    It certainly would be nice to have a unified psalm-singing community and some argue we have that with the 1650 Psalter. My family and I have used (and are currently using) it for family worship but there are places where the meaning is less clear to me, the meter is off, and singability (and thus memorization) are difficult. Don't get me wrong, the psalter has been blessed for hundreds of years and has a great history and great translators, but I'm not yet convinced that this is where we should stop.

    One of the main purposes of my evaluation is that I would like to stick with a version through my children's growing years so they can have some consistent psalms to memorize and sing.

    I see plenty of articles and websites defending the use of the 1650 Psalter but, much like KJV articles, they tend to be one-sided and only present evidence that serves their view. One article points out how the Psalter is actually closer to the Hebrew in a couple of instances and this is great, but how about places where it is further from the Hebrew? How about the second version of Psalm 136 which puts the same phrase as both a positive and negative in each stanza?

    Another of the problems I have is that it is difficult sometimes to pick CM and CMD tunes that really are married to the text. Yes, it is easy for singability but you end up duplicating a lot of the tunes or using ones which really aren't very memorable. The Comprehensive Psalter seeks to remedy this but not all the tunes are very pleasant, easy to learn, or easy to sing. The Psalms for Worship does a very good job with tunes in general, but makes some major mistakes in other areas.

    So it comes down to this: I would like to have an honest critique of the 1650 Psalter and if you could give me one or point me to articles then I would appreciate it as I go about evaluating. Thanks!
  2. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

    I wish I could point you in the direction you desire but I doubt I can. I will offer my two cents.
    I love both of the Psalters from Crown & Covenant (Psalms for Singing & Psalms for Worship) but we end up singing the same 10-20 Psalms over & over because we can't figure out the tune & our young children have to memorize the tune to each.
    We made the switch to the 1650 exclusively & my children are memorizing Psalms in rapid fire because they can sing ALL of the Psalms with only 2 or 3 tunes. Once they learn a Psalm we can change the tune & they pick up on the new tune rather than being stick with one tune for one Psalm visa versa.
    I don't think you are making up excuses but I do think you underestimate your children's ability to sing, understand & appreciate the 1650.
    If you believe Psalm 136 is better in another Psalter then teach it to them too but I have found the 1650 to be the most faithful, most edifying & most unifying Psalter. And, my children LOVE it.
    I hope you find what you are looking for ... concerning an honest critique.
  3. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior


    Thank you for your encouragement. I have not seen children pick up the words being able to switch between tunes, so that's good. By the way, I don't think my children would have trouble with the 1650 in singing or language, it is mainly with tunes I am concerned.

    My wife may be unique but growing up she learned some of the Psalms of David in Meter to certain tunes and when I put a different tune to it she can't remember the words. For her, a tune is married to the words and she can't memorize just the words without the tune. And sometimes it's as if she doesn't know the tune if it's not to the right words! That's not the case with me, and it may not be with our children, but I want to be sensitive to the issue.

    By the way, you may find Psalter.org to be a good resource for tunes with the RPCNA psalters.
  4. Tyrese

    Tyrese Puritan Board Sophomore

    We use Sing Psalms by the Free Church of Scotland. We have been using it now for about 6 or 7 months. I think it has some of the best tunes compared to other psalters which I think help when it comes to memorizing the Psalms. It also helps that my wife sings really well. I think it's important for the songs to actually sound good. I kind if feel like people in psalm singing circles care very little as to wether or not the music sounds good. Just my opinion.
  5. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

    I am sorry you kind of feel that way. ;)
    I love a good tune & enjoy music that sounds good too [even though I am one of "those" people]!
    That said, that words are of more importance than the music because the WORD is command to be sung whereas the tune is not. The tune is important but of less importance (if that makes any sense).
    As for me, I kind of feel like faithfulness, edification & unity are more important than the music sounding "good" (since "good" is subjective & differs from person to person).
  6. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior


    I also meant to say that some of the new tunes in the Book of Psalms for Worship are lovely and fit the words so, so well. One example is Lori McCracken's "Steadfast" used for Psalm 42D (though we sing it slower and more solemnly than is in the midi file).

    Another one is "Sterling" for Psalm 16D.

    Both are lovely, fit the words well, and are easy to sing.
  7. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

    I understand what you are saying concerning your wife. This happens to me from time to time with Psalm 100 & 23 (because I sang them for years to the tune of CRIMOMD & OLD 100TH exclusively). However, the more I learn the other tunes it actually gives me a confidence to sing the "new" thine even louder when singing those Psalms if/when we change it up. For me, I am finding it easier to learn "new" tunes with Psalms I am already familiar with. I know this may not be the case with your wife but I hope it is encouraging to know that she is not alone. I think that is one of the cons of the "Comprehensive," it limits the flexibility of mixing & matching Psalms & Tunes.

    Let me know if you find an honest critique of the 1650 (or the Sing Psalms for that matter).
    Enjoy singing the Sings of Zion (regardless of which version you decide to use).
    God Bless,
  8. Tyrese

    Tyrese Puritan Board Sophomore

    So you would say that bad singing is edifying?
  9. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

    I completely agree. We have both of the Psalters I mentioned above & I do love them both. I think the music to the Psalms for Worship is gorgeous & listen to it throughout the day. But as for memorizing the Psalms & singing in family worship ... We use the 1650.

    So, I am happy you desire to sing the Psalms (regardless of which version you settle on)!
  10. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

    Please do not put words in my mouth.
    Good differs from person to person. I NEVER said "bad singing" & I'm sorry if you think that the tunes to the 1650 are "bad" ... I believe the PSALMS are edifying even when the "music" isn't as good as some feel it should be.
  11. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Oh don't worry on that point. I've been for psalmody for close to 9 years now, ever since I was first introduced to them :)
  12. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior


    As I said in the first post, I'm familiar with the 1650 Psalter, I'm using it now. I'm also aware of the reasons to use it and there are plenty of threads on this topic.

    What I am really looking for is a critique. I know the pros, are there any cons I'm not aware of before I use this for the next 50 years? I ask this just to get a more objective view. So for example, are there places where the translation is poor?
  13. THE W

    THE W Puritan Board Freshman

    I certainly wish my church used the 1650.

    For me, it's just way easier. You learn one or a few CM tunes and you can sing through the whole psalter no problem. I don't think someone should have to learn to read sheet music to sing the LORD's songs back to the LORD in worship to Him which at the end of the day should be the focus of psalm singing. the 1650 does away with that problem.

    who doesn't know the tune to "amazing grace"?

    The only con i can think of with the 1650 is people thinking it boring to sing the same tune over and over again.
  14. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

  15. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

    Should you decide to sing the 1650 Scottish Metrical Version [with us] for the next 50 years, you'll be in good company! ;) Not to mention, the Church has been using that version for at least 363 years (along side the AV).
  16. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    The 1650 SMV remains the most near the original, which is the desirable element
    about it. True there are some archaic words but these can be easily explained. And
    as the practice in the past, the Minister should give a short resume of what is about to be
    sung. The present chaos amongst Presbyterians in worship is due to a proliferation of Bible
    translations and also of various psalters. It would be a great source of developing unity if
    we "all sang from the same hymn sheet." So that wherever we would go we would be completely
    at home with the same form and manner. I don't see the problem about tunes, we fit the Scottish
    tunes where they are suitable, and Welsh tunes when more suitable.
  17. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    This is an excerpt from a Testimony of Dr John Ker in the Psalms in History
    and Biography.
    "No version has ever been made which adheres so closely to the Scripture.
    It proceeds on the principle of giving every thought in the original, and nothing
    more; and in this it has succeeded to an extent which is marvellous, and which
    can be realised only by one who has tested it through careful comparison. It
    meets with some stones of stumbling, and suffers some dislocation of words by
    adhering to the line laid down; but there is abundant compensation in the life and
    energy, the picturesqueness and colour, which it preserves by close contact with the
    old Hebrew soil.
    The thought stands out clear, distinct, forceful, not wrapt up in wordy paraphrases
    where David himself would have had difficulty in recognising his meaning, or liquefied
    sentimentalisms from which his manly nature, to take no higher view, would have turned
    away ashamed. This too may be said, that those portions which the heart feels that it needs
    in its sorrowful hours, over which it leans and pores over its deep musings, or from the summits
    of which it mounts as on eagles' wings in its moments of joy, have a tenderness, a quaint beauty,
    a majesty in their form, peculiar to that age of the English language in which they were framed."
  18. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Jessica, thank you, I have seen that post before and enjoyed looking at it. I'd love it if someone did a similar post for the 1650 psalter, pointing out good and bad points. Any psalter is a human endeavor, none is going to be perfect, but some are going to be better than others and we can learn from them all.

    Does it? In every stanza of every Psalm or just in general? I know this claim is often made but I'd like to see the other side of the coin (if there is one). I know it might be a hard thing to ask (especially on this section of the forum) but what I really want is to balance my view by hearing people who say "I use the 1650 psalter in spite of these problems with it." I'd rather not hear more "it's great, you should use it" because there's already a plethora of information from that point of view. And I am already using it :)

    Here's another example: can anyone give me a defense for how Psalm 136 has both "for mercy hath he ever" and "for his grace faileth never" as a translation in each stanza for the same Hebrew phrase?
  19. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Or how about this: the second version of Psalm 136 (which I will admit can be difficult to versify), for verse 10 it says
    To him that Egypt smote,
    Who did his message scorn;
    And in his anger hot
    Did kill all their first-born

    Whereas the KJV simply says:
    "To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn"

    As a counterpoint, the more recent "Sing Psalms" says "He struck down Egypt’s firstborn sons;"

    While I agree with the theology, is there anything in the Hebrew that intimates "hot anger" and them scorning God's message? Is it okay to then expand the meaning and insert other portions of Scripture into the Psalm translations, "improving" it? Or is this a case where the translators either had a different methodology or could have done better?

    If I am going to use this psalter (as I am currently doing), I really want to know where the problems are, if any.
  20. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Jessica, here is a good help perhaps to learn the tunes: Psalter.org. Psalms from The Book of Psalms for Singing. Crown & Covenant Publications. for Psalms for Singing.
  21. jogri17

    jogri17 Puritan Board Junior

    My favourite Psalter in the English Language is the Anglican Psalter in the book of common prayer. IN French, there is a great new republicatino of the Genevan psalter in modern French by Éditions Vida
  22. Tyrese

    Tyrese Puritan Board Sophomore

    Keep in mind that Sing Psalms has a version that includes the entirety of the 1650 as an appendix. That way you can use them both.
  23. Puritan Scot

    Puritan Scot Puritan Board Freshman

  24. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Senior

    As far as I'm aware, circumstances do not edify, so not having too ornate or complex a tune might be desirable to prevent confusion.

    As for critiques, you have found many places that defend the psalter, have you traced out the references to see the critiques to which those places are responding? I also have a vague memory that many of the arguments against exclusive psalmody in the 19th century (or perhaps really any of the centuries since it was produced) would almost never fail to take a jab at the 1650 psalter as well, though perhaps in an appendix. I don't recall any particular sources, but the critiques that I remember tended to be (in more or less detail; specific sources have been quite detailed with specific objections to certain translations the 1650 makes): (1) the 1650 Psalter is too free in its use of the Divine Name, (2) the 1650 Psalter is too loose of a translation, (3) the 1650 Psalter is too rigid and unpoetical a translation (one specific criticism I remember, though aimed at "awkwardness" is when the sentence is broken up midway in a line, like Psalm 96:12-13), (4) the 1650 Psalter is too hard to understand (a reason given by those denominations who desired to make their own Psalter; I don't recall seeing this objection in earlier attacks on the 1650 Psalter before other denominations attempted to make their own translation).

    With regards to (2), the objection would and still does take a couple of forms. There is (a) metrical versions inherently have a certain looseness to them and (b) the 1650 Psalter has too much looseness to it. The intent was to argue that either (i) we shouldn't use metrical versions of the psalms, (ii) we need to update the 1650 Psalter, or (iii) exclusive psalm singers are inconsistent for either using the "loose" Scottish psalter, or for using a metrical version period, while objecting to hymns of human composure or paraphrases of the psalms or not singing metrical translations that are looser but in common use in the church back then or now.

    With regards to (3), this was mainly a reason given to make new versions as an update and still is given as a reason for that, but I seem to recall it was also given as a reason for using other existing psalters (e.g., the Tate and Brady one).

    With regards to Psalm 136, it is possible (I speak as one who knows neither Hebrew nor Greek) that the idea was either to get at a different aspect of the word or as a compromise in translating the word among several options. I'm sure you are aware of this, since Rev. Silversides' article frequently pops up in searching for a defense and explanation of the translation mechanisms behind the 1650. I actually asked a similar question here concerning two other psalms: http://www.puritanboard.com/f63/av-1650-psalter-translations-some-psalms-john-browns-note-71263/
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2013
  25. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you very much. I had seen that thread and Silversides' article but it was good to revisit those.

    That's helpful. I've not seen too many of the older arguments for new psalters but generally it seems that new psalters were justified on the premise that they would be easier to sing. The thread you referenced is also very helpful.
  26. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you so much for mentioning David Silversides' article. I just read it to my 6 year old & she LOVED it.
  27. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    I had a dream last night and C. Matthew McMahon told me to use the RPCI "The Psalms for Singing: A 21st Century Edition".

    That was bizarre. I look forward to reviewing both the "Sing Psalms" and the RPCI psalter when they arrive. I've not seen any reviews online so I don't know yet what to expect.
  28. SinnerSavedByChrist

    SinnerSavedByChrist Puritan Board Freshman

    Brother Logan, here are my 2 cents.

    I started singing the psalms a few months ago after being convinced of the RPW and the gospel ordinance of singing them. I've bought two psalm versions:
    1. the 1650 published with Split-leaf piano score from the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
    2. Rowland S. Ward's "Book of psalms for singing".

    Mr Ward's rendition of the Psalms includes selections from the RPCNA books, Irish Presbyterians, the 1912 UPC psalter and the Scottish 1650. I must confess, the variety of meters did NOT help with singing. The revisions to in the more modern psalters betrayed much literal meaning for poeticity. Only the 1650 really measured up well to the KJV.

    But everything I'm saying is already known to you - it seems you have already measured the Scottish 1650 against the KJV. I agree with you that it is not word for word as the KJV and does take some liberality for versification.

    But as for me, I will continue singing the 1650. It's strength is simply overwhelming:
    1. Accuracy. Wow.
    2. Common Metre (with a smattering of SM/LM)

    As for tunes - did you mention that you were running out of tunes? How can that be (protest!) There are TONS of good tunes. I have written with a pencil in my psalter to mark each tune as:

    "MA" for Majestic and upbeat tunes (Artaxerxes, Praetorius, Westminster, Notting Hill, St Peters!!, Milton, Stroudwater, Consolation, balfour, barrow, Bristol, Effingham, St Anne, )

    "minor" for the more sorrowful keys... (Blackbourn, bangor, hermon, Stornoway, Culross, Martyrs, cheshire, St Kilda, St Neot etc.)

    "serene" for those comforting tunes which evoke the imagery of a green pasture... (TALLIS!!!! Crimond, Irish, Ayshire, Free church, Winchester, Abbey, Babel's streams, Belmont, Naomi)

    I've also highlighted in my psalter those tunes which are simply musically superb, on par with any modern day hymn. Most which are mentioned above are highlighted plus:
    Crediton, Denfield, Caithness, Martyrdom, Free Church, Arnold, French, Jackson, St Bernard, St Boltolph, St Ethelreda, St Minver, Salzburg..............+ so many more!!!!

    And let's not forget that we can sing soooooo many catchy tunes that are in Common Metre!!

    Popular Common Meter tunes: Amazing Grace, There is a fountain, Auld lang Syne, O little town of Bethlehem, God rest ye merry gentleman, Australian National Anthem, Nativity
    And with very light modifications in Common Metre: Come People of the Risen King -Keith Getty (without the chorus), How Deep the Father's love for us (8,7,8,7,), Aurelia (double the last note of 1st and 3rd lines)

    :D I assure you that you will find NO lack of common metre tunes which are musically superb :D

    May God bless your children whichever metrical psalms you use :D
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2013
  29. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior


    I really appreciate your reply. I have done much the same with many tunes, categorizing them as appropriate for various types of content in the psalms. I choose primarily CMD tunes as opposed to CM and that increases the number of tunes available. I am musical so picking up new tunes isn't too much of a problem for me, my wife does struggle with some old tunes though.

    If you want to sing the psalms, that's great, and you could use one tune one time and one tune another time. Is it as great if you want to use this for a long time and memorize them? I like the split-leaf with suggested tunes (so one can be consistent) but the flexibility to choose different tunes to keep it "fresh".

    Any objection can be surmounted. We could sing all the psalms in the 1650 with one tune if necessary, but that is not necessarily best. Likewise, for the purposes of memorization (as I explained earlier), using the same 20 tunes (or 30, or even 40) might be a hindrance to some. CM does limit you musically and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it is something that should be considered.

    Once again, I just want to get more of an objective viewpoint as I look at "standardizing" the psalms our family will be memorizing. We've used three psalters so far in family worship and that's not a great help in memorization. At the same time, I'm not going to standardize with the 1650 psalter just because it was widely used in the Scottish church. There were dozens of psalters before it (some very minor) and hundreds after. As far as I know, England mainly used a different psalter for a couple hundred years and the Americans had several. Its near universal use is well-attested in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it doesn't appear to be nearly as widely used elsewhere as I once thought. I'm not one for tradition for the sake of tradition and I can't assume that reformation should cease and that we can never, should never, or have never improve(d) on the 1650 Psalter.

    That being said, if it does turn out to be the best psalter available today, I have no problems using it. But I have no romantic or sentimental attachments.
  30. THE W

    THE W Puritan Board Freshman

    What is the importance of having the book of psalms memorized?
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