Book of Psalms for Worship: A Review

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Logan, Oct 23, 2013.

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  1. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    I remember the my excitement and anticipation (for several years) surrounding the new Psalter for my denomination (RPCNA). I knew the committee had been working on it for years and when it was finally printed and I got to see the preview copies given at synod I was very impressed. Now the dust has settled and I've had time to use it extensively. This psalter in its various forms is available from Crown and Covenant Publications.

    Background
    According to the introduction to the psalter by Dr Robert Copeland, the RPCNA originally moved from the 1650 Scottish Metrical Version to a version in 1889 that largely updated the language. Instead of using "The Psalter" of 1912, they published a revision of theirs in 1911, another revision in 1929, and a third revision in 1950. The introduction seems to indicate that little changed between these revisions though I have not yet had the chance to put my hands on any copies.

    Then in 1973 a more thorough revision gave the Book of Psalms for Singing and placed our psalter in the tradition of including the text in between the lines of music. Older language was retained

    The revision was completed in 2009 and is a complete reworking of the psalter to bring it up to modern-day language, much like the FCS and RPCI's recent psalter revisions.

    Format
    The psalter looks absolutely beautiful. Bars of musics are standardized so that opposing pages no longer look mismatched. Everything is clean and easy to read and follow. The psalter's colophon states they used Adobe's InDesign and Stempel Garamond for the text. I believe this is very appropriate. Each psalm is clearly labelled with the verses that it includes and also has a verse from the New Testament at the top of each selection, appropriately tying in Scripture with Scripture.

    All in all, this is one of the most beautiful music books I've seen, psalter or hymnal.

    The psalter comes in four basic formats (excluding a limited edition, and spiral-bound "large print" edition):

    The Standard "Pew"
    Very sturdy and hardbound, better quality than the old hardbound Book of Psalms for Singing.

    The Softcover edition
    Perhaps helpful for precentors who use a stand or for laying flat on a surface, it is softbound, thin, and lays open easily. It is full-size, however.

    The Mini Psalter
    This is quite popular among the youth in our church. It is about the same thickness and paper as the larger editions but shrunk down to about half the size and with a soft cover. Note that this is not for people with poor eyesight! 4" by 6".

    The Thin Mini
    Also 4" by 6 " and probably my favourite edition, this soft-cover edition uses thinner paper to cut the thickness down by at least half. Slightly larger than a pocket Bible, still very readable, and yet very portable.

    Also available is a PDF version available by license at a reasonable price for those who would like to use it with a projector in their congregation.

    Translation
    There was a good amount of concern when the new psalter was released. Many had become very familiar with the 1973 "maroon" psalter and were reticent to give it up. Others liked the stylistic language of the old psalter and saw no reason to update it to modern English. There was even one letter to the editor in the RP Witness that thought this change of language (from thee and thou) would be "only detrimental" to the church!

    However one feels about it, I do think the committee did a reasonable job with what they set out to do and that was to revise the 1973 psalter into modern English. To do so they

    The translations are noticeably loose in some areas (as was the older psalter). I think the meaning is still captured and nothing false is taught, but where you fall on the "literal" versus "singable" spectrum will determine whether you like this or not. I had one person tell me that in his scrutiny of the Psalter before it was published that he found the 1973 to be more faithful to the Hebrew in about half the time and the new psalter to be more faithful about 1/3 of the time, with the remaining 1/6 of the time them being about equal.

    Regardless, the text has been made much, much more singable in my mind. Awkward phrasing and archaic words have been eliminated and some of the repetitive rhyming has been corrected. It flows smoothly and is very understandable for the common person. We have had many people visit our congregation and enjoy singing the Psalms with us.

    In the first edition there were some psalm portions that I believe violated the principle of not tampering with Scripture (inserting "allelujah amen" as a refrain for example). Synod quickly addressed these and subsequent editions have had these offending psalms removed.

    Music
    The music has been vastly improved in my mind. Many new tunes have been added and several old, difficult tunes have been removed. Psalm 119X is still included but as 119W now. Oddly, to my mind, many think this tune is far too difficult, and all I can it is quite beautiful when all the parts are going and it's really not that difficult if you've been shown (and realize that the melody is the tenor line).

    There really are some beautiful new tunes, some done by members of the denomination and the marriage of words to music is better than I've ever seen done before. 42D and 16D are excellent examples of this. 13B and 99A have become congregational favorites.

    There are still a few psalms where "filler" lines are included that, for example, repeat the last line sung. I dislike this personally.

    Conclusion
    My main complaint (and it's a big one) is that one cannot sing through all the psalms. Let me explain. This is not a problem for some because they only ever sing psalm portions anyway (when is the last time you sang through all of Psalm 68?). I have been increasingly convicted however that we have moved away from the practice of psalm singing and moved toward psalm portion singing. Sometimes our congregation only ever sings the second half of a psalm and we miss the context of the first half (perhaps how oppression in the first half turned to praise in the second). As such, we are in danger of singing only those portions we like, as opposed to singing the whole counsel of God.

    The old 1973 psalter was very conscientious about this and would have the entire psalm in the same meter, sometimes the entire psalm would be in several different meters, but you could still sing through the entirety with each. This is no longer the case. Excluding Psalm 119 (which naturally is broken into selections) I count 14 psalms that cannot be sung all the way through. An additional 4 can be done, but awkwardly because they combine say, 86.86.86 with CM selections. An additional one can be done but only if you repeat two verses.

    Additionally, there are another 25 psalms where only a portion of the psalm is available for that specific meter. So while 95 can be sung in entirety in selections A, B, and C put together, D is just a fragment and if you use this tune you cannot sing the whole psalm.

    As I said, this isn't a problem for everyone and as far as I know I seem to be the only one who has noticed this. I've had several people say they don't recall this ever coming up at synod or the Psalter reviews so I can only assume it was an oversight and not intentional. I am in the process of writing a letter to synod and I hope that this will be addressed in future editions, as I believe it to be theologically important.

    Nevertheless, this is an excellent psalter, though not as word-for-word accurate as other psalters. If there are theological issues with how something is translated I would be glad to have it pointed out. I have not yet seen the RPCI psalter but the only one that I would place in contention with this psalter overall, for congregational use, is FCS's Sing Psalms. In music/text marriage it is superior and in overall format I really love it. It is delightful to be blessed with such a beautiful and up-to-date Psalter to use in the church.
     
  2. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    For reference, to anyone looking at this thread later, the only other review I am aware of for this psalter is from Virginia Huguenot.
     
  3. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

  4. jfschultz

    jfschultz Puritan Board Junior

    There is also an iPhone and Android apps for the Book of Psalms for Worship. On the iPhone and iPod Touch it is words only. On an iPad the full page is shown.
     
  5. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Ah yes, I forgot about that, thank you John.
     
  6. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    I've fallen in love with this Psalter as well! Our (PCA) family bought twenty copies for use in family worship and with small groups. Psalm 40A is a wonderful Psalm in a beautiful setting. Very accessible!
     
  7. Tirian

    Tirian Puritan Board Sophomore

    Doran (Logan),

    :)

    I haven't used the Psalter very much but I expect it is leaps and bounds ahead of the Maroon one. I was one of those voices urging a caution in terms of moving to the new Psalter quickly, but overall I thought it would be a step forward rather than backward. I can't really remember significant concerns but one of the first Psalms we transitioned to was Psalm 1. Curiously the translation team chose to write words to effect that the man of God is like a tree planted deeply by the stream...

    Keen gardeners will tell you that planting a tree deeply is how you kill a plant through trunk rot. The words fit the metre being used, but the meaning seems to be the opposite way around. Scripture is more than hinting that God plants the tree purposefully, with care, near nourishing waters not to kill it.

    Something could probably be done to easily rectify that, but it shouldn't be a hindrance to using the Psalter as a whole of course.

    Thanks for the review post extensive use!

    Matt
     
  8. kodos

    kodos Puritan Board Junior

    If you turn your iPhone to landscape mode it will show you the sheet music like the iPad - though due to space limitations on a phone you will only see a portion at a time (you have to scroll).

     
  9. SinnerSavedByChrist

    SinnerSavedByChrist Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Logan! I am also with you that all these churches which take much pride in their EP/RPW stance, end up singing portions of psalms. I. Just. Can't. Stand. It. We are commanded to sing Psalms, not PSALM PORTIONS. And when we sing portions, we lose the meaning entirely.

    (My other qualm about psalm-singing is that they are often sung without explanation of the Messianic typology. Explanations are also needed for imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ in the psalms - for how can you say "Judge me according to my righteousness?" If God judged me according to my righteousnes I would die in hell and burn forever and ever. There are many times when the person who is voicing the complaint MUST be Jesus, and we sing of Him. How can I complain about my enemies when: 1. I have none 2. I am a wicked dog, more wicked than all the ungodly men out there and deserve to be blotted out?)
     
  10. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Matthew,
    Interesting observation. I suspect they were going for the idea of being "firmly planted", like the NASB has.

    Michael,
    At my church our pastor does a very good job of pointing out places in the psalms that refer to Christ and always gives a brief explanation of how this psalm we are about to sing ties into the sermon or service. So I suppose that varies by church.
     
  11. SinnerSavedByChrist

    SinnerSavedByChrist Puritan Board Freshman

    :) Thank God for a faithful pastor.
     
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