Psalms for Singing, 21st Century Edition: A Review

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Logan, Nov 27, 2013.

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  1. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    The full title is "The Psalms for Singing: A 21st Century Edition". It is hard to find information on this psalter, whether it be from its own website or others. I do not think a good review can be done without extensive use of the psalter and I just simply do not have the time to devote to this particular one so will give my impressions and findings so far. It is available for purchase from both Crown & Covenant and from Covenanter Books.

    The psalter was produced by and primarily for the use of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland. My understanding is that the practice of their 1979 version had been to use the old 1650 Scottish Metrical Version and simply add new versions to it, but in 1990 they decided to completely update the psalter. From the preface:
    Translation Practices
    As noted in the preface and committee strategies, the psalter is largely a compilation of versions from various psalters used by other denominations rather than a completely new translation. This is evident both by the meters chosen for various psalms and even the tunes, many of which I was quite familiar with. The words were slightly altered from the versions I knew but whether that was for better or worse I do not know.

    Like most psalter revisions, the committee had a goal of eliminating contorted syntax. This was largely successful but there are a surprising number remaining. For example from Psalm 119 Part 22A "True to your word, me wisdom give".

    They do include a number of regularly used SMV selections but not too many to be overwhelming. This was a good choice since the goal was a new psalter, not merely revising the old, though it does make me wonder why the did not choose to revise the SMV, instead of revising many other psalters and combining them.

    Archaic language appears to have been removed completely, except for the historical selections which seem to always be a second or third version of the psalm.

    The version I bought was a slim, cloth-bound split-leaf version, with a glued binding. The paper is a little thinner which helps on size. The pages are generally easy to turn and nicely set and seems relatively well-constructed but I do wonder how well this would stand up to regular congregational use.

    It is very nicely typeset and quite pleasant to look through. Several indices are included but they are fairly simple. There is one at the front which lists Psalms by category (Laments, Penitential, and Praise) and at the rear there is one metrical index of tunes and one alphabetical.

    My main complaint with the format is that there does not seem to be any selections for a psalm which are recommended. I suppose it is easy to pencil this in but I would suspect that different congregations will choose widely different tunes. This may be the current practice of the denomination and so not a problem for them but I really appreciated the tune recommendations found in Sing Psalms that would offer some consistency from congregation to congregation.

    From a brief look through the music it looks very easy to follow, nicely set, and offers a wide variety. Since this was a compilation and revision of other psalter versions I do recognize a lot of the tunes. I really do not have much to comment on this particular aspect except to say that it looks quite useable.

    This is clearly a labor of love by an entire denomination and has much to commend it. I particularly like that the work was split up between many committees that were trained in the work and that this work was sent around to congregations for testing and approval before being put into use. I think we could learn from that example, even as they undoubtedly were following the Scottish Church's practice with the development of the 1650 psalter.

    It seems like this is suited more to a particular denomination and their history but also appears to be quite accurate and easy to use. Aside from some minor things that makes Sing Psalms superior, I am not sure which psalter I would recommend: both appear to be excellent choices but the Sing Psalms has a higher physical quality. Without using both extensively I could not say which would be the more accurate to the text as both seem to follow the original quite closely.
  2. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore


    I have really enjoyed your psalter reviews. I missed this one for some reason when you first posted it. Anyway this is the psalter we use - maybe I'm misunderstanding you, or I've got a different edition, but at the back there is a guide for matching tunes to psalm selections (page 374ff).
  3. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Ah! You're right! There's lots of good info there, I like the classification of various tunes too. I had just turned to the back where the indices were on page 389 and didn't see the ones set in the split portion before the full page musical pieces. Thank you very much for pointing that out.

    I think the method used by "Sing Psalms" (where the suggested tune numbers are at the heading of each psalm) is a little more convenient but am glad they included this.
  4. reaganmarsh

    reaganmarsh Puritan Board Senior

    Helpful review. Thanks, brother, for taking the time to put this together.

    Grace to you.
  5. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore

    It would be useful to have it on the psalm page as you suggest, but when the book gets a bit of use and you get used to flicking back, it just becomes second nature. :)
  6. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    I freely admit that this is the psalter I am probably least familiar with. Since you have used it a good bit, would you mind posting your impressions of it and what you think of its accuracy? I'd be very glad to hear them.
  7. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore


    The problem is I'm really only familiar with this one so I'm not sure I could provide a comparative review!

    I am however very satisfied with the translation of the psalms. I favour a more formal equivalent bible text, and while allowing for necessary dynamic elements to put the psalms into English poetry meter, I prefer them even so to be as formal as possible, I have not noticed any glaring weaknesses in this psalter in that regard. I also like the fact that some of the best loved SMV psalms are retained as selections, something Sing Psalms doesn't do (e.g. Psalm 1, 100) - maybe Sing Psalms does in other places.

    I like the flexibility of the split leaf, though I guess that is personal.

    My attitude is largely 'better any psalter than no psalter', we use this one for geographical reasons - our RP friends whom we fellowship with use this one - as well as textual reasons and so Sing Psalms would have been second choice (20 miles of sea makes a big difference! :) ) with some version of the SMV third.

    The books seem to be hardwearing - our kids are not always as respectful of them as they ought to be but they are standing up well in terms both of binding and we've had no page rips!
  8. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Glad to hear it seems to be sturdy. That was a concern, though I think it is more sturdy than their old psalter.

    I too prefer the split-leaf format for the flexibility. I've grown to appreciate it more and more, though I realize some find it awkward at first.

    As a note, "Sing Psalms" has a version (not their split-leaf) that contains the entirety of the SMV. I think they felt that if you were going to revise the psalter, you might as well do it cleanly and not pick "favourites" (i.e., why are those good enough to stay but the rest aren't?). Nevertheless, I like that the RPCI psalter did this, as did our RPCNA psalter with Psalm 23 and 100, for example.

    Thank you very much for your notes. I'm glad to hear from people more familiar with it than I am and I can honestly say that though I've not looked at it extremely closely, this and "Sing Psalms" are my current rivals for preferred psalter.
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