Psalters and singing whole Psalms

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Jeri Tanner

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I don't know how many modern (after the 1650) Psalters fail to offer all 150 Psalms in whole form (I know the Book of Psalms for Worship doesn't. Are congregations that use such psalters generally ok with not singing them whole, or do some supplement with other psalters? How important would those here see it to sing each Psalm in whole every time it's sung?

Edit: I see there was a thread on this topic in 2014 that I had forgotten about. I'd still appreciate any thoughts on this, as views may have evolved.


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Jake

Puritan Board Junior
Doesn't the BPW make sure there is a consistent meter across at least one Psalm version so that you can sing all of it (or adjust the portion you sing)?
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
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Doesn't the BPW make sure there is a consistent meter across at least one Psalm version so that you can sing all of it (or adjust the portion you sing)?
I'm not sure if that's true for any of the Psalm selections, but for at least several, no.


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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
While not defending the practice of splitting up the psalm explicitly in psalters or psalmodies, some psalms are longer. Most churches that use the 1650 very rarely sing through the whole psalm in one shot unless it is short (~no more than 6-8 stanzas), but in some of their services, the whole psalm will be sung the whole way through consecutively in pieces (so maybe a congregation would sing half of Pslam 32, move on to another element of worship, and then sing the last half of Psalm 32).

While I think our current practice is reasonable, I also personally would be happy to sing longer portions and the entirety of many of the psalms that are longer (e.g., some friends and I once sang all the way through Psalm 80 using Morven). I also think that sometimes the psalm selections people sing from the 1650 "give up" too soon (e.g., sometimes they stop one verse before the end of the psalm; if you've made it that far, why not go all the way?). If one chooses the right tune and tempo and if one sings properly (i.e., not with one's throat), the main obstacle in singing all the way through longer psalms is keeping one's concentration on the words being sung.
 
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Jeri Tanner

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I know lengthiness is an issue, and people do get tired and lose concentration. Maybe there's a way to help with that. A short exposition from the pastor before each section, so that the people sing with more understanding? Or, perhaps pausing and then continuing the next section with a different tune (if one is using a psalter that accommodates that). In the other thread the point was made that portions of Psalms are quoted in the NT, but that's not the same as their teaching purpose in the singing of the church. Each Psalm has a cohesive message which is lost if you break it up. Shouldn't the churches try to find ways to sing the entirety of each Psalm?

I'm grateful for the singing of them, whether in part or whole. I'm just thinking it would be best to sing them whole.


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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Maybe there's a way to help with that. A short exposition from the pastor before each passage, so that the people sing with more understanding?
This isn't the issue. The issue is maintaining one's focus for a long time in general. Singing the psalms enforces meditation, and meditation takes focus. It is a similar issue to paying attention while the Scriptures are being read or while the Scriptures are being preached. Or in my line of work, maintaining one's focus to work through a difficult physics problem. But the focus while singing is also made more difficult because one is physically doing work at the same time (one is singing).

Or, perhaps pausing and then continuing the next section with a different tune (if one is using a psalter that accommodates that).
Yes, this is a possibility that helps with maintaining focus. But for people who do not know how to sing properly or who are tired already or if a breath-taking tune is used or if the tempo is too slow, they will be exhausted. They need a break before continuing. It is possible that the break need not be long; a short break between selections is often all that occurs during psalm sings, and psalm sings often last for 30 mintues to an hour. Nevertheless, one is usually tired after a full psalm sing.

Shouldn't the churches try to find ways to sing the entirety of each Psalm?
As noted, the current compromise some use is to sing consecutively through them. For all but the longest of psalms, one can sing through the whole in the entirety of a service or two. If longer portions were sang at a time, than that would make even fewer psalms not singable in whole through the entirety of a service. Of course, this could be at the expense of choosing psalms that reinforce the sermon for the service (if all the psalm portions sung are consecutive; my congregation has two consecutive psalm portions and two other psalm portions each service).

Each Psalm has a cohesive message which is lost if you break it up.
This is usually helped by a brief exposition/reminder of the parts not sung, but in my experience, it seems this option is not made use of as often as it might.

It should also be noted that each Scripture read has a cohesive message which can be lost. Why then are we able to read shorter portions? I think the reason why is that there are sub-messages within the larger message, which can be read without breaking cohesion. Likewise, each psalm itself often has a sub-idea within the larger idea given by the whole psalm.

I'm grateful for the singing of them, whether in part or whole. I'm just thinking it would be best to sing them whole.
Similar to how the preaching of the word has been shortened and the length of the service has been shortened, so the singing of the psalm is reasonably brief (singing through whole psalms takes longer) to assist the people. One must remember that the preaching of the word is the central element of worship; I'm not sure what effect singing through whole psalms might have on focus on other elements of worship, but there may be more people bringing water bottles or going to a water fountain.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
How important would those here see it to sing each Psalm in whole every time it's sung?
Psalm 89 is a good example.

The wonders of the covenant are rehearsed with faith and accuracy from verses 1 to 37

1 I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.
2 For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.
3 I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,
4 Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.

it continues on this theme through verse 37

35 Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.
36 His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.
37 It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.

But in verse 38 things turn dark while the Psalmist considers things as they are in his experience — in his day. Verse 38-52 are seldom if ever, included. They start like this:

38 But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.
39 Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.
40 Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.
------
46 How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?

But this supposed negativity is of faith. Verse 49 is a call for God to do again in the Psalmist's day what he formerly had done in years past.

49 Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?

At least these verses are absent from the OPC and PCA Trinity Hymnal Psalm reading selections.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
Yes, Ed- it's a great example of how a Psalm takes us on a journey that is the common experience of the church, and that we need as the church to express and confess together.

I do comprehend the difficulty. But it seems too weighty a theological issue to be satisfied with the way we're practicing it now (I'm assuming there was a time when the Psalms were always sung whole).


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Jeri Tanner

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I was reading earlier about antiphonal singing, where the singing of the Psalm alternates between two groups in the congregation- another possible solution, perhaps.


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VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I don't know how many modern (after the 1650) Psalters fail to offer all 150 Psalms in whole form
We've been using the Trinity Psalter from Crown and Covenant. Sometimes the translations might be a little awkward, but I have not seen a missing verse anywhere. It certainly has all the psalms.

Our edition is copyright 2000 and printed in 2010.
 

Timmay

Puritan Board Freshman
Don’t mean to hijack the thread but what are some good Psalters?


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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
I do comprehend the difficulty. But it seems too weighty a theological issue to be satisfied with the way we're practicing it now (I'm assuming there was a time when the Psalms were always sung whole).
Perhaps it will help to see how psalm singing actually occurs in practice in order to see whether this issue is satisified by our current practice? If you haven't live streamed from Greenville or Ayr or downloaded videos of their services, I would recommend doing so, and try to sing along to get an idea of the work involved, keeping in mind the variability in skill of individuals in the congregation when it comes to singing and that there are young children in the congregation.

But supposing you are familiar with the current practice, note that the Psalms themselves are interconnected. You are not advocating for singing all groups of psalms each time we sing. That means you acknowledge there are breaks in ideas. Perhaps you would argue that the breaks are inspired and so would not also advocate for singing all of Psalm 119 each time it is sung. But what about Scripture readings? Ought we to read through each book every time Scripture is read? Or each inspired letter every time they are read?

Peter quotes a part of Psalm 2 as the voice of the Holy Ghost. Would you agree then that we do not need to read the entirety of Psalm 2 each time it is read in order to fulfill our duty in the reading of the Scriptures? Is there something that makes singing different? Seeing how this would have to apply outside of public worship also, what if there is not enough time to sing the entirety of Psalm 78 during private or family worship on some occasion? Should such individuals put off singing any of Psalm 78 until they have time? Similar questions could be asked of the reading of the Scriptures.

I was reading earlier about antiphonal singing, where the singing of the Psalm alternates between two groups in the congregation- another possible solution, perhaps.
From a practical perspective, not everyone is singing the whole of the psalm in this case. So it doesn't seem much better than the solution already in use.

But it is also questionable whether antiphonal singing should be allowed at all. The psalms call upon the people to sing, so are people ignoring a command to sing if they are silent? Congregational singing would seem to be the simplest also, so I'm not sure antiphonal singing could be argued as a circumstance?
 
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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior

brendanchatt

Puritan Board Freshman
I think it's very important to aim for finishing a Psalm. Someone on an old thread suggested we don't insist on chapters in reading. But psalms are totally different because there are actually 150 psalms. It was composed as a single song.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
Ought we to read through each book every time Scripture is read? Or each inspired letter every time they are read?

Peter quotes a part of Psalm 2 as the voice of the Holy Ghost. Would you agree then that we do not need to read the entirety of Psalm 2 each time it is read in order to fulfill our duty in the reading of the Scriptures? Is there something that makes singing different?
I do think it's different when we meet to sing corporate praises to God. There is a command to teach and admonish one another with Psalms; that seems best understood, to me, as keeping the message of an entire Psalm intact. How the Psalms are quoted in other parts of Scripture doesn't seem applicable.

I don't know, it just seems pretty simple and straightforward to me; logical, that we should strive to sing the whole Psalm. Who wouldn't want to- it is thrilling to pray and speak and meditate on a Psalm in its entirety. What a privilege to sing God's complete thoughts in each complete song.

I wouldn't want to argue for antiphonal singing; it was just a thought and I have no idea how that would work in practice. But just thinking about it, I can't see where taking turns in singing would be considered keeping silent. One would be participating in the singing.


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brendanchatt

Puritan Board Freshman
Also, the elaborateness of many tunes is the cause for strain. Simpler tunes can go further faster.

It's much easier to sing a tune with closer to one note per syllable and minimal tonal leaps. I've studied a lot about tunes and this tends to be best for encouraging maximal participation anyway. Furthermore, when your pace is so much slower than reading, you can lose concepts in the lyrics that span the song.
 

brendanchatt

Puritan Board Freshman
Also, the command is to sing psalms, not parts of them. So if you're going to break it up, you'd probably want to finish it.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
I do think it's different when we meet to sing corporate praises to God. There is a command to teach and admonish one another with Psalms; that seems best understood, to me, as keeping the message of an entire Psalm intact. How the Psalms are quoted in other parts of Scripture doesn't seem applicable.

I don't know, it just seems pretty simple and straightforward to me; logical, that we should strive to sing the whole Psalm. Who wouldn't want to- it is thrilling to pray and speak and meditate on a Psalm in its entirety. What a privilege to sing God's complete thoughts in each complete song.
Striving to sing the whole psalm is what is done in some congregations: they are broken up by another element of worship. And in some cases are broken up by a service (note that the second service is only a couple of hours separated in time from the first service). You acknowledged taking a brief pause as a solution. Yet the current solution seems deficient to you, although it operates on the same idea.

Are we to be taught and admonished by the hearing of the reading of the Scriptures? My point is: singing a portion of the psalm is the moral equivalent of reading a portion of the Scripture because in each case there is a cohesive message that can be lost. You are not insisting on striving to read the entirety of Hebrews each time it is read in order to get the entirety of its message and its complete thoughts. And the Scriptures allow for the psalm to be quoted in part. If being quoted in part is considered sufficient to teach and admonish from the second psalm, then why is it not considered sufficient to teach and admonish when singing the psalm?

It also seems simple and straightforward to me that although one might desire to sing more, there may be a necessity to sing less: whether because of time, singing ability, or the desire to be able to sing psalms on the next day or later in the day.

Who wouldn't want to listen to a 3 hour sermon? Oftentimes, sermons have to be truncated in order to fit all the information gathered into a shorter period.


I wouldn't want to argue for antiphonal singing; it was just a thought and I have no idea how that would work in practice. But just thinking about it, I can't see where taking turns in singing would be considered keeping silent. One would be participating in the singing.
The point remains though that in one's zeal to sing the entirety of the psalm, one has left some congregants who are not singing parts of the psalm. It is also clear then that in your view, people do not need to sing the whole psalm in order to get its message. So a brief exposition at the beginning should suffice; or in private worship, a recollection of the whole before singing a brief part of the whole.


Edit: Jeri, any chance you can make it to the Free Church (Continuing) family conference? Along with being a good time, it will give you a chance to interact more with the culture of psalm singing churches....And to sing lots of psalms with others (including in whole)!
 
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earl40

Puritan Board Professor
I wonder if uninspired hymn writers are upset if we don't sing all the verses?
 

VictorBravo

Administrator
Staff member
I wonder if uninspired hymn writers are upset if we don't sing all the verses?
I'm not. ;)

As for singing parts of psalms, I think one should take into account circumstances. There is only so much time available in our days.

Our church has become accustomed to the "to be continued" aspect of singing only a part of the longer psalms, continuing on the next Lord's Day or the next service. There is a sense of anticipation and suspense as opposed to random or mindless interruption.

We recently did that with Psalm 119. I remember one member saying in the morning, "I can hardly wait, we get to sing "Lamed" today!"

She was not really joking. She said she looked forward to the next "installment."
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
Striving to sing the whole psalm is what is done in some congregations: they are broken up by another element of worship. And in some cases are broken up by a service (note that the second service is only a couple of hours separated in time from the first service). You acknowledged taking a brief pause as a solution. Yet the current solution seems deficient to you, although it operates on the same idea.

Are we to be taught and admonished by the hearing of the reading of the Scriptures? My point is: singing a portion of the psalm is the moral equivalent of reading a portion of the Scripture because in each case there is a cohesive message that can be lost. You are not insisting on striving to read the entirety of Hebrews each time it is read in order to get the entirety of its message and its complete thoughts. And the Scriptures allow for the psalm to be quoted in part. If being quoted in part is considered sufficient to teach and admonish from the second psalm, then why is it not considered sufficient to teach and admonish when singing the psalm?

It also seems simple and straightforward to me that although one might desire to sing more, there may be a necessity to sing less: whether because of time, singing ability, or the desire to be able to sing psalms on the next day or later in the day.

Who wouldn't want to listen to a 3 hour sermon? Oftentimes, sermons have to be truncated in order to fit all the information gathered into a shorter period.



The point remains though that in one's zeal to sing the entirety of the psalm, one has left some congregants who are not singing parts of the psalm. It is also clear then that in your view, people do not need to sing the whole psalm in order to get its message. So a brief exposition at the beginning should suffice; or in private worship, a recollection of the whole before singing a brief part of the whole.


Edit: Jeri, any chance you can make it to the Free Church (Continuing) family conference? Along with being a good time, it will give you a chance to interact more with the culture of psalm singing churches....And to sing lots of psalms with others (including in whole)!
I think I missed your point earlier about the current solution; you're describing something along the lines of what Victor described above in his church's singing of Psalm 119? That sounds like a pretty good solution to me.

I'll continue reflecting on it. I want to repeat that I'm thankful to sing the Psalms, whether in part or in whole. I do remain convinced that a Psalter should offer the ability to sing each Psalm in its entirety should a congregation want to.

And no, I probably won't be able to make it to the family conference; thanks for the invitation though! I'm sure it will be a wonderful time.





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Logan

Puritan Board Junior
The Book of Psalms for Worship has about 15 psalms that are broken up with different meters, which means that the entire psalm cannot be sung without changing tunes. The other 135 (with the exception of Psalm 119 which is naturally broken up) can be sung entirely to one or the other tune.

This was not the case with the Book of Psalms for Singing, which had the entire psalm in one meter or the other, even if broken up, so it could be combined.

For the 1650, as Afterthought observed, the practice seems to be to very rarely sing through the entire psalm. Part of that (in my opinion) is because the common meter just simply does not lend itself to moving very quickly, which may be a good or bad thing. In our own congregation, we will sometimes sing through a longer psalm in chunks (BoPfW), at which point the meter differences don't really matter.

For what it's worth, the two modern psalters I recommend for being able to sing through an entire psalm without break are "Psalms for Singing---A 21st Century Edition" produced by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Northern Ireland and "Sing Psalms" from the Free Church of Scotland. I've linked to my reviews here.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
I think I missed your point earlier about the current solution; you're describing something along the lines of what Victor described above in his church's singing of Psalm 119? That sounds like a pretty good solution to me.

I'll continue reflecting on it. I want to repeat that I'm thankful to sing the Psalms, whether in part or in whole. I do remain convinced that a Psalter should offer the ability to sing each Psalm in its entirety should a congregation want to.
Yes, I was describing what Victor was describing in his church's singing of Psalm 119.

Yes, I agree!

Also, the elaborateness of many tunes is the cause for strain. Simpler tunes can go further faster.

It's much easier to sing a tune with closer to one note per syllable and minimal tonal leaps. I've studied a lot about tunes and this tends to be best for encouraging maximal participation anyway. Furthermore, when your pace is so much slower than reading, you can lose concepts in the lyrics that span the song.
Yes, those were basically my conclusions also. Singing slowly is important because it aides meditation; but singing too slowly one loses track of the meaning, which hinders meditation. I usually describe the "proper" pace as a "walking" pace or going for a stroll (from my classical piano background: thinking about "andante" or thereabouts), but this does not seem to be helpful to others; describing the pace in terms of reading might be more useful in conveying the idea, thanks.
 

tleaf

Puritan Board Freshman
For what it's worth, TBS sells a KJV with Metrical Psalms, i.e., versified in set meters.
 

Jeri Tanner

Moderator
Staff member
I'd love to hear from someone on the PB who uses the Book of Praise (Genevan); I've noticed that it doesn't take as long to sing at least some of the Psalm selections in it, and the free-flowing style and lovely, interesting tunes seem, to me, to possibly work to help the singer have more staying power. I know Wes Bredenhof is in a congregation that uses it... any opinions from anyone on that?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
One of the benefits of having the whole psalm undivided means they can be divided to suit the occasion. E.g., in a recent sermon series on the sufferings of Christ I preached on His offering Himself from John 18:1-6. We sang through Psalm 40 on this occasion. The recommended division in the Psalter is vv. 1-5, vv. 6-17. I found it helpful to alter the division so as to fit in with the four portions we intended to sing: vv. 1-4, vv. 5-8, vv. 9-13, and vv. 14-17. In family worship also, where we consecutively go through the Psalter, the portion will often be different each time we go through it.
 

SavedSinner

Puritan Board Freshman
Don’t mean to hijack the thread but what are some good Psalters?


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I think the old RPCNA red psalter, Scottish Psalter, and the Anglo-Genevan Psalter are the best ones right now. The neat thing about the Genevan Psalter is that if, for example, you travel from Germany to France to Holland, you can sing the same tunes to their language in each land each Sunday at the local reformed church--- it is international. I am hoping that the new psalter that the OPC and URC are working on will be good. Many of the psalms the OPC sings in the Trinity Hymnal are taken from the old 1912 Psalter, which was not a very good one (you really don't get to sing the whole psalm usually and the music is stuck in the 19th century). It is still used by the FRC and H-NRC, NRC, etc. And the URC uses the old CRC Psalter-Hymnals, which have very good music, but like the 1912 UP Psalter, huge chunks of the psalms are cut-out. How then can that really be called a psalter? The historic Genevan psalters are in many languages and include the whole psalm. And the Scottish Psalter is good because it does not butcher the psalms either. What I don't understand is why Americans always complain about word order in the Scottish or red RPCNA psalter; and how "hard" it is for their kids to understand. I don't think that is really true. In many languages word order does not matter, since the grammar makes it clear. My kids had no problems singing from Scottish or Genevan psalters.
 

Warren

Puritan Board Freshman
I was reading earlier about antiphonal singing, where the singing of the Psalm alternates between two groups in the congregation- another possible solution, perhaps.


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Singing antiphonal is pretty intuitive, once you've done it a couple times. The children suggest antiphonal songs the most, during evening service favorites. There's even another method that involves a grasp of music, where particularly good singers sing the notes below the verses, while others sing the regular notes.

No matter the method, I still have days where I'm fighting to concentrate, and in so doing losing concentration, or I think about singing more than I do the lyrics. I imagine that's true for everyone, at least to a degree. No formality is going to substitute preparing ourselves and trust God is listening.
 
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