Sing Psalms: A Review

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Logan, Oct 11, 2013.

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  1. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    This will be more of first impressions than a review and I will try to add more information later as I look deeper into the translation.

    The entirety of the text is available in PDF or Word format from here. And I really appreciate them making it available for people to use freely. It is available for purchase from the above website, from Crown and Covenant, or from Banner of Truth, at varying prices.

    The Free Church of Scotland used the 1650 Scottish Psalter (SMV) for years but somewhere in the 1980s or 1990s a committee was put together to revise the psalter and put it into modern language. This was published in 1994.

    Translation practices:
    The preface states
    The psalter comes in two basic formats: with music, and words only. If you want music you have the choice to do either staff or sol-fa. These are split-leaf. If you choose words-only you have the choice between just a straight, words-only and another slightly more expensive version that additionally has the complete SMV in the back. Both are typeset very clearly and beautifully. It's a pleasure to look at. The binding is rugged and should stand up to a good bit of use.

    SMV version in the words-only version:
    This last version is fantastic as they have several means in the text of aiding in pronunciation and singing. This is not so much evident in the new version of the psalms, but in the SMV this is extremely helpful. The three aids are:
    • Underlines: where the syllables or words should be on the same note. For example, in Psalm 1:3, "river" and "never" are both underlined. Similarly in Psalm 2:6 we have "appointed" "Zion" and "anointed".
    • Grave accents: where the syllables should be broken to be pronounced. As in Psalm 3:1 "increased" has no accent and is pronounced with two syllables, while in 3:5 there is "sustain`ed" which is pronounced as three syllables.
    • Diaeresis marks: where a portion of a word should be held for two notes. Example in the second version of Psalm 6:1, where "indignation" has two dots over the "a", indicating that this should be held for two notes. Incidentally, holding the note over the vowel in words like this has been my practice as opposed to trying to split up "tion" into two syllables.

    So this version is very valuable just for the consistent notes. It is especially helpful when something occurs in the middle of a line instead of at the end so you don't run out of syllables at the end of the line. It could also be extremely helpful for congregational singing to keep everyone on track. My wife and I have found that different families develop different ways of dealing with the idiosyncrasies in the SMV and when we get together to sing with others it can cause a little bit of dissonance.

    This psalter is valuable for this reason alone. Even if you never use the "Sing Psalms" updated language, the 1650 psalter is still there and in this format is the most useful and easy to use format I've seen yet, even without music. When singing the SMV, this will be my go-to psalter.

    Staff note version
    As with other split-leaf psalters, the main advantage is that you can have the music with the words (which is useful to someone like me who reads music) and yet one can also change the tune if there is a more familiar one or just to change it up and keep the psalm fresh in our understanding. Yet at the same time I really like having the words in verse form underneath. I recognize the useability of psalters that have words in line with the notes, but for understanding and following along I personally find the versified form more helpful and definitely more helpful for people who don't read music.

    As an aside, we had a visitor to church a few weeks back that was not a Christian and was unfamiliar with singing. She said she got confused when we sang the first line of the first bar, then the first line of the second bar (instead of going to the second line of the first bar). Not a problem for someone who is used to singing from written music though.

    The psalm portion of the splitleaf is arranged as you would expect and has the psalms numbered in the outer margin of each page for reference as you thumb through (so many pages would have a large "119" on the outer margin of both the recto and verso pages). Additionally the pages are numbered at the bottom in numerical order so one could say either "turn to Psalm 117" or "turn to page 329".

    The music portion is arranged by meter, so the first 100 tunes or so are all CM, the next section is CMD, then LM, etc. So while it might be awkward that psalm 2 might use the 200th tune (thus you're on a beginning page in the psalm half but later page in the music half), this makes it easier to change the tunes up by flipping a few pages to the right or left.

    Each psalm is headed with two or three suggested tunes and sometimes tunes suggested for different portions of the psalm. I found this very helpful so that we can keep with a consistent tune if we choose and not haphazardly fit a different tune to Psalm 3 each time we use it. Each of the suggested tunes is fitted to the psalms tone to set the appropriate mood (no rousing marches to Psalm 137 please).

    One big thing about the music arrangement is that it appears to be very easy to sing (it does not go too high or too low for the average singer). The
    arrangements in Sing Psalms seem well-suited to singing harmonies.

    Many tunes are very familiar to users of other Psalters. St Peter is in the suggested list for Psalm 1, for example, and we found other tunes that we were familiar with from the Book of Psalms for Singing. There are many, many new tunes that are modern. I know this because the author's name has only one date next to their name and then a dash ;)
    I found a number of these tunes on a hymn website so it appears they were not necessarily composed for this psalter by members of the church. One of the things I was pleasantly surprised to find is that all of the tunes I looked at were very easy to follow. Some CM and CMD tunes are rather... tuneless? Boring? Hard to pick up on or hum? There have been some tunes I'll try to use for our family and even after 30 stanzas my wife still hasn't gotten it. That can be a problem. These tunes I found I was able to sight-read and follow along after listening to the tune once or twice, even the ones in a minor key. That's a major success in my mind, even if it means not using more complex yet beautiful tunes.

    My complaint with the tunes so far has been that there isn't a lot of support for them. I found some on a hymn site and found one site that has some congregational singing on some of the psalms but not all of them by a long shot. So people who are not musical may have difficulty learning many of the tunes in there, which cuts out a large portion of the value.

    General Impressions
    I have not had the opportunity to really sit down and compare my Bible with the psalter in many of the psalms. I have done it in a few and found some instances where I thought they did a better job than the SMV and some instances where they were more loose. Both versions have some amount of padding and both capture the meaning, line-by-line and often word-by-word of what I have in my Bible and what I can glean by looking at Strong's Hebrew numbers. Both are far superior (at least for my criteria) to the RPCNA BoPfW and that does please me.

    I may have different expectations and criteria for a psalter than many others, but I find this one meets mine very well. I like the split-leaf format for the ease musical choice, I like having the entire psalm versified and placed together for the purposes of singing the entire psalm. I also really like the accuracy I have seen so far and yet the ease with which it can be sung. My wife and I both characterized it as much, much smoother than the SMV and also more easy to understand without so much convoluted grammar. And places where I have found it loose I may just being picky, much like I can be picky with the SMV, but I'm not sure. This bears more study. I look forward to receiving the RPCI psalter in the next few days and hopefully I can later do some textual comparisons with it, this version, the SMV, and Scripture.

    But overall impressions are very favorable so far. No version will be perfect but some will be better depending on the criteria. Perhaps later I'll type up my criteria and what my idea of a good psalter version would look like.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  2. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    There are a couple of CDs out there, partly done by one of the precentors in my congregation. I'll maybe encourage them to put something online.

    Free Church of Scotland

    There are a few of the tunes here:
    Free Church of Scotland | Psalms
  3. Tyrese

    Tyrese Puritan Board Sophomore

    Sing Psalms is an amazing psalter. I'm disappointed it doasnt get the attention it deserves. It has the best rendition of Psalm 23 (it's a family favorite). As far as the CDs that are on sale at the Free Church Bookstore I would say get them, but I would warn you they are not sung accapella. There's a piano being played to each psalm. You may also find this site helpful » Sing Psalms (2003) The Psalms of David – Sung a cappella. I believe all of the recordings on this site are accapella. Enjoy!
  4. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you, I had seen the tunes one the one page you linked to but I'd not seen the CD. For reference sake, I also edited to include a link to the site I found some congregational singing at.
  5. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior


    Thank you for your review. The volumes themselves certainly sound nice. I would be very grateful for any additional comments you could provide now or in the future with regards to the translations of the Psalms themselves, as this is quite important. I often find myself unsatisfied with the BPS/BPW and the 1650 in how they depart from the text of Scripture.

    Also, it appears that the OPC/URC Psalter-Hymnal that is in the works will make use of many selections from Sing Psalms.

    Edit: I just found the Sing Psalms text on-line. Nevertheless, I still appreciate your thoughts!
  6. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior


    Yes, I did link to the text in my original post. I've only had a chance to look at a couple of the psalms and can't comment yet on the translation. Out of curiousity, what do you use currently?

    Edit: If you would be willing, could you post about where you find fault in the 1650 in this thread where I'm exploring that? Also, if you have or get a chance to look at the text here in Sing Psalms then please post your findings. Thanks!
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  7. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    Well, my church does not have a Psalter. What Psalms we do use are from the Trinity Hymnal. I'm a college student split between two locations and the church I go to when at home uses the Trinity Psalter, so that's the one I have used most in public worship. I have been singing the Psalms on my own or with some friends and have been trying to find a good Psalter to memorize from. Right now, I have a mix of Psalms memorized from the BPS, BPW, 1650, and 1912 (the latter-most regrettably: I started learning before I realized how loose in translation it is). I have primarily been using digital copies (I have the Android app for BPW and then several downloaded copies), but I have been perusing several Psalters from the library. Currently I have the BPS checked out.

    I have been reading your thread already. I will try to contribute some of my thoughts I've had.
  8. Tyrese

    Tyrese Puritan Board Sophomore

    That would be great if your congregation could get more material on the net. Keep us informed.
  9. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    As an update, I've had the chance to study a few psalms and compare them to Scripture (using the ESV and KJV) and also compare them to the 1650. The expression is much smoother and clearer than the SMV but I have a hard time deciding which one is closer in the few I've looked at. Both use some amount of expansion as padding but I haven't seen a change in meaning.

    As I continue to look, I'll try to edit the original post with my concluding thoughts to make it easier for anyone down the road to find.
  10. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Senior

    "Sing Psalms" is missing the pronomial distinctions of the SMV. That's a rather serious difference and puts the SMV closer. Or at least it is and does from the perspective of those who defend the use of the AV's pronomial distinctions. That's one of the major problems with trying to find a common English translation or psalter these days, it seems: we can't even agree on criteria for what is a good translation. (And as an aside and perhaps confirmation of this point, I wasn't all that impressed with psalm 84, which is the one psalm I have investigated in detail from that Psalter because of its use in the circles I'm in, though the SMV does have a bit of padding on that psalm too.)
  11. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    I agree and I've been thinking about this a lot and asking myself what I would look for in the "perfect" psalter. And that's why I've mentioned a few times something about liking or disliking something at least based on my own criteria.

    I find myself feeling "nit-picky" sometimes, thinking "well, this psalter version got both these exact words in while this one got the idea across using a different word" and then I have to stop and tell myself that we're blessed we have a choice of such good psalters; so much so that it makes a comparison for accuracy actually difficult! What I definitely do not like is when a different thing is taught than is taught in that passage in the original, even if it is accurate. Unfortunately (in my mind) the SMV does this in some places.
  12. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Well so far I've been through a half-dozen psalms or so rather thoroughly and portions of another half-dozen and another dozen or so selected verses. I've been comparing with a Hebrew Interlinear, the Scottish 1650, the KJV, and the ESV.

    And my biggest complaint has been that "weaned child" in Psalm 131 was not used. The KJV has:
    "Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child."
    Sing Psalms has:
    "My spirit I have calmed; my heart is pacified. My soul is like a little child close to its mother's side.

    And even there I have to question myself and ask if I'm being picky. I would certainly prefer "weaned child" but is what the biblical author portraying lost? I don't think so. I guess one of my criteria is not so much "was this exact word that was in the KJV used?" but more "is this translation teaching something not found in this passage (even if taught elsewhere), or is this translation leaving out anything taught in this passage?

    I asked my wife. As a nursing mother she knows what a weaned child is like, but it makes little impression on me (and I suspect a lot of people). So I have to admit that Sing Psalms actually captures more of the meaning for me.

    So I have to say that if this is the worst I can find I should probably just take a step backward, take a deep breath, and say how thankful I am that we have the psalms, so accurately translated into our own language, for singing praise to God, in several translations.

    By the way, if anyone has any issues with this psalter or their own review (or other person's reviews), I'd appreciate it.
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