Singing Psalm Portions

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
I asked a similar question before about how psalms portions are decided for division. This time, my question is: Given that breaking up the Psalm is necessary in order for the singers to catch their breath, wouldn't it be better to sing through the whole Psalm, or at least as much of it as possible, since we argue that these psalms were instituted by God for His worship, and each psalm is a distinct song that forms a unit (Don't know if this is universally true? I heard the Hebrew might combine some psalms into one?) that can be lost when breaking the psalm up? If it is better to sing as much as possible, what keeps the Psalm portions down to around 6-8 verses at a time?

I know that sometimes singing more slowly or more quickly can also affect one's stamina during singing, so I suppose that is one factor one will have to determine. Still, I wonder if we are sometimes capable of singing more than we give ourselves credit? Of course, this question doesn't apply to all; some churches do sing more at a time than others during a service, and perhaps even more during a psalm sing (?).


Thoughts or comments on this? Or answers to the questions posed?
 
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irresistible_grace

Puritan Board Junior
In the Book of Psalms for Singing the reason given for the division of Psalms is to insure that every Psalm is of a "singable length." (Their words, not mine!)

I am of the persuasion that the Psalm that is being sung in worship is of far more importance than the tune that facilitates the Psalm (not that the tune is of no significance), however, "traditions of men" have a way of elevating tunes & braking up Psalms. If not the "tradition of men," perhaps ignorance and/or pride has people more focused on tunes & singable lengths than upon the Psalms [as songs inspired by God] being sung in their entirety as often as possible. Either way, I think you pose a good question: what keeps the Psalm portions down to around 6-8 verses at a time? I too would like to know!

I have reason to believe that Hymnody (of the uninspired, non-canonical variety) is much to blame for the brevity in length of the Psalm portions selected (bringing the "singable length" down drastically). I do not believe that the Jews of the Older Testament times or Christians of the Early Church sang just 3 verse of a 13 verse Psalm. They would have sung the entire Psalm as often as possible. And, many would have known the entire Psalm well enough to sing from memory.

In our home, we often sing straight through a Psalm that is less than 15 verses in length. If they are more than 15 verses long but less than 30 verses we will sing roughly half the Psalm, then read and sing the remainder. Psalms that are much longer in length (like 18, 22, 35, 37, 68* 78 ... etc.) we will break up into several smaller portions in order that we may sing the Psalm in it's entirety during the course of Family worship (with the exception of Psalm 119 which we tend to sing in the smaller portions that Scripture has it divided into).

If God is the author of the Psalms, God should decide the length of that song rather than allowing our "order of worship" to dictate the "singable length" of a Psalm. That said, I've been to many a church where even the Hymns (of the uninspired, non-canonical variety) were not sung in their entirety. So, the neglect of singing a "song" in it's entirety during Corporate Worship is not isolated to Exclusive Psalmody congregations. :2cents:
 

TexanRose

Puritan Board Sophomore
Well, each book of the Bible is a distinct unit, yet we don't feel obligated to read through an entire book of the Bible at every sitting, do we? The chapter divisions are not inspired, but we don't have a problem with breaking the books of the Bible up into smaller and more digestible portions. I don't see a problem with doing the same with the longer Psalms, just so long as we do sing through all of the Psalms over time.

The human voice does have limits, and I think we should respect them. Overdoing it today may mean being unable to sing at all tomorrow.
 

irresistible_grace

Puritan Board Junior
Well, each book of the Bible is a distinct unit, yet we don't feel obligated to read through an entire book of the Bible at every sitting, do we? The chapter divisions are not inspired, but we don't have a problem with breaking the books of the Bible up into smaller and more digestible portions. I don't see a problem with doing the same with the longer Psalms, just so long as we do sing through all of the Psalms over time.

The human voice does have limits, and I think we should respect them. Overdoing it today may mean being unable to sing at all tomorrow.

Have I told you lately that I love you?

I agree!

However, I still believe that as often as possible the Psalms could & should be sung in their entirety! And, will continue to do so in Family Worship with the help of your blog ;)
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
I am of the persuasion that the Psalm that is being sung in worship is of far more importance than the tune that facilitates the Psalm (not that the tune is of no significance), however, "traditions of men" have a way of elevating tunes & braking up Psalms. If not the "tradition of men," perhaps ignorance and/or pride has people more focused on tunes & singable lengths than upon the Psalms [as songs inspired by God] being sung in their entirety as often as possible. Either way, I think you pose a good question: what keeps the Psalm portions down to around 6-8 verses at a time? I too would like to know!

I have reason to believe that Hymnody (of the uninspired, non-canonical variety) is much to blame for the brevity in length of the Psalm portions selected (bringing the "singable length" down drastically). I do not believe that the Jews of the Older Testament times or Christians of the Early Church sang just 3 verse of a 13 verse Psalm. They would have sung the entire Psalm as often as possible. And, many would have known the entire Psalm well enough to sing from memory.

In our home, we often sing straight through a Psalm that is less than 15 verses in length. If they are more than 15 verses long but less than 30 verses we will sing roughly half the Psalm, then read and sing the remainder. Psalms that are much longer in length (like 18, 22, 35, 37, 68* 78 ... etc.) we will break up into several smaller portions in order that we may sing the Psalm in it's entirety during the course of Family worship (with the exception of Psalm 119 which we tend to sing in the smaller portions that Scripture has it divided into).

Am I reading correctly - churches should not break up Psalms but instead sing them in their entirety, but yet you then acknowledge that you regularly break up the Psalms when you sing them at home. So which one is it?
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks again, ladies, for the helpful comments on one of my psalm threads!

@Andrew: Her position is more nuanced than that. She was basically agreeing with the OP: while it is true we must break up the psalms, it is more ideal to not do so, and we could probly sing more than we give ourselves credit for, having overdone the breaking up to some degree.
 

irresistible_grace

Puritan Board Junior
I sincerely believe some of the divisions of the Psalms in Corporate Worship are excessive. If it is sincerely being divided because the Psalm is too long to sing (like 18, 22, 35, 37, 68, 78 etc), that is one thing. I personally have difficulty understanding why a Psalm that is only 13 verses in length [for example] is divided into 3 portions & sung in three different worship services. You are free to disagree, I was only offering my two cents.

[After reading Sharon's comment I am willing to see a necessity for dividing Psalms into manageable portions. Hence, one of the many reasons I love my Sister-in Christ down there in Texas.]

When we divide up Psalms in Family Worship we still sing the ENTIRE Psalm during Family Worship that day if at all possible. This has not been the case in Corporate Worship (hence my example of a 13 verse psalm divided multiple time over the course of multiple services). In my home, my husband will read several verses of the Psalm before we will sing them. Once those are sung he reads some more and we sing those. We continue this until the Psalm is sung in it's entirety. This helps us to learn them & to be able to sing with understanding. We tend to save the longer Psalms for Preparation Day (Saturday) & the Lord's Day. We sing shorter Psalms throughout the work week.

As often as possible, the Psalms should be sung as one song because each Psalm is one song. It is much better for memorizing them & writing them upon your heart. Once again, feel free to disagree I'm only expressing "my thoughts" as requested in the original post.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks again, ladies, for the helpful comments on one of my psalm threads!

@Andrew: Her position is more nuanced than that. She was basically agreeing with the OP: while it is true we must break up the psalms, it is more ideal to not do so, and we could probly sing more than we give ourselves credit for, having overdone the breaking up to some degree.

Unfortunately that same post contained a bunch of imputing of ill motives to those who do so , thereby losing some of that "nuance" in the midst of some pretty serious charges.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I have reason to believe that Hymnody (of the uninspired, non-canonical variety) is much to blame for the brevity in length of the Psalm portions selected (bringing the "singable length" down drastically).

Historically, it's the other way around. The official position of English-speaking churches was EP until the late 18th century, when Methodism began to change things. However, from the 17th-century onward, the translations used began to be looser because, to facilitate congregational singing, the psalms began to be versified (like English poetry) rather than metrical (aka: chant). The definition of what constituted a psalm paraphrase was finally stretched to the breaking point in the 18th century by hymnodists like Isaac Watts.

The current length of hymn is actually derived from the length of the paraphrases used in these early Psalters.
 

irresistible_grace

Puritan Board Junior
I didn't realize that "Historically" only meant post-Reformation.

The Psalms (at least some of the Psalms) have been sung since the time of Moses & were not broken down into as small of portions as will be sung this Lord's Day [if the Psalms are sung at all today in many a place called "Church"].

In the same way that many Reformed churches are starting to re-embrace longer sermons may they also sing the Psalms exclusively and in their entirety "as often as possible" once more!

We Psalm-lovers often define the Hymn Christ sang as the Great Hallel (Psalm 113-118 & 136) but few are willing to sing roughly 111 verses of the Psalms in Corporate Worship.

If I imputed ill motives, I sincerely apologize. I was only expressing my thoughts. I didn't see anyone else jumping in to answer the Original Post. Rather than commenting on my response, I'd be interested in hearing your replies to the Original Post.
 
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kodos

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks for the apologies sister, though I know you didn't intend the initial response to be directed my way in particular. Though, the 9th commandment governs our thoughts as well as our public expressions, and it is good to remember that (I speak as one who can be particularly poor at keeping the 9th commandment, however :) ).

You may not have meant it as such, but to put "Church" in quotes when describing the congregations that many of our good brothers and sisters on this very board are members of, can also seem like you are doubting whether they are part of a faithful church (or a church at all). It can be hard to get past that and get to the meat of your content in posts. Just something to be aware of, even if you didn't mean it that way. Written text can be taken a lot harsher than you may intend, and that's something that I deal with daily at work since we communicate via email all the time. While I agree that God only desires that the Psalms be sung in the Worship of God, I have no doubt that many non-EP churches are churches.

That said, since you asked about my response to the OP's question - I have often responded the way that our sister in Houston has, which is that we should be mindful of the limitations of the people of God, and remember that mercy (and not merely sacrifice) is required of us as well. While we could certainly sing more, our worship services are about 1.5 hours long, and with two worship services, the children in particular can start to feel the length of time. 3 hours a day though seems pretty good with our family, and the families of our church. We also have psalm singing practice that last for 30 minutes after church. After that much singing on the Lord's Day, our voices (particularly mine) need a break! Much wisdom is required by the session on how long to keep our services, especially for the needs of the body.

As for historical practice, I am not in the position to say with any certainty what the length of the congregation's singing in the synagogue was, but if you have reference material I'd love to study it! Because I am just about to begin researching what synagogue worship practice was, for my own curiosity. So if you have any materials, please send them my way. :)

Have a blessed Lord's Day!
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
I think common sense, balance and order should be applied in the length of singing
at public worship. If a psalm is too long for one singing, then there would be nothing wrong in
sensitively dividing it into the three singings that normally occur in a service. Generally within a
psalm there are various and diverse truths, and these could provide a natural break point. A friend
of mine in founding psalm singing churches in the Philippines,had to on one occasion prevent a
congregation singing the whole of Psalm119!! They so loved singing, so he had to explain that each
facet of worship had its place, and wisdom dictated that so many portions were to be limited at the
one time. Also I think that at least one psalm should be sung serially each Sabbath so that the psalter
would be traversed every 18 months by the congregation. But the important thing is, that God's word
is returned to Him in congregational praise.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
This thread sure took off! Thanks all! Just another consideration I remembered: metrical psalms may expand the number of syllables used while singing when compared to chanting and so will also require increased stamina to sing the same number of verses as one sings when chanting.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
This thread sure took off! Thanks all! Just another consideration I remembered: metrical psalms may expand the number of syllables used while singing when compared to chanting and so will also require increased stamina to sing the same number of verses as one sings when chanting.

Raymond, does your congregation chant the Psalms? Or have you ever participated in that?
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Jeri Tanner said:
Raymond, does your congregation chant the Psalms? Or have you ever participated in that?
No to both. I was merely surmising based on the energy I put into singing metrical psalms versus the energy I think I would need to chant them, especially when considering the words alone in which, for example, the AV words are more compact per verse than the 1650 words are. Depending on how the notes are held or how much variation in notes there are in chanting, that could be another factor that may make metrical psalm singing take more effort.

However, I should note that I am quite content with the metrical psalms and don't really view them as "defective" or "non-ideal" as a musical form for singing the psalms.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
As for printed form, consider Acts 13:33. It alters the form of the Psalm to divide it into sections. It is at the discretion of the one who sings as to how large a portion of a particular Psalm is to be sung.
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
Jeri Tanner said:
Raymond, does your congregation chant the Psalms? Or have you ever participated in that?
No to both. I was merely surmising based on the energy I put into singing metrical psalms versus the energy I think I would need to chant them, especially when considering the words alone in which, for example, the AV words are more compact per verse than the 1650 words are. Depending on how the notes are held or how much variation in notes there are in chanting, that could be another factor that may make metrical psalm singing take more effort.

However, I should note that I am quite content with the metrical psalms and don't really view them as "defective" or "non-ideal" as a musical form for singing the psalms.

Thanks, I was just wondering. Yes, metrical it must be, I think, for our time and place.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
armourbearer said:
As for printed form, consider Acts 13:33. It alters the form of the Psalm to divide it into sections. It is at the discretion of the one who sings as to how large a portion of a particular Psalm is to be sung.
I'm not sure I entirely understand. Are you referring to the fact that only a small portion of the Psalm was quoted? If so, how is that dividing the Psalm into sections? And isn't singing different from reading in that we argue for specific song units being commanded for singing (some object to the exclusive psalm singing position on the basis that the psalms are broken up and then sung consecutively; hence, a "man made" composition is created by stringing together portions of the psalms; if it is not seen as man made, then no objection can be made to a hymn that strings together portions of psalms), while for reading something more general is commanded (namely, the whole of the Scriptures)?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Acts 13:33 refers to "the second psalm." Hence the "psalm" as a whole is a distinct literary unit according to the mind of the Holy Spirit. To print a "psalter" and divide it into sections would alter this distinct literary unit as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

At the same time, the apostle was free to cite a specific section of the Psalm as expressing the mind of the Spirit. Hence singing a specific section of the psalm does not detract from its quality as inspired.
 

irresistible_grace

Puritan Board Junior
The thing I love about the 1650 is that if I only want to sing a portion of a Psalm, I can. And, if I want to sing the Psalm in it's entirety I can as well (and to pretty much any common metre tune I know) whereas the Book of Psalms for Singing decides where the Psalm is split (A, B, C, D.....) & if I don't know the tune they've attached to that Psalm or another tune that fits that Metre, then I cannot sing that portion much less the Psalm in it's entirety.

I still can't help but believe that as Christians we should desire to know ALL of the Songs of Zion that are contained in God's Word by heart - not just a handful of Psalm Portions. I also can't help but believe that one of the best ways to learn the Psalms is by singing each Psalm in it's entirety as often as possible (rather than being content to chop the Psalms into thousands of little portions and sing them sporadically)!!!
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
armourbearer said:
Acts 13:33 refers to "the second psalm." Hence the "psalm" as a whole is a distinct literary unit according to the mind of the Holy Spirit. To print a "psalter" and divide it into sections would alter this distinct literary unit as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Are some of the psalms divided differently in the Hebrew than they are in the English translation? This isn't entirely related to the thread, but I have wondered about it here and there.

armourbearer said:
At the same time, the apostle was free to cite a specific section of the Psalm as expressing the mind of the Spirit. Hence singing a specific section of the psalm does not detract from its quality as inspired.
What is the difference between citing or singing a specific section of the psalm and dividing it in print (e.g., what if a person sang a section of one psalm and strung it together with sections of other psalms and so effectively "compose" a song without printing the sections together as a distinct composition?)? By dividing a printed psalter, do you mean printing the psalms so that they are already divided? I'm still wondering whether there might be a difference between citing and singing, but the difficulty of finding a difference is evidence that there may be none. Thanks for providing the passage!
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
The thing I love about the 1650 is that if I only want to sing a portion of a Psalm, I can. And, if I want to sing the Psalm in it's entirety I can as well (and to pretty much any common metre tune I know) whereas the Book of Psalms for Singing decides where the Psalm is split (A, B, C, D.....) & if I don't know the tune they've attached to that Psalm or another tune that fits that Metre, then I cannot sing that portion much less the Psalm in it's entirety.

Just a correction: the Book of Psalms for Singing is similar to say, the Comprehensive Psalter (1650 text), where they may have broken the psalm into multiple portions but you can still sing the entire psalm because it is all in the same meter. If you know any of the tunes, you can sing the entire psalm.

Examples: Psalm 9 has broken it into two sections but they are both in 11.11.11.11 (Entire thing can be sung to Joanna: "Immortal, Invisible, God only wise")

Psalm 17 is broken into three portions, but each one is in C.M. (Entire thing can be sung with any C.M. tune)

Psalm 18 is broken into selections A--L but A--F are the entire psalm in L.M. (and any of the tunes for A--F work), and G--L is in 10.10.10.10

So you can indeed sing every psalm in its entirety if you know even one tune for the meter, and I'm confident you would, there are plenty of familiar tunes available for each of these meters. Now the Book of Psalms for Worship does have a problem in that for about 15 psalms the entirety of the psalm is not in the same meter, so these 15 psalms cannot be sung all the way through with the same tune.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Are some of the psalms divided differently in the Hebrew than they are in the English translation?

No.

By dividing a printed psalter, do you mean printing the psalms so that they are already divided?

We have one hundred and fifty psalms. Printing should conserve that structure. Dividing them any further imposes an artificial structure on the book. So Psalm 25 should be printed as 25, not 25:1-7, 25:8-14, etc.
 

irresistible_grace

Puritan Board Junior
The thing I love about the 1650 is that if I only want to sing a portion of a Psalm, I can. And, if I want to sing the Psalm in it's entirety I can as well (and to pretty much any common metre tune I know) whereas the Book of Psalms for Singing decides where the Psalm is split [or "imposes an artificially structure"] (A, B, C, D.....) & if I don't know the tune they've attached to that Psalm or another tune that fits that Metre, then I cannot sing that portion much less the Psalm in it's entirety.

Just a correction: the Book of Psalms for Singing is similar to say, the Comprehensive Psalter (1650 text), where they may have broken the psalm into multiple portions but you can still sing the entire psalm because it is all in the same meter. If you know any of the tunes, you can sing the entire psalm.

Examples: Psalm 9 has broken it into two sections but they are both in 11.11.11.11 (Entire thing can be sung to Joanna: "Immortal, Invisible, God only wise")

Psalm 17 is broken into three portions, but each one is in C.M.(Entire thing can be sung with any C.M. tune)

Psalm 18 is broken into selections A--L but A--F are the entire psalm in L.M. (and any of the tunes for A--F work), and G--L is in 10.10.10.10

So you can indeed sing every psalm in its entirety if you know even one tune for the meter, and I'm confident you would, there are plenty of familiar tunes available for each of these meters. Now the Book of Psalms for Worship does have a problem in that for about 15 psalms the entirety of the psalm is not in the same meter, so these 15 psalms cannot be sung all the way through with the same tune.

In the 1650 SMV, none of the Psalms have been "divided further," they maintain the integrity of Holy Scripture without "imposing an artificial structure on the book" of Psalms. And in the case of Psalm 9, Psalm 17 and Psalm 18 (the 3 you mention), they are not divided into smaller portions and ALL three Psalms can be sung to the tune of Amazing Grace.

My family has both of the Psalters you mention (BoPfS & BoPfW) but we do not use them for Corporate or Family Worship. And there are tunes in both that I do not know & Psalms that I am unable to sing as a result. Whereas, we as a family have sung every Psalm from the 1650 SMV, without hesitation and most of them to the tune to of Amazing Grace.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
In the 1650 SMV, none of the Psalms have been "divided further," they maintain the integrity of Holy Scripture without "imposing an artificial structure on the book" of Psalms.

Sister, I own five editions of the SMV, I am quite familiar with it. One of them, the "Comprehensive Psalter" (Which Richard Bacon, Chris Coldwell were involved in), does divide the SMV into shorter portions. That does not make it lose "the integrity of Holy Scripture" in my mind. It is not my preferred structure but it is very similar to that of the BoPfS.

Whereas, we as a family have sung every Psalm from the 1650 SMV, without hesitation and most of them to the tune to of Amazing Grace.
I have said before that I think this is both a strong point and a weakness of the psalter. The strong point is that you only need to know one tune and can sing the entire psalter.
The weak point(s) are that this is detrimental to memorization if you don't have a consistent CM tune or use the same tune for many psalms.
It can be detrimental to the mood of the psalm: Amazing Grace (New Britain) is not a great tune for say, Psalm 150 (though the Scottish Psalmody version has suggested tunes with appropriate melodies and I like that version very much).
CM is not always the best for the psalm and require more "shoehorning" than a different meter.
CM is one of the shortest meters and makes many psalms very long. We have been singing Psalm 9 in 11.11.11.11 which is ten stanzas. In CM it is sixteen and makes it a good bit longer to sing.

I don't think there is anything wrong with having more meters (though one can have too many of course). The BoPfS is not my favorite psalter but I thought you were being a bit unfair to it and wanted to clarify. I would not persuade you to use it against the 1650.
 
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TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
If a psalm is too long for one singing, then there would be nothing wrong in
sensitively dividing it into the three singings that normally occur in a service.

This is perhaps the best compromise between the necessity of singing only a portion of a Psalm at a time and the preference of singing an entire Psalm as a unit.
 
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