The second half of the 20th century saw a substantial amount of cultural change in America. The advent of mass media, a spike in our national population, and the rise of recorded music’s influence birthed what has been deemed the “worship wars” in the Church. While music and singing have not been the only corners of church culture to have been affected by these changes, it can feel like it is the most prominent. I am becoming more and more convinced that Christ Community Church is one of the few congregations that continue to sing from a hymnal; even that is not a weekly practice for us. But if hymnals are seeing the twilight of their relevance, the singing of Psalms seem to have been stuck in another century altogether.
Recently, our brother Brian Denker, together with Dr. Ray Van Nest, organized a conference at Union University celebrating the Psalms. The conference–Read, Pray, Sing–featured, among various speakers, a PsalmFest led by Dr. Chris Matthews. The program included various different ways the Psalms could be incorporated into contemporary worship settings (spoken, prayed, sung, and even chanted!). If the art of Psalm singing has nearly faded for evangelicals, there may be a resurgence on the horizon (at least in Jackson). At CCC, we have experimented with singing metrical Psalms to familiar tunes. While we continue to explore and recover this aspect of worship, there are a few things that may be helpful to remember:
- Psalm singing is awkward: Let’s be honest, however we may do it, singing the Scriptures are outside of our experience. We need to remember, though, that Psalms were written to be sung. It is worth some wobbly moments.
- Psalm singing requires patience: most of us are used to some form of popular music. For music to be marketable, it must appeal to the broadest of audiences. This mean it must catch our attention quick and not wear us out. We are used to songs being short. Most Psalms are not short. To benefit from psalm singing, we need to recondition our expectations.
- Psalm singing is Scripture singing: We can freely dislike the work of contemporary songwriters. We can even dare to critique the hymn-writers of old. But it’s a little difficult to complain about God’s word. Singing the Psalms relieves us from having to form an opinion about what we are singing. Granted, tunes may be bad (and I promise we’ll sing some bad ones), but if we are going to sing someone’s songs, we cannot go wrong with singing God’s.
With all of this in mind, I realize there are things music ministers can do to make things less awkward. Singing the Psalms to familiar tunes is helpful. Singing a portion of a Psalm rather than all 30 verses is also helpful. There is no single way to do it and there will be some rough patches. However, I think, in the long run, it will be worth it if we explore and practice together as we gather in Christ’s name.
Over the coming weeks and months, we will be considering these things in hopes of fostering a delight and joy in singing the Scriptures. This week, Sunday, July 7, 2013, we will be singing Psalm 30. It is a metrical versification adapted from the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter of 1812. The tune is a CCC original. Below is a clip of me embarrassing myself before you all in an effort to introduce the tune and demonstrate how we will be singing it together on Sunday. We will sing this antiphonally, which I explain in the video. Basically, there will be a refrain we will sing together while I sing the other verses. Only verses 1 (the refrain), 4, 6, 7, 10, 12, and 13 will be sung. I hope you all get a good laugh at my cracking voice; but more importantly, we will all arrive at church prepared to sing God’s Word.
Peace of Christ to you all,
1 All laud and praise with heart and voice, O Lord, I give to thee,
Who did not make my foes rejoice, But has exalted me.
4 Sing praise, ye saints, that prove and see the goodness of the Lord;
In honor of his Majesty rejoice with one accord.
6 Though heaviness and pangs full sore abide with us all night,
The Lord to joy shall us restore before the day be light.
7 When I enjoyed the world at will, thus would I boast and say,
Tush, I am sure to feel no ill, my wealth shall not decay:
10 What gain is in my blood, said I, if death destroy my days?
Can dust declare thy majesty, or give thy truth its praise?
12 Then thou did turn my grief and woe into a cheerful voice;
My sackcloth did take off also, and made me to rejoice,
13 Wherefore my soul incessantly shall sing unto thy praise;
O Lord my God, to thee will I give laud and thanks always.