Psalter: Singing Psalms of Joy and Praise

Singing Psalms of Joy and Praise.

Fred R. Anderson. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986, 77 pp. $5.95.

A Psalm Sampler.

Prepared by the Office of Worship for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986,44 pp. $4.95.

These two paperbacks join the growing number of publications from the many different traditions that are once again discovering the riches of singing the psalms. Neither one is a complete psalter, but each builds on and expands the long Reformed tradition of psalm singing.

The Anderson collection, Singing Pslams of Joy and Praise, contains metrical settings of 51 psalms, 43 complete and 8 partial versifications. In addition to the psalm text and suggestions for appropriate tunes, Anderson also includes prayers based on the psalms. Pastors especially will appreciate these prayers—similar in many respects to the prayers Calvin included in his psalm commentaries.

Anderson clearly builds on the Psalter of 1912, sometimes choosing the same meter as the editors of that hymnal did and twice simply updating the texts (Ps. 22: "Amid the Thronging Worshipers," and Ps. 32: "How Blest Are Those Whose Great Sin"). For the most part his language is fresh and contemporary, avoiding many of the inversions and archaisms in the 1912 Psalter, yet remaining faithful to Scripture.

As the project developed, Anderson began to follow the Office of Worship's goal: avoiding masculine pronouns—not only for people, but also for God. This necessitated changing many psalms from the third to the second person. Psalm 24, for example, changes from a proclamation: "The earth is the Lord's," to direct address: "The earth is yours, Lord." Also, psalms in first-person singular are sometimes changed to plural. Although these alterations sometimes shift the emphasis of the original somewhat, Anderson tries to steer a balance between literal faithfulness to the psalms and contemporary inclusive and corporate language.

Although the suggested tunes are helpful, the simple inclusion of meters would have made the search for alternate tunes much easier. The variety of meters is welcome—fifteen in all—though common meter (CM and CMD) is used in half of them. However, sometimes the match could be better; CRIMOND, well known as a tune for Psalm 23, is recommended for Psalm 51, a psalm of different character.

For permission to print these fine texts in your church bulletin, simply call 215-928-2734 or write Westminster Press, 925 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19107, and ask for the person in charge of permissions.

A Psalm Sampler is well titled. Although it contains only 29 songs, it is a veritable anthology of textual and musical ways of singing {and notating) the psalms. In addition, the front and back covers contain liturgies for daily prayer and a night prayer.

Rather than squeeze those liturgies on the covers, the publisher might better have included a few more pages. A page listing the addresses of various copyright holders would also have been a valuable addition to the volume. Most churches who use this book will not place it in their pews; rather, they will want to print texts from it in their weekly bulletins. Tracking down addresses for permission to reprint will require more effort than should be necessary.

That editorial criticism aside, the songs themselves have much to offer. Almost every text was written (or revised by the authors) in the 1980s. And more than half of the tunes were com-

posed in the last twenty years. Although several different traditions are represented, the majority of texts and music were contributed by members of the Psalter Task Force of the Office of Worship that prepared the collection.

As for style, only half are metrical. The rest exemplify various chant styles, sometimes with solo chant alternating with congregational refrains. A few include suggestions for bells and other instruments.

Most Reformed folk have never experienced singing in chant style. But it's worth trying. To be able to sing Scripture straight—without the constraints of rhythm, rhyme, and stanza divisions—brings the word more directly into our worship. However, this style will need careful introduction. Perhaps your choirs (both children's and adults) can gradually introduce this new form of psalm singing to your congregation.

These two collections of psalms provide a good sampling of the Reformed tradition at work in worshiping with psalms. Based on reaction to and use of these publications, the committee preparing a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) would do well to consider including a generous portion of psalms in their new book.

Emily R. Brink ( is Senior Research Fellow for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and former editor of Reformed Worship.


Reformed Worship 3 © March 1987, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.