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Book: The Book of Psalms: A worship resource for reading or singing the Psalms with optional refrains

Prepared by the Psalter Task Force of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Toronto: Presbyterian Church of Canada, 1995. 354 pp.

More and more congregations in the Reformed tradition are looking for varied approaches to reading and singing psalms in worship. For those accustomed to what we generally call “responsive reading”—the reading of alternate lines of text by the worship leader and the congregation—the easiest next step is often that of simply adding a musical refrain. This book was created with just those congregations in mind.

The book includes all 150 psalms, presented in order, with complete texts from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. This in itself is a blessing, since many collections of this type include only snippets of psalms designed for those selections most frequently employed by the Revised Common Lectionary. The presentation of complete psalm texts allows a much greater range of possibilities for worship planners. The first refrain for each psalm is a snippet from a hymn tune, which, the editors note, might be the most accessible sort of refrain for congregations who are new to this form. The other refrains are settings composed by contemporary church musicians, including George Black, John Derksen, Andrew Donaldson, and Hal Hopson. Each psalm has at least two refrains specifically matched to it, a vast improvement over collections where the editors have fallen back on “general” refrains for some psalms, exhausted by the sheer volume of the canon. The book does offer seventeen “general” refrains to expand the options of worshipers even further.

For those who have had greater exposure to responsorial psalmody, the psalms are clearly pointed for chanting, with several useful tones by Andrew Donaldson and John Derksen included. The texts and tunes are clearly printed on bright white stock, and the book is bound in a tastefully embossed, substantial hard cover, making it an attractive addition to parish pew racks. In the back of the book is an exhaustive set of addresses to call for copyright permissions, followed by a complete set of indices, including one that offers lectionary-based passages for those congregations using the Revised Common Lectionary.

As we enter the twenty-first century, worship planners need no more proof that everything old has become new than to see the variety of ways in which congregations are trying to sing the psalms again. For Reformed congregations who wish to add this ancient practice of responsorial psalmody to our own rich tradition of metrical psalm singing, this book is an invaluable resource. Those of us who live south of the border can only hope that this book soon has a U.S. distributor.