Psalter: The Psalter: psalms and canticles for singing

Louisville, KY: Westminster/ John Knox Press, 1993. 432 pp., $30.00.

A new psalter for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). For many, psalm singing and the Scottish heritage are already synonymous. To be sure, the Presbyterian Hymnal (1991) contains many metrical psalms in a style similar to those found in the Psalter Hymnal. But what of the psalm texts in their original prose, in unmetered flow?

Enter responsorial psalmody. To honor both the Reformed ethos of full congregational participation and the proclamation of psalms in contemporary translation, the Psalter contains most of the psalms (some in a variety of musical styles) as well as 39 canticles for the assembly and/or its choral leaders to sing. Some are through-composed songs, while others are set to a chant formula. Psalm 2 is dramatized for readers who may be accompanied by a turbulent organ sound!

A responsorial psalm may be a meditation upon the Old Testament reading that immediately precedes it (according to the scheme of the Revised Common Lectionary), or it may be sung during communion. The theme of the psalm text is captured in a refrain to be sung by all before, after, and intermittently during each psalm. Music for the refrains may be an excerpt from a familiar hymn or Taize chant, or a newly composed accompanied tune. To assist congregational singing, responses are included in the appendix for photocopying into Sunday leaflets.

To carry the psalm text itself, an ancient or Gelineau psalm tone or a modern "presby-tone" is provided for a choir or cantor. The verses are pointed. Thanks to an extremely clear layout, both beginners and seasoned worship leaders will find the materials readily accessible. The inclusive-language texts are drawn from several sources.

It will be a great boon for worship planners to have access to a choice of biblical song settings, particularly for the songs of the Easter Vigil. The Easter Proclamation, for example, appears in two versions; and the Lord's Prayer is offered in four styles.

This collection is truly alive in that many living composers are represented. There is also room for the gifts of readers, solo singers, choral groups, wind instrumentalists, and keyboard players. Guidelines for using the materials are included, as well as a helpful list of resources for singing the psalms.

A new psalter for Presbyterians? Yes. And happily, also for the rest of us who wish to pray and praise, making possible the psalmists desire: Let all the people sing!

Fred Graham is a consultant for congregational worship for the United Church of Canada.