The book of Psalms begins with metaphor. The righteous, those who are close to God and follow his way, are like trees, Psalm 1 says. This message is foundational for understanding the rest of the psalter. It is the referent for psalms of praise and protest, of comfort and fear, of adulation and anger.
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There’s a word used to indicate the practice of singing two different songs at the same time. The musicological term is quodlibet. My teenage children call it a “mash-up.” Sometimes melodies or texts are superimposed over one another to demonstrate the musical skills of a composer. Other times it might be done simply for the fun of it.
- ByAugust 22, 2014
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” with Psalm 74
Let’s face it: Advent has been hijacked. Most people, including many Christians, consider Black Friday to be the beginning of the Christmas season. But long before the crush of holiday shopping at the end of November, Christmas lights festoon our streets and malls and the sound of Christmas jingles is inescapable.
The psalter has long played a prominent role in the worship of Christians in the Reformed tradition. John Calvin held the newly reformed church to the singing of the inspired words of the psalms. In the nineteenth century, particularly in North America, Reformed denominations began to accommodate hymns by binding them to the back of their psalters. The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) has maintained this “Psalter Hymnal” format right up to the twenty-first century.
Early this year I began working on an article for RW on the liturgical use of difficult psalms. Then on January 12 we received the news that an earthquake had struck the island nation of Haiti. By Sunday it was evident that the number of people killed, injured, or homeless would be measured in the hundreds of thousands. That Sunday morning I worshiped with two different congregations. The first congregation offered impassioned prayers for Haiti, but in a liturgical context that did not deviate from the plans laid out earlier in the week.
Sometimes I’m asked to speak on the topic of recovering congregational singing. So I ask the question “What’s wrong?” The conversation goes like this:
“Apparently people are not singing like they used to.”
“We’re not exactly sure, but we’d sure like to have some tools to improve the situation.”
Canticle of the Turning, a Setting of the Song of Mary
Perhaps the sundry lyrical settings of the angel Gabriel’s Ave Maria have conditioned us to expect Mary’s response to be parallel in its tenderness. Indeed, many hymnic settings of the Magnificat pick up on the reflective character of the text, and rightly so. There is introspection here. But there are also other possibilities.