by Michael Ford last modified 18 Nov, 2010 02:09 AM
The church with psalms must shout, no door can keep them out!
George Herbert

We are now able to use a wide variety of styles that can be arranged under the following headings:

  • Plainsong/plainchant (modern editions available or use original notation)
  • Book of Common Prayer – Coverdale 1549 – chanted (‘Anglican Chant’)
  • Psalm Songs (through-composed and often responsorial)
  • Psalms in strophic/metrical form – hymns – started at Reformation
  • Taizé settings
  • Iona settings (Wild Goose Publications)
  • Responsorial Psalms
  • Chanted psalms using modern translations (Common Worship/LTP)
  • Anglican Chant for congregation and choir (John Bertalot)
  • Contemporary Monastic style (Reginald Box)
You will need to search for examples of these styles yourself and by doing this you will come upon a large amount of material that you may not have known about. Make a start by visiting David Lee’s helpful website.

If you are able to visit Sarum College Library, you will be able to browse through a wide collection of psalm music styles. You may be able to access a good liturgical bookshop where they stock a range of Psalters with music.

How do we see the use of the psalm within our revised liturgies?
Do we see the role of the psalm as an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word?
As a response to the first reading in a Eucharistic liturgy and a link between OT and NT readings, can we make more use of the seasonal and thematic content of psalms?
Does the music that is used to sing a psalm have to convey the mood of the text?
Which style of psalm singing is more suited to?

A Eucharistic liturgy

The daily office – evensong.

A family service.

……. and why?

Think about how psalms can be used at various points
during a Eucharistic liturgy.
How do you use Psalms in the worship in your church?
How could you introduce more psalm singing into your church?
Is there a place for Modern psalms such as those by David Adam?


Some choice thoughts on Psalms and their use:

A psalm implies serenity of soul; it is the author of peace. A psalm forms friendships, unites those separated, conciliates those at enmity. A psalm is a city of refuge from the demons; a means of inducing help from the angels, a weapon in fears by night, a rest from toils by day, a safe-guard for infants, an adornment for those at the height of their vigour, a consolation for the elders, a most fitting ornament for women. It peoples the solitudes, it rids the market place of excesses; it is the elementary exposition of beginners, the improvement of those advancing, the solid support of the perfect, the voice of the Church. It brightens the feast days; it creates a sorrow which is in accordance with God. For a psalm calls forth a tear even from a heart of stone. A psalm is the work of the angels, a heavenly institution, the spiritual incense.
Basil 4th Century

I believe the reason that the psalms still have such a hold on us is because we’re all still wandering through deserts, still crossing rivers, still walking through valleys of the shadow of death, still seeking promised lands.
William Ferris

The Church knew what the Psalmist knew: Music praises God. Music is well or better
able to praise Him than the building of a church and all its decoration; it is the Church’s
greatest ornament.
Igor Stravinsky

In an era of history, when the ending of the Cold War and global awareness of
international disorders have not ensured that the world is safer or less hungry, or its
wealthy inhabitants more fulfilled, it may be that we have to learn to use psalms in ways
that will ensure our present day apprehensions and pains are offered to God as earnestly
as our most exuberant praise.
John Bell


Background Reading
Make Music to our God – How we sing the Psalms (SPCK) 1996, Br. Reginald SSF
Celebration – the Liturgy Sourcebook – Ed. Stephen Dean (Chapman)
Common Worship Today – ed. Mark Earey (Harper Collins 2001).
Out of the depths – Bernard Anderson (Westminster Press 1983)
The Psalms - Artur Weiser (SCM 1962)
The Liturgy today and tomorrow – Gelineau (DLT 1978)
The Psalter 1998, A draft text for Common Worship (CHP 1998)
Ways of Singing the Psalms, Robin Leaver (ed.) Collins
The Book of Praises, David Preston (ed.) Carey Publications, 1986;
Responsorial Psalms, Norman Warren (ed.) HarperCollins, 1994
Music resources
Common Worship Psalter (RSCM) 2002
Psalm Songs Vols 1-3 ed David Ogden and Alan Smith
Psalm Praise – Harper Collins
Psalms of Patience, Protest and praise – Bell (Wild Goose)
Sunday Psalms – Mayhew
Psalms and Music for the Eucharist – ed Humphrey and Forrester (McCrimmons)


A diversion!

Below is a copy of the BCP (Coverdale) Psalm 46.
Count to the 46th word from the start.
Count to the 46th word from the end.
These two words make up the name of someone who we think was working with Miles Coverdale as the co-author of this translation. This is how he left his signature in 1539!

Psalm 46. Deus noster refugium 

1. God is our hope and strength : a very present help in trouble.
2. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved : and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea;
3. Though the waters thereof rage and swell : and though the mountains shake at the tempest of the same.
4. The rivers of the flood thereof shall make glad the city of God : the holy place of the tabernacle of the most Highest.
5. God is in the midst of her, therefore shall she not be removed : God shall help her, and that right early.
6. The heathen make much ado, and the kingdoms are moved : but God hath shewed his voice, and the earth shall melt away.
7. The Lord of hosts is with us : the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8. O come hither, and behold the works of the Lord : what destruction he hath brought upon the earth.
9. He maketh wars to cease in all the world : he breaketh the bow, and knappeth the spear assunder, and burneth the chariots in the fire.
10. Be still then, and know that I am God : I will be exalted among the heathen, and will be exalted in the earth.
11. The Lord of hosts is with us : the God of Jacob is our refuge.


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