Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Psalms


jonadkins
 Share

Recommended Posts

One of the things (and there are many) at which I would like to be better is psalm accompaniment. Depending on where you go, the psalms can be either a necessary but uninspiring part of worship, or an art form, both from stalls and bench. I have heard that the recently much-discussed JSW was a past master of this.

 

I'd be grateful for tips, but also favourite chants, psalters, pet hates, favourite examples (either recorded or not).

I know I ought to look at the text and just take it from there, but I'd still be interested to know what the feeling is.

 

Many thanks!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Personally a fan of the Oxford Psalter, though have made my own. Can't stand the Parish Psalter, but have to use it at present.

 

I use a mixture of published chants, and privately amassed ones.

 

Much about accompaniment depends principally on the prowess of the choir, of course, but also whether the congrgation might expect to join in! And, if the clergy have loud voices, whether they also are going to take part - and rehearse!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd be grateful for tips, but also favourite chants, psalters, pet hates, favourite examples (either recorded or not).

I know I ought to look at the text and just take it from there, but I'd still be interested to know what the feeling is.

 

Many thanks!

One of the things that makes or breaks Anglican chant for me is whether or not speech rhythm is used. The formulaic, lumpen approach used by so many choirs and congregations - speech rhythm until the first barline, hesitate on the last syllable, then sing the remaining syllables in crotchets (1st and 3rd quarters) or minim, minim, crotchet crotchet minim (2nd and 4th) - ruins any possibility of words being brought alive, and therefore the whole purpose of chant. That said, I have no idea whether this defect is caused by the inexperience or underconfidence of many singers, the pointing notation, the way the accompaniment is done, or sheer force of unthinking habit.

 

Another, entirely personal, opinion is that if a particular congregation doesn't sing hymns confidently, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from congregational psalm chanting. Some of the most excruciating musical experiences in church have been accompanying congregational chant. This is particularly true if the congregation haven't been supplied with copies of the pointing, although few would know what to do with it in any case.

 

I find the Parish Psalter very dull, and the Worcester Psalter fares little better. When I have the chance, I tend to point my own psalms - at least I don't moan about them then! I like the Priory Psalms of David CD series - lots of different styles to compare and contrast. Hyperion's Psalms from St. Paul's is OK, but naturally less varied and a little less lively generally.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of the things (and there are many) at which I would like to be better is psalm accompaniment. Depending on where you go, the psalms can be either a necessary but uninspiring part of worship, or an art form, both from stalls and bench. I have heard that the recently much-discussed JSW was a past master of this.

 

I'd be grateful for tips, but also favourite chants, psalters, pet hates, favourite examples (either recorded or not).

I know I ought to look at the text and just take it from there, but I'd still be interested to know what the feeling is.

 

Many thanks!

 

==========================

 

 

 

Just do what this lot do somewhere in Yorkshire! B)

 

Very apt, considering the recent ending of an era. It doesn't come much better, if at all.

 

 

We may as well have a final voluntary as well....another era again, but what poise.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oG5pIS43Rbs...feature=related

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Completely agree nachthorn. I was intrigued a while back though, (and I now can't remember where, but it might even be in the Parish Psalter's singing directions - don't have copy to hand) to read a stern warning that the singing should be absolutely rhythmical after the reciting note - ie that the minims and ending semibreve in each quarter should be in strict time wrt each other. That's baloney to us, but was somebody's good practice nearly a century ago.

 

As a RC who also sings most Sunday evenings in the CofE, I love singing and accompanying Anglican Chant, but can't help thinking it a bit of an odd musical form. Would you invent it today, starting with a blank sheet of paper and a requirement to sing the Psalter in church?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Completely agree nachthorn. I was intrigued a while back though, (and I now can't remember where, but it might even be in the Parish Psalter's singing directions - don't have copy to hand) to read a stern warning that the singing should be absolutely rhythmical after the reciting note - ie that the minims and ending semibreve in each quarter should be in strict time wrt each other. That's baloney to us, but was somebody's good practice nearly a century ago.

 

As a RC who also sings most Sunday evenings in the CofE, I love singing and accompanying Anglican Chant, but can't help thinking it a bit of an odd musical form. Would you invent it today, starting with a blank sheet of paper and a requirement to sing the Psalter in church?

 

Certainly not! I quote from the Parish Psalter "Every word must be pronounced clearly and with natural emphasis, as in deliberate reading" and "The length and accentuation of each note (or chord) in the chant must be governed entirely by the words, and not vice versa".

 

Personally I think that the Parish Psalter is pretty good, and a good choir can sing from and produce good results. When I do my own pointing I smooth it out a little. (I think I'm halfway between it and the Oxford Psalter, which is good.)

 

I hate the modern fashion for frequently leaving out chords - ruins chants for me. I can't be doing with the St Paul's Psalter.

 

As for inventing Anglican chant - it's much more interesting than plainsong - much as I like that

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is some pretty good advice (bear with it to the end; it's worth it despite the awful sound quality).

 

I'm an Oxford Psalter man myself – with modifications. I find it encourages speech rhythm better than the Parish Psalter (I have used both).

 

The classic "Anglican bump" described by Nachthorn unfortunately has its counterpart in the speech rhythm style too. Making psalms vital in speech rhythm relies on distinguishing the important words and syllables from the less important ones, but all too often a choir will slip into the lazy habit of using a syllable as a sort of rallying point on which everyone pauses before dashing off to the end of the verse. It results in a very stilted style. You can hear it a lot here, for example at "princes and all judgeees... oftheworld."

 

The important thing is to keep the words flowing, like this:

 

As for favourite chants, it is very easy to ruin a lovely chant by matching it with words that do not suit it. So I don't so much have favourite chants as favourite psalm/chant combinations and I think anyone who has performed or listened to psalms daily for several years will say the same. A perfect match isn't always immediately obvious. Often something eventually just clicks. It may be something about the shape of the chant that illuminates a particular phrase in the text; it may be a particular chord that does the same; it may be a perfect match between the mood of the chant and the words. Everyone has their own favourites and one person's will be completely mystifying to anyone else who is not singing from the same chant book.

 

Here are just a few of mine:

Psalm 22: it's hard to beat Camidge in E minor followed by Elvey's major version of the same chant.

Psalm 23: The perfect chant for this is a double chant in E major by Walford Davies – not the one normally found set to this psalm but the one set to psalm 26 in the Lincoln Psalter.

Psalm 29: Double chant in C major by W. H. Harris (RSCM Chant Book no.66). It was written for this psalm and the divisi treble part at the end is for verses 4, 8, 10 and the gloria.

Psalm 46: I know it's hackneyed, but it's got to be that old adaptation of Ein feste Burg.

Psalm 91: The double chant by C. Carte Doorly in the New Cathedral Psalter Chants *** (village use), but transposed down to B flat.

Psalm 142: Peppin in E minor single chant.

Psalm 143: Barnby in A minor double chant (RSCM Chant Book no.15).

Psalm 106: Howells wrote a fascinating set of three for Chichester Cathedral, but they're not widely available.

Psalm 107: There's a fine set of chants by Robert Ashfield.

 

If you want to match psalms and chants well – and accompany them well for that matter – there is no substitute for really learning them properly – and I mean off by heart. Don't react superficially to the words, but try to dig deeper and understand the psalmist's mind, mood and situation. Consider: "O that I had wings like a dove: for then would I flee away and be at rest." Is this a cosy image of peace? Or is it a cry of desperation?

 

I once compiled a complete chant book for one of my previous choirs and thoroughly enjoyed the process. Really the only way to do this is to start with the text and then plough through chant after chant after chant until you find the right one. And finding the right juxtapositions of chants is another thing. The chants I have quoted above for psalms 142 and 143 go particularly well together because the third quarter of the Barnby chant is the same shape as the opening of the Peppin.

 

I hate the modern fashion for frequently leaving out chords - ruins chants for me.

I have to agree. I also dislike chants where each section (whether halves or quarters) consists of semibreve | minim minim | semibreve. I can't deny that they make it easier to point certain psalms like 148, which are very cumbersome with normal chants, but somehow they always seem musically perfunctory to me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

==========================

 

 

 

Just do what this lot do somewhere in Yorkshire! B)

 

Very apt, considering the recent ending of an era. It doesn't come much better, if at all.

 

 

Lovely singing, but this isn't York Minster Choir! In fact, the words aren't from the Book of Common Prayer but a variation of it and I suspect that it may be a visiting choir from Australia on further investigation of the other videos listed. I don't actually think it is even recorded in the Minster (it would be virtually impossible to get such a noiseless recording during a live evensong in the summer) and the accompaniment is a different style from John's.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Depending on where you go, the psalms can be either a necessary but uninspiring part of worship, or an art form, both from stalls and bench. I'd be grateful for tips, but also favourite chants, psalters, pet hates, favourite examples (either recorded or not).

Many thanks!

I'm an Oxford Psalter man myself – with modifications. I find it encourages speech rhythm better than the Parish Psalter (I have used both).

After a few years in mediocre village church choirs with The New Cathedral Psalter and later The Parish Psalter, I have spent most of the last 40 years with the Oxford Psalter as amended by Robert Ashfield, together with the set of chants he compiled for use first at Southwell and then at Rochester, enhanced by his successor, Barry Ferguson - a combination I find almost unbeatable. RJA understood the words, pointed them accordingly, and found chants to match (or wrote one of his own). Very rarely have I found anything that I felt could be improved, or wanted to change.

 

I very much regret the passing of the "Psalms of the Day" in many places (but always insist on doing them when on tour away from home! :ph34r: ). For me, one of life's all-time great experiences is the 15th Evening - such a fine story that you cannot possibly cut it (though many do) - and I find the thought that I may never do it again in toto incredibly depressing. B)

 

As for favourite chants…

Psalm 107: There's a fine set of chants by Robert Ashfield.

Indeed there is: A sequence of three, that cycle round and round (the end of the third one having such an inevitability that it couldn't possibly go anywhere else except back to No 1), followed by a fourth one in a completely different mood – until you realise it's No 1 down a fifth.

 

Don't react superficially to the words, but try to dig deeper and understand the psalmist's mind, mood and situation. Consider: "O that I had wings like a dove: for then would I flee away and be at rest." Is this a cosy image of peace? Or is it a cry of desperation?

...which clearly demonstrates why VH is such a masterly Psalm-accompanist. I wish I had thought of that when we did those words a couple of weeks ago.

 

I dislike chants where each section (whether halves or quarters) consists of semibreve | minim minim | semibreve. I can't deny that they make it easier to point certain psalms like 148, which are very cumbersome with normal chants, but somehow they always seem musically perfunctory to me.

I beg to disagree. Without this device there are too many syllables to too few notes. For this reason I have also invented a truncated version of the (IMHO unnecessarily extended) Lloyd B flat chant often used for Ps 136 ("...for his mercy endureth for e-e-ver").

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do really enjoy psalms, one of the glories of Evensong. I find when accompanying the only way to do it is to commit the chant to memory so you can concentrate on the words. I don't find this particularly difficult, but otherwise you are jumping from chant to words continually which won't make it easy.

 

When accompanying - how do people set up registration for word-painting? My current strategy (on a fairly substantial instrument with lots of memories) is to cycle through general pistons - usually one setting for each verse but sometimes a change at halfway if the words dictate, plus judicious of the swell pedal. This does, of course, require time in the week beforehand setting these up. I'd be intrigued to know how others manage it though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do really enjoy psalms, one of the glories of Evensong. I find when accompanying the only way to do it is to commit the chant to memory ......

 

=======================

 

 

I wonder how many people on the board know that Dr Francis Jackson had memorised the entire words of the psalter!

 

That may explain the sheer magic of his psalm accompaniment, which set a standard at York which JSW and others continued.

 

That's professionalism!

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lovely singing, but this isn't York Minster Choir! In fact, the words aren't from the Book of Common Prayer but a variation of it and I suspect that it may be a visiting choir from Australia on further investigation of the other videos listed. I don't actually think it is even recorded in the Minster (it would be virtually impossible to get such a noiseless recording during a live evensong in the summer) and the accompaniment is a different style from John's.

 

 

===============================

 

 

I had to chuckle when I read this from Robert, because I found myself involuntarily doing a "Francis" expression and going, "Ooooooh."

 

Actually, loooking at the other videos, there are all sorts of spurious accreditations, including one "York Minster" one where the organ sounds be be in meantone and very, very old.

 

That said, and whatever the source, it's rather nice psalm-singing, with a lovely speech-rhythm flow to it.

 

The lesson here, is never to trust a video by the cover.

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

===============================

 

 

 

That said, and whatever the source, it's rather nice psalm-singing, with a lovely speech-rhythm flow to it.

 

MM

It seems rather mannered to me - far too much unnatural emphasis on certain syllables.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

=======================

 

 

I wonder how many people on the board know that Dr Francis Jackson had memorised the entire words of the psalter!

 

That may explain the sheer magic of his psalm accompaniment, which set a standard at York which JSW and others continued.

 

That's professionalism!

 

MM

 

No, I'm not in the least bit surprised - how many years was he doing it for? I am sure that most cathedral organists using the same pointing over a number of years would be able to make a similar claim - not that they would wish to play for evensong without the psalter in front of them. I think the first part of the original question on psalm accompaniment bear some relevance to the question I posed a while ago about last verse reharmonisation of hymn tunes. The sorts of things that the masters of both these arts get up to require a thorough knowledge of harmony and a wonderful ear. One tip regarding registration that I picked up from spending a few years in the loft at Chichester in John Birch's time, was to leave a verse or two unaccompanied to gather ones wits (and stops) for the next onslaught.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No, I'm not in the least bit surprised - how many years was he doing it for? I am sure that most cathedral organists using the same pointing over a number of years would be able to make a similar claim

 

All the cathedral organists of Francis Jackson's era must have known the psalter and pointing off by heart. Sidney Campbell certainly did. We should remember that in their day cathedrals sang Matins on most days as well as Evensong, so they were bound to absorb it all. I wonder how easy this will be for future generations, if they do not perform the psalms of the day.

 

I have spent most of the last 40 years with the Oxford Psalter as amended by Robert Ashfield, together with the set of chants he compiled for use first at Southwell and then at Rochester, enhanced by his successor, Barry Ferguson - a combination I find almost unbeatable. ... Very rarely have I found anything that I felt could be improved, or wanted to change.

 

But, like I said, one person's favourites will be completely mystifying to another and the appreciation of perfect matches often only comes with familiarity. I am convinced one has to use a chant book for some time before one can fully appreciate all its subtleties. This is because any properly thought-out chant book will have a particular flavour dependent on the taste if its creator. The Ashfield/Ferguson/Sayer collection at Rochester is very different in tone from, say, The Coverdale Chant-book compiled by David Wulstan with equal care for good matches, and both are different again from the collection which gave me many of my favourites: that earlier Rochester collection, Hylton Stewart's A Collection of Chants (1930), as heavily amended by W. H. Harris and Sidney Campbell. None of these are necessarily any better than another; they are just different. And this diversity is surely one of the glories of Anglican chanting that we ought to be jealously preserving. Of course, it means that dipping into the occasional Evensong here and there on Radio 3 or in person never allows you to do more than scratch the surface of an institution's style of chanting, but sampling the styles in different places is still fascinating.

 

I have also invented a truncated version of the (IMHO unnecessarily extended) Lloyd B flat chant often used for Ps 136 ("...for his mercy endureth for e-e-ver").

 

Of course that Lloyd chant was composed specifically with the old style of chanting in mind, where all the chords in the chant other than the reciting notes were sung in strict time and the words shoe-horned in to fit (as outlined by Nachthorn above), so the fact that he extended the last quarter by an extra bar didn't really matter. But I agree that it doesn't suit the modern way. I have heard it said that this style of chanting works very well when it is well done. I wouldn't know, but I can imagine it might be so. Those prototypes of Anglican chant, the through-composed Tudor psalm settings by such as Tallis, Morley and Gibbons (where everything is notated rhythmically, including the recitations), can sound quite mesmeric when sung well, none more so than Gibbons's splendid setting of Psalm 145 -

 

 

- and it is not the greatest of step from these to the measured-chanting-with free-reciting-note that was fashionable from the late seventeenth century to the mid twentieth.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I haven't accompanied the psalms for many years, more's the pity. I regard them as almost the music of heaven, sung and accompanied well. Only three things can spoil them for me.

 

Firstly, the use of certain chants (sorry, don't know details, but they're all too popular in some places of worship as revealed by R3s Choral Evensong broadcasts) which have no discernable hamonic progression, but which meander aimlessly from discord to discord before limping to a final chord.

 

Secondly, accompaniment which doesn't 'play the words', but which whispers away almost inaudibly in the background throughout. I feel like begging the organist to put some 'wellie' into it - the psalms are not airy-fairy, pretty little pieces, but strong and muscular, often the cry of a broken heart, or of anger at injustice. Not the stuff for Swell flutes! 'Playing the words' of course can involve playing quietly, perhaps an improvised descant if your choir's up to carrying on while you do it. Beautiful.

 

And thirdly, rhythm which is 'stretched' to produce an 'arty' effect rather than singing the words as they would be spoken.

 

But having read the above posts on the subject, I don't think I'm alone in any of this.

 

As far as the original question goes, I would sugggest that for the immediate problem of actually playing the Organ for the psalms, while it would be lovely to remember all the words of all the psalms, and accepting completely that those who play them every day for years will inevitably learn them by heart, the most useful thing you can do is to learn the chant you're playing by heart. Then you can read the words as you play, and if you know the instrument well, let your imagination do the rest.

 

Regards to all

 

John.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't know if the RSCM still run courses on accompaniment but if they do then that might be a worthwhile option, and your church may even pay the fee.

 

I went to such a residential course at Addington Palace (yes, it was that long ago!) and found it immensely helpful, not just for psalms although that was quite intensively covered, but on all aspects of service accompaniment.

 

P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

some nice organ colours on last week's BBC Choral Evensong from Eton:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00szr5k

 

MPK

 

It was Neil Taylor - he is really good on the psalms wherever he is playing (I found the whole Eton broadcast a bit weird in terms of balance - choir seemed miles away and the organ really muddy and bass-heavy)..

Link to comment
Share on other sites

some nice organ colours on last week's BBC Choral Evensong from Eton:

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk...onsole/b00szr5k

 

MPK

Hmm. Did anyone else feel that the chant really didn't do anything for the psalm? Bearing in mind my previous comments, it's perfectly possible that I'm just missing the point, but normally one can at least feel some connection between the chant and the words and I didn't feel any here. I didn't mind the chant per se; I just thought it deserved a more extrovert psalm.

 

I agree that the accompaniment was very nicely done, though personally I would have gone for luminosity rather than darkness for "Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee". (A very minor quibble though.)

 

Secondly, accompaniment which doesn't 'play the words', but which whispers away almost inaudibly in the background throughout. I feel like begging the organist to put some 'wellie' into it

I agree with this, but only up to a point. It's the word "wellie" that makes me feel uncomfortable. There is a breed of organist that treats the psalms as an organ recital with choir obbligato and it's a very unedifying experience. Mind you, with such people it's not just the psalms they tend to treat in this way! At the end of the day it's the choir's job to "deliver" the message of the psalms. Certainly the organist should complement and enhance that message, but the choir must always remain the focus of attention and the organist must not usurp that. I remember attending a cathedral evensong last year which was accompanied by an organ scholar. He played really excellently, but used far too much of the (rather beefy) organ in the psalms (e.g. a Gt Open when the choir was singing antiphonally). You could still hear the choir above the organ, but he was frequently drowning their consonants. The consonants are always the first thing to go and since they are essential for comprehension the psalm was ruined.

 

Lastly, I cannot resist quoting a passage on psalm accompaniment from J. Frederick Bridge's Organ Accompaniment of the Choral Service (London & New York, c.1885):

"While dealing with the expression of the words in the Psalms, a timely warning must be given against exaggeration in the direction of 'word painting'. No doubt many of those who read this little book may have heard organists attempt to portray 'birds singing among the branches' (generally depicted by means of the shrillest flute in the organ), and the author has a vivid recollection of attempts to represent 'the Heavens dropping' and the 'word running very swiftly,' the former by a startling staccato chord on the lowest octave of the great organ, while the right hand sustained the harmony on the swell, and the latter by a run up the keyboard of surprising rapidity. Ideas such as these would not, it is believed, occur to an organist of refined taste."
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm. Did anyone else feel that the chant really didn't do anything for the psalm? Bearing in mind my previous comments, it's perfectly possible that I'm just missing the point, but normally one can at least feel some connection between the chant and the words and I didn't feel any here. I didn't mind the chant per se; I just thought it deserved a more extrovert psalm.

 

I agree that the accompaniment was very nicely done, though personally I would have gone for luminosity rather than darkness for "Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee". (A very minor quibble though.)

 

 

I agree with this, but only up to a point. It's the word "wellie" that makes me feel uncomfortable. There is a breed of organist who treats the psalms as an organ recital with choir obbligato and it's a very unedifying experience. Mind you, with such people it's not just the psalms they tend to treat in this way! At the end of the day it's the choir's job to "deliver" the message of the psalms. Certainly the organist should complement and enhance that message, but the choir must always remain the focus of attention and the organist must not usurp that. I remember attending a cathedral evensong last year which was accompanied by an organ scholar. He played really excellently, but used far too much of the (rather beefy) organ in the psalms (e.g. a Gt Open when the choir was singing antiphonally). You could still hear the choir above the organ, but he was frequently drowning their consonants. The consonants are always the first thing to go and since they are essential for comprehension the psalm was ruined.

 

Lastly, I cannot resist quoting a passage on psalm accompaniment from J. Frederick Bridge's Organ Accompaniment of the Choral Service (London & New York, c.1885):

 

"While dealing with the expression of the words in the Psalms, a timely warning must be given against exaggeration in the direction of 'word painting'. No doubt many of those who read this little book may have heard organists attempt to portray 'birds singing among the branches' (generally depicted by means of the shrillest flute in the organ), and the author has a vivid recollection of attempts to represent 'the Heavens dropping' and the 'word running very swiftly,' the former by a startling staccato chord on the lowest octave of the great organ, while the right hand sustained the harmony on the swell, and the latter by a run up the keyboard of surprising rapidity. Ideas such as these would not, it is believed, occur to an organist of refined taste."

I too thought that the chant did nothing for the psalm. I turned off the radio. However, when I later got into my car, on came radio 3 and the end of the broadcast with Mendelssohn 3. That was well worth it. I have learned five of the six sonatas and love playing them; so full of interest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm. Did anyone else feel that the chant really didn't do anything for the psalm?

I agree - I tried to work out why psalm and chant were paired in the context and indeed the purpose of the chant 'doing what it did' musically....but in the end did not managed to!

 

A

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...