Sunday, May 6, 2012

Step by step

As a member of one of the denominations in which use of the lectionary including psalmody is encouraged but not required, it would be fascinating to me to see a statistical study of the current practice in those churches vis a vis psalmody.
Certainly in the three or so decades since Protestant churches began to incorporate the lectionary into their pattern of worship, the reintroduction of psalmody has been one of the major projects before us, and the question of just how to best guide congregations into reclaiming the heritage of the psalms has been a concern of pastors, educators and musicians alike. 

In the current issue of Liturgy, one of the church’s premier composer musicians offers practical advice for a step-by-step technique to bring congregations to an appreciation of sung psalmody in corporate worship.
At first, the verses of the psalms were read, and always by a layperson. This strategy conditioned the congregation to two important things: first, to become comfortable with interspersing a refrain between some of the verses of the psalm, and second, to be led in psalmody by a person other than the pastor. A popular refrain for praise psalms was, ‘‘Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise,’’ the last line of the familiar hymn ‘‘For the Beauty of the Earth,’’ sung to the hymn tune ‘‘Dix.’’By implementing this simple but effective approach, over time a rich tradition of responsorial psalm singing was well established. The steps were these:
  1. Refrain: hymn phrases; verses: read 
  2. Refrain: hymn phrases; verses: sung by a cantor to a metered text 
  3. Refrain: folk tune; verses: sung by a cantor and=or choir to a metered text 
  4. Refrain: a metered melody new to the congregation; verses: sung by cantor and/or choir to a simple psalm tone 
  5. Refrain and verses: Gregorian Psalm tones as well as other nonmetered tones and text
Have you employed a stepped approach such as this in your attempt to introduce sung psalmody in your congregation? How has it worked out?

Hal H. Hopson (2012): Singing the Psalms: A Composer and Church Musician's Perspective, Liturgy, 27:3, 25.

Hal H. Hopson, well-known composer of church music, resides in Dallas, Texas. His compositions are performed in congregations throughout the world.

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