Psalter

On this page, we will present The New Coverdale Psalter in three singable formats: Gregorian Chant, Simplified Anglican Chant, and Full Anglican Chant. The chosen musical settings will be highly singable with chants chosen for their particularly fine melodies and will be downloadable and editable in MS Word format. In addition, the entire ACNA Sunday lectionary as well as the entire New Coverdale Psalter in single-page MSWord.doc format, without music or pointing, is included below for your use. Be sure to read THE MUSIC SETTINGS OF THE NEW COVERDALE PSALTER below for the history of singing the Psalms, our plan for presenting the Psalms for singing, and the effective teaching of Psalmody to the worshipping congregation.

THE MUSIC SETTINGS OF THE NEW COVERDALE PSALTER

Included here are important introductory materials, a brief history of Psalm singing, and effective and time tested ways of successfully teaching and accompanying Anglican and Gregorian chant.

The first and primary goal is to present the Psalms in a singable format for the entire congregation in the traditional ways that Anglicans have sung the Psalms for generations; these include Gregorian Chant, Full Anglican Chant and more recently, Simplified Anglican Chant.

ABOUT THE PSALMS—A psalm is a type of sacred song or poem.  The word Psalm means sacred Song and the Psalms are meant to be sung. The Psalms are placed into five main categories: Psalms of Praise, Psalms of Wisdom, Royal Psalms, Psalms of Thanksgiving, and Psalms of Lament.  Psalms of praise are also known as hymns, and were written in order to celebrate God.  Psalms of wisdom have a moral or teach a lesson.  The royal psalms are about kingship and how kings can help their people be closer to God. Psalms of thanksgiving are written to thank God for something he has done.  Finally, psalms of lament are about a painful experience or event.  They are written as a way of bearing the pain associated with that event. 1

In their book SING! by Keith and Kristyn Getty share,

If we are to be prepared to live for Christ in the whole of life, we need to be singing about the whole of life.  In this, the Psalms, the only divinely authored hymnal in history is both our guide and our challenge.

The Psalms are songs to God, about God, sung in community with the people of God. Through the centuries they have been the greatest source of inspiration for the writing and singing of hymns. The Psalms are our best resource for teaching us what to sing about, and how to apply the Gospel to every season of life.

Tim and Kathy Keller share, “The songs of Jesus are not just a matchless primer of teaching, but a medicine chest for the heart and the best possible guide for practical living.” First, the Psalms give us a vast vision of who God is and second, the Psalms show us how to deal with real life. We sing, as the Psalms train us, to help us bring all of our life; failures, successes, losses, gains, dreams, and ambitions into Gospel perspective. Our singing can prepare us for every season of life, and sustain us through every season of life. We don’t so much need a musical escape from our lives; need to gaze on the Savior of our lives—our refuge, and help, and comfort.

1  eNotes Editorial, 15 Jan. 2010

ABOUT THE CHANT STYLES—Gregorian Chant, credited to Pope Gregory in the 9th and 10th centuries, is Plainsong (monophony), the singing of a unison melody together.  Eight common chants from the Middle Ages were identified and chosen for the Roman Church by Gregory prior to the Protestant Reformation and they remain with us to present day.  The composers remain anonymous. We have chosen four of the best melodies from the collection of Gregorian Chant and have included the complete Psalter with this style of singing the Psalms. This because it is quite beautiful, it is powerful, and it has a distinct way of focusing worshippers on the text.

Anglican Chant is wholly Anglican and grew out of the Plainsong (Gregorian) chant tradition during the English Reformation.  Anglican chant was well established by the 18th century and is a significant element of Anglican church music.  Its composers are not anonymous and Anglican Chants are comprised of 4-part chants with harmonies sung together at the same time (homophony).  Full Anglican Chants were reserved for choirs to sing in worship, but through the advent of Simplified Anglican Chant (about one quarter the length of Full Anglican Chant and with less complex chording), congregations could now enjoy this beautiful and historic Anglican style of singing the Psalms.  The complete Psalter is included here with four melodically strong Full Anglican Chants (typeset in hymn style to now allow the congregation to learn) as well as four melodically strong settings in Simplified Anglican Chant. (Note: Anglican Chant is usually sung in unison by the congregation with a trained choir and/or keyboardist adding the harmonies beneath.)

OUR PLAN—Most available Psalters present dozens of musical settings and many traditionally separate the music and printed text.  We have chosen a different path in presenting The New Coverdale Psalter with musical settings.  To do this, we have sorted through hundreds of available chants and chosen those that are (1) most singable and (2) have the quality of enjoying excellent melodies.  We then proceeded to test sing each Psalm with each of the selected musical settings to discover what musical setting provided the best marriage to and expression of the text.  The results of all of this are here.

It was also our goal to keep the breadth of the musical repertoire manageable with the congregation’s participation always in mind.  In this, we have carefully sorted and chosen four musical settings for each category of chant: four Gregorian Chant tones, four Simplified Anglican Chant settings, and four Full Anglican Chant settings. Therefore, a church can develop a known repertoire of chant settings over time that they can become familiar with and grow in their confidence in singing the Psalms together.  The plan is and always has been that the congregation will sing the melody of the chants and leave the harmonies to the trained and rehearsed choir, if there is one present, or the keyboardist. As stated, the primary goal here is to get the worshippers in the pews singing the Psalms in traditional and time-proven Anglican forms.

TEACHING CHANT—No doubt, a practiced and trained choir can aid immensely in the leadership of the singing the Psalms. Learning to chant and even teaching a congregation to chant well is not as difficult a task as one might initially think.  The routine goes like this:

First, have a song leader practice on a few people before trying to teach the whole congregation.  This will help smooth any bumps on the road.  Many have experienced placing the teaching time beginning ten minutes prior to worship to be highly effective.  For teaching chant, try this time-tested componenting pedagogy (breaking the whole down into manageable steps) for both Anglican and Gregorian Chant:  (1) Tell the worshippers that chanting the Psalms is a long and beautiful tradition in our Anglican heritage.  The word Psalm actually means sacred song.  Then let the worshipers know that over the next several Sundays that you are going to explore together the roots of chant and each week they will hear and enjoy improvement together.  Set the bar high and be positive, loving, and inviting right from the get-go.

(2) Now share with them that the foundation of all good chanting begins with the rhythm of speech.  Begin by modeling for the worshipers by you speaking two lines of the Psalm, as if reading good poetry aloud.  Now have the congregation do it with you with the goal that they listen to one another in community and begin to speak together well in unison.  The song leader gently pulsing his or her hand in the air on the stressed syllables can also be a helpful visual aid. I underline the key stressed words or syllables beforehand when I am teaching or leading a chant.

(3) Now, model singing for them with what you have just said together in speech rhythm sung on a unison pitch (probably the note A).   After the congregation hears the song leader model good unison chant, then have the worshippers do it a couple of times themselves.  Be encouraging and be accepting, whatever you get. There will be time to hone things in subsequent teaching times.

(4) Now move on to singing and modeling the chant melody, or have the accompanist play the melody for the worshippers one or two times. And now have them sing the melody together on loo or lah enough times that they have it down well enough to on to the next level.

(5) Now comes the payoff for all your good work together.  Change nothing from the previous learnings other than to drop the text onto the melody, singing the text in precisely the same manner as when they sang the text on a unison pitch using natural speech rhythms.

In subsequent sequential weeks, you should briefly review and model for the congregation what was previously shared, reinforcing the previous teaching, but more quickly now.  A couple of good subsequent teaching goals would be (1) to work on the singers not slowing down at the end of each musical phrase, if they are doing so. This is a poor but common habit in chant singing but not good chanting practice to ritard at the end of each musical phrase.  And (2),  to point out that in hymn singing the key word of every line is usually located in the middle of each line of music.  In phrasing, trained singers would move toward the key word in the middle of the phrase and then away from it as the musical line finishes out (commonly four lines to a hymn).  However, with chant singing, the key word, the word that answers the who, why, what, when, or how question is always found at the end of the line of text.  Therefore, instead of the singers moving to the middle of the musical phrase in the singing, as with a hymn, worshippers should move toward the end of each musical phrase in the singing of the Psalms as the key word found there will bring all of the previously sung words into their completed meaning.  A small “hairpin” crescendo to the end of each line is most effective here.

With encouragement, good modeling, and a loving and positive attitude from the song leader the congregation should experience success through this pedagogy. Once the skill of chanting together as worshippers is learned, all that is left is to introduce the chant melodies of The New Coverdale Psalter as they are put into use.  There are only four melodies to learn in each of the three presented styles of chant so this shouldn’t be too taxing on the worshipping congregation and at the same time build a solid chant repertoire for the church. I often have a cantor or the choir sing the first several verses of a new musical setting and then have the congregation join in at the half way point. This being an effective way of adding new chants.

And finally, perhaps using the same chant setting for several weeks before moving onto a new one would be helpful to the congregation in their learning of the chants.  (Note: it would be a good thing if the parishes of the Province adopted the use of the chant settings presented here so that there was a common repertoire of Psalm settings across the whole of our communion.  Additionally, if your congregation already has a repertoire of musical settings for the Psalms, the pointing of the Psalms here is easily adaptable to already known repertoire. 

Note that within the Simplified Anglican Chant settings, the musical settings can be traded around and the pointing presented with still apply.  However, be aware that the careful marriage between the text and tunes presented here will be sacrificed. Again, we do encourage you to give this collection a hearty try as the musical settings presented are excellent, highly singable, and artfully wedded to their texts.

Note: about commas and semi-colons.  Some have asked whether the worshippers should pause at each and every comma or only at semi-colons…or both.  Our recommendation is that yes, the singers should pause at all semi-colons, exclamation marks, and periods as they break up long lines of text at sensible places but to not break the musical flow by pausing at every comma in the text.  The words ride along on the music and although the text is very important, the most powerful moving force in the room when chanting Psalms will be the musical line. Such is the power of good melody. Placing frequent pauses within the beauty of this flow, by stopping at all commas, can hinder the beauty of chanting the Psalms and more often than not does not add significantly to the worshipper’s comprehension of the text.

PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE— Some of parishes utilize the sung Psalms in this manner.  Gregorian Chants are sung during Advent and Lent.  During Epiphany and Eastertide (the Great 50 Days of Easter), Full Anglican Chants are sung.  And during Ordinary time, Simplified Anglican Chants are utilized. Of course, a congregation could utilize only Gregorian Chant, or only Simplified Anglican Chant, or a mix of the two.  Many have found that Gregorian Chant works particularly well in Advent and/or Lent.

SPECIFICS ABOUT FULL ANGLICAN CHANTS—This is the first Psalter, that we know of, to present music and text together for Full Anglican Chants for all Psalms in the lectionary  Usually, Full Anglican Chants have been reserved for presentation by trained choirs.  However, with music and text presented together and a repertoire of only four chants, presented along with highly singable melodies, we believe that the world of Full Anglican Chant singing has now been opened to the whole of the congregation.  The chants now look on the page as a hymn does, and this makes this style of chanting much easier to read for congregation and choir alike.  The Full Anglican Chant settings are presented in PDF form and are divided into Years A, B, and C due to the necessity of typesetting the settings within a music typesetting application vs. MS Word.

POINTING—Much discussion, study, and singing trials were conducted prior to settling on the best pointing method for The New Coverdale Psalter.  As you will see, we chose to have the pointing look and reflect the printed music, placing single and double bar lines in the Psalm text in the exact same place that they occur in the printed music.  This pointing system seemed both the most simple to understand and the most musical in that the Psalm text and the music look like they belong together as a whole. Details of the pointing system employed for each style of chant are included on the specific chant downloads pages for Gregorian, Simplified Anglican, or Full Anglican Chants.

ACCOMPANYING CHANT—Gregorian chant, if not sung a cappella, can be most effectively accompanied by holding the root note or the interval of a fifth in the tenor octave of the keyboard (On the organ use a sustained sound on an 8’flute with possibly a quiet 16’ pedal point. Or on the piano, sustain the notes by gently repeating them on the downbeat of each full repetition of the chant melody).  Use of underpinning notes will help keep the chant on key and better in tune.  Playing the melody on a solo stop on the organ, such as the oboe or cornet against the sustained root note or interval of a fifth below, is also a good way of introducing the singing of the chant.

Anglican Chant, whether using a simplified or full musical setting, works best when the keyboard doubles the chant while the congregations sings.  With a bit of practice, the keyboardist will be able to learn the skill of leading Anglican Chant by practicing first with Simplified Anglican Chant and playing the chant through enough times that it gets “into their hands”.  After this step, they will be able to follow the text pointing in the Psalm (bar line guides) more easily as their eyes will now only need to reference the music score periodically as they eventually learn the Simplified Chant mostly by heart.  Be certain that the keyboardist is confident and has practiced the chant ahead of time so that they can lead the singing effectively.  A hesitant keyboardist can lead to lack of trust and erode confidence in the congregation’s singing very quickly if they lead the worshippers astray too often.  On the organ, principals and a mixture with pedals will most effectively lead chant singing.  Also, occasional use of color reeds and manuals without pedal on some verses can help to illustrate meanings in the text.

Your Music Task Force’s first and primary goal here was to present the Psalms in a singable format for the entire congregation.  We clearly hope we have come closer to accomplishing this goal within the rich history and tradition of singing the Psalms.  To God be the Glory!

Mark K. Williams, Chair ACNA Music Task Force (Christ Church Anglican, Savannah, GA)

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