This fall we will be spending several weeks singing from Jesus’ own songbook, the Psalms. They are a treasure trove of prayer, offering us living examples of praise, of lament, of rage, and of hope. I say, “living” examples because they aren’t just relics of the past. They have lived on in the worship and prayer life of God’s people for 3,000 years and we today have the joy of their voice in our lives. Some of the Psalms were Spirit-inspired to be prophetic revelations of Jesus’ own words of prayer as He suffered and died for our sins. These coming weeks at Zion will offer us a chance to rediscover this songbook of Jesus and use it in our own moments of worship and prayer. Read more about our worship and sermon series on the Psalms.
The Words as Jesus Sang Them…Except in English
At Zion, we read a psalm each week responsively during our 10:30am worship service. The pastor or other worship leader reads one line and the congregation reads the next line, back and forth between leader and people until the entire Psalm is complete. I personally love the “conversation,” speaking God’s Word to each other in dialogue. Beginning on September 20th, I’m going to take some time at the beginning of the worship service to teach you the traditional manner of singing the Psalms to each other.
There are many ways to sing psalms. Some talented musicians have composed tunes and adapted portions of psalms into hymns and other song forms. This always, however, involves changes to the actual text of the psalm. The good hymns and songs maintain the psalm’s meaning of course. The way to sing the Psalms together without changing the text is to chant them. Chanting allows us to sing them without worrying about whether the English translation fits a rhyme or musical meter.
Chanting! Oh no! How!
The thought of chanting, I imagine, freaks some people out. You’ll be surprised, though as you become familiar with it how nice it is to join your voices together in the free, speech-like rhythm of chant and simply voice the words of a psalm. It really is the best, if not the only way to sing the full text of a psalm as a crowd without everybody having to be trained in choral singing and rehearse for hours. Yes, the psalms can be spoken without singing, but they were written to be sung. They are the songs of God’s people, inspired, passed down, sung by Jesus, fulfilled by Jesus!, and are part of our Christian inheritance.
Meet the | and the *
When singing the psalms, there are a few musical tunes we’ll be using week to week. I’m not going to say much about the tunes here. If you can’t read music, don’t worry, you’ll be able to follow along easily. I DO wish to introduce you to a couple of other symbols that will guide your singing.
The Vertical Line | indicates when to change notes. All the psalm words before the vertical line get sung on one note. After the vertical line the notes change. You’ll pick up on the note change quickly when you hear it on Sunday. No worries.
The Asterisk * indicates the end of the verse that is sung by the pastor or leader. The congregation starts singing after the asterisk.
Here’s a demonstration, using Psalm 23.