Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Sunday the Choir sang a nice setting of Psalm 27: "The Lord Is My Saving Light" by Andrew Witchger (GIA). I have always liked this gospel-tinged psalm for cantor/choir/congregation, but we hadn't used it with full choir until this Sunday. It sings well, is easy for the congregation to pick up and enjoy, and it sticks with you. It helps when your accompanist can play off the page and bring some serious gospel into it.

Sunday brought all that. It was a good way to deliver the pulpit to our guest preacher, who preached the same psalm.

I rarely program a piece in worship to which I am not committed. I don't think I've ever been embarrassed about something I've used in worship. I'll use this piece again.

But it raised questions that I have regarding psalm singing, and the role/function of refrains in hymns generally. So here we go, returning to te decet hymnus with a little series of reflections on these matters.

Briefly, at first, the use of a Refrain in psalm settings. The refrain is the (usually shorter) bit of text and tune that repeats without alteration between stanzas of a song, hymn, psalm, or poem. In some settings, the refrain may be called the chorus. (As in, "everybody join in on the chorus now!") When a refrain is added to the spoken or sung setting of a Psalm, it serves to emphasize what an editor or composer considers the main idea of that psalm. It is, in short, an editorial comment or commentary on the psalm.

Often, this structure provides a reliable guide to the meaning of the psalm; it can be a valuable interpretive aid. Sometimes the psalm itself suggests that this kind of repetition was intended by the biblical author. I believe that is one of the reasonable interpretations of the word "Selah" in the psalter.

Psalm 27 does not happen to have a "Selah," though, so a setting like this excellent one does have some "explaining to do." I'll return to that later in this series, when I spend more time on the singing of psalms. For now, I'm just enjoying how the refrain from Sunday continues to sing in my head, and to draw my attention to the full Psalm.