A Note on our psalms

A group of men from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Orinda, California, gathered on a Friday evening in March for dinner at the start of a weekend retreat. The conversation and the food were plentiful—but an element of concern appeared every now and then: “Our topic is what? Psalms? I don’t know…it sounds kinda dry.” And the level of concern was elevated when they found out they would be expected to write their own psalm (and then talk about it!).

As we got into the topic on Saturday, and started reading and talking about the psalms, our time together took on a spiritual dimension that we all treasured. We saw that the psalms, written thousands of years ago, still spoke to our hearts. When we gathered at the end of our session, after taking some time for reflection and writing our own psalm, it became clear just how vital the psalms were. Just as the psalmists had shared what was on their hearts—their joy, anger, anguish, fear, confidence—so did we.

If that had been the end of our experience: a time for men to gather, to reflect, and to talk from the heart, that would have been sufficient. But wait: there’s more.

I invited participants to share their psalms with me, so that they could be set to music. One of the other participants was also a composer, so he and I collaborated. This itself has been a rewarding challenge, as he composes songs relying strongly on his ears, while I bring years of classical training and a strong reliance on music notation to the table. Just as there was diversity in the original psalms, so too did our project have a diversity of expression in both text and music.

What started with a group of men getting in touch with an important piece of their religious heritage has grown as their words have been transformed (hopefully not for the worse!) and shared with the choir, with our congregation, and soon with a concert audience and—who knows?—maybe youtube!

While the original psalms are in no danger from our efforts, sometimes you just need to sing a new psalm.

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