Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Psalm Tones: Psalm 143(144) - Tone VI

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You may already know that there are two different ways of numbering the psalms, one based on the Septuagint and one on the Masoretic text. Eastern Orthodox translations use the numbering of the Septuagint (Greek), Protestants the Masoretic (Hebrew) and Catholics tend to put both numbers.

Why do I mention this? Because this little factoid has confounded my modest plans. I assumed that the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood's Psalm Tone Distribution Table would use the Septuagint numbering system. Why? Mostly absent-mindedness I think, but also because I think all the links I've seen about how Martin Luther believed a heap of things that only Catholics (and the Orthodox I guess) are supposed to believe put the notion that Lutherans are probably pretty trad in my head. Plus, a "Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood" who sing using the traditional psalm tones? Sounds pretty tradder-than-thou to me - it'll be like High Anglicanism right? Silly me.

So I learnt the words for Psalm 90 (91) by heart (a Psalm for Sunday Night Prayer, which means you can also sing it any day of the week, you see) but with the "wrong" tone. It's not the end of the world; it seems to work okay, and I'm pleased, with my rubbish memory, to have committed some scripture to memory, but this Prayer Brotherhood probably had a good reason for choosing their tones, so I was planning on following their suggestions.

Anyway, this tone isn't listed for any of the psalms in Compline. So I just picked a psalm I liked that it is listed for:
Blessed be the Lord, my róck†
who trains my árms for báttle,*
who prepares my hands for wár.
[...]
Reach down from heaven and sáve me;†
draw me out from the míghty wáters,*
from the hands of alien fóes
whose mouths are fílled with líes,*
whose hands are raised in pérjury.

To you, O God, will I síng a new sóng;*
I will play on the ten-stringed hárp
to you who give kíngs their víctory,*
who set David your servant frée.
I've just taken some select verses, making sure to leave in a couple of flexes (joined lines) and dactyls (it means "finger" and is a metrical foot - scansion, you couldn't make it up!) to keep it interesting. I cheated and only copied the stresses which are relevant for this tone; in any case, like last time, I suggest you read it through, stressing the stresses, aloud or in your head.

Now here's the notation for the tone:


(This might be a good point to look back at the last instalment, since I'm going to use the same terminology that I did there.)

There are two differences from the last tone that I should mention. First is the termination; in tone III there's one preparatory syllable before the final stress, here, there are two. So in the third line you sing the tenor until you drop down on "hands" and sing "for" on two ascending notes (that's what the two-note neume there means) before you sing the stressed "war". So in addition to reading through the text for the stresses, you'd be well advised to look for the two preparatory syllables in the lines that contain the termination (without a † or * at the end). The second is a reminder that the intonation is usually sung only on the first line; "Reach down from heaven" should all be on the tenor for example.

I deliberately didn't mention something last time, but I'll mention it now. There's a little problem with these tones; they were written for use with Latin, and English (you will have noticed) isn't Latin, so essentially they don't quite work. But the good news is that it doesn't really matter - just fudge it! Apparently there are lots of competing methods for adapting these tones for use with English, but there's no official way and there never will be, so just do what works for you.

My version is here. If I didn't have a 9 month old daughter I would probably record a few takes until it sounded better. Meh.
  • Take the first line, for example. Finishes on a stressed syllable. Very common in English but very rare in Latin; that's why whoever wrote the psalm tone assumed that there would be another syllable (perhaps even two) after the stress of the flex (first on the left). What I do is pretend that the lower note is the stressed syllable. Sounds fine to me, whereas the other possibility of singing the stressed syllable on two notes sounds a bit iffy so far as I'm concerned.
  • For "lies" and "song" (mediant), I think it sounds better to just sing the note of the stress and forget about returning to the tenor (reciting) note until the next line
  • Similarly, there should be a syllable after "war" for the termination at the end of the third line. Here, I nonchalantly sing it on two notes; same with "foes", "harp" and "free".
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