This collection of Psalms for Praying follows the calendar of readings known as the Revised Common Lectionary.  The text is broken into “verses”, with a refrain for singing after each verse.  These psalms are meant to be proclaimed by a solo cantor, accompanied by organ or other keyboard instrument.  The refrains have been chosen to represent the theme of the psalms and the related readings.


To the Cantor

The psalm tones in this collection have been written to match the lines of the psalm.  Each line is pointed using a bold typeface to indicate when to move.  You move on the bold word.  Most of the music for the verses has three notes in each measure, so the corresponding line of text would have two bold words.  For example,

In Love let us make our home.

You would sing “In Love let us” on the first note, then “make our” on the second note, and “home” on the third.

Most verses of text are divided into four lines each.  The matching psalm tone will have four measures.  Sometimes, though, it is necessary to either lengthen or shorten the tone to match a text with less or more than four lines.  In this case the number of the measure to which the line should be sung precedes it.  For example, three lines marked respectively “1-”, “2-” and “4-” would mean that the accompanist and cantor would simply omit the third measure of the psalm tone, singing the lines of text to the first, second and fourth measures of the psalm tone.

The singing of each psalm should be like musical speech, free and natural, never measured or forced.  The note values of the refrain are exact, but the verses are meant to be sung and played senza mesura.  The natural spoken rhythm of the text dictates the actual note values.


To the accompanist

The unique thing about the music of these psalms is the “bridge” of two or three measures which connects the cantor's verse with the congregation's refrain.  The accompaniments are written to be played on the organ or piano (the psalms for Easter Vigil are suitable for harp).  Here is how these psalm settings are meant to be played:

  1. As an introduction, play through the refrain, stopping at the fermata.
  2. Back to the top, the cantor sings the refrain.  This time, don't stop at the fermata, but continue on, playing the bridge and repeat the refrain for the congregation to sing, this time stopping at the fermata on the last note of the refrain.
  3. Now the cantor sings the first verse.  On the last note of the psalm tone, the tempo is re-established as the accompaniment plays the bridge leading da capo into the congregational refrain, ending at the fermata.
  4. Subsequent verses continue this pattern, so there is a break between the congregational refrain and the new verse by the cantor, but a smooth transition from the cantor back to the congregation.  The bridge at the end of the top line is meant to be played once only, when the cantor sings the refrain at the beginning.

The purpose of the musical bridge which connects the cantor's verse to the congregation's refrain is to indicate the tempo and pitch of the refrain to the congregation so that they can sing their part with confidence.  In order for them to do that, it is important that you do not slow down just before they begin singing the refrain; the whole point is to lead the congregation into their part with confidence, so a steady, reliable tempo is essential – nothing slippery.


Using Instruments

Each setting includes parts for C-instrument (flute, oboe, violin) and B-flat instrument (clarinet, trumpet, saxophone) as well as for handbells. The handbell parts are meant for four ringers with two bells each (or two ringers four-in-hand); there are no bell changes, and all bells are within the standard two-octave range G4-G6. Note: The instrumental parts serve to embellish the keyboard accompaniment, they do not replace it.


Easter Vigil

The psalms for Easter Vigil are unique because they are meant to be sung in the dark. In the traditional Vigil, candles are extinguished after the singing of the Exsultet. Each of the scripture readings is followed by a psalm. These settings are accompanied by harp or guitar (the organ having been silent since Good Friday), and the refrains are short and easily picked up by ear (since the congregation can't read the pew bulletin in the dark).