New Psalm Setting based on corresponding Gradual (Psalm 92)
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 991
    Greetings all,
    I'd like to share my most recent psalm setting and talk a little bit about how it came to be. This coming week is the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) which calls for Psalm 92 "Lord, it is good to give thanks to You."

    Since it is the music of the Roman Rite, I've sought to have increasing recourse to chant in the liturgy—this includes singing it outright in Latin & the vernacular, as well as using it as inspiration for new compositions. The last few months have seen a number of very nice (I'm told) psalm settings which are very chant-like. My choir noticed the change and even remarked so; they've also stated that they prefer this new style. I consider this very telling since the general tenor of the group is not particularly "trad" oriented. Sympathetic perhaps, but not oriented. But I digress...

    What changed:

    For starters, I've taken to notating many things in free meter with reciting tones. This includes what I put in the worship aids for the congregation; I use black stemless notes for "short" values and white stemless notes for "long" (an approximate doubling). What I've discovered is that people more naturally follow the rhythm of the text (à la office psalm tones) than if you use modern mensural notation. This is a huge bonus and rightly puts the emphasis back on the text as opposed to the music. Sometimes I even construct the accompaniment without stems as well. It takes a wee bit for people to orient themselves to this style of notation, but once they do we don't have any issues.

    While I frequently set the verses à la anglican chant, I've also started incorporating traditional psalm tones from time to time, with men and women singing antiphonally (which we also do during vernacular propers as well). This really lends a monastic feel to the liturgy which is very welcome.

    I've also done other things like look to original gradual & alleluia chants to see how they could be adapted. In the past I've adapted various gregorian alleluias for use within the novus ordo repeated for a few weeks at a time (such as this: And I will also be sharing later a triple alleluia that I've arranged based on the tonus peregrinus.

    This week's psalm, in particular, adapted from the original gradual exceptionally well, hence my desire to share it here. I was able to retain a majority of the original notes to make the new setting.

    I've just recently launched my new website & blog which will deal with all sorts of things Catholic but with a primary emphasis on liturgical music. I talk more about the whole process there for anyone who is interested: And here is a link where I discuss another psalm where I took the same approach:

    Here's a link to a youtube video so you can hear it:

    I hope you enjoy it, and if any of you finding it this week want to use it on Sunday, please feel welcome do so.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,041
    Very nice, and beautifully done, that you have based the responsory on the original chant.
    Very nice adaptation of the chant for the verses - although...
    As for the verses, I yearn for the day when psalm tone, or even psalm tone-esque verses will be an odd, very odd, historical curiosity. There are some syllabification solutions that could be improved upon - chiefly pertaining to accent and flow.
    You could fashion neumatic melodies for each verse from the outlines of the chant.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 991
    True; I’m trying to build up a program though. I couldn’t hand any of my current cantors thru composed melismatic verses, even if they followed a similar contour. Ultimately, compromises had to be made. As for psalm tone-esque verses, this is a bit of an experiment for me. Typically I set them like Anglican chant. I was trying to incorporate more of the original chant melody this time, and such melodies can’t be sung that way.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • JonathanLCJonathanLC
    Posts: 68
    I really like this. It is certainly an interesting way to approach the composition of psalms more in tune with the melodies and I suppose the spirit of the gradual. I would like to try this for myself sometime.

    For the average parish, this is definitely a more elegant possibility. A more tuneful psalm verse would be nice for those who can, though not many are willing to go to the trouble I think.

    Thanks for the inspiration!
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 991
    Also, MJO- you may find my setting of psalm 33 more to your taste; it’s refrain is similarly inspired but the verses are SATB. See here:

    I am going to percolate on the idea of individually tweaked melismatic verses too though.
  • Servian, this is a wonderful idea. I do have one question: why don't you have the psalm response end of the final of the mode for the gradual?
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 991
    a.) I hadn't thought to do that and b.) I based the refrain on "bonum est" and that is how it ends, but since it is not the end of the whole chant, it ends a step lower. I will also think on this idea too. Might be time for another blog post. Keep the ideas coming!