Category Archives: Music

Folk Metal Psalms

Based on the Genevan Psalter setting of Psalm 130 by Claude Goudimel.

Listening to Brother Down’s album Old Paths, New Feet (2013) and such folk metal groups as Ensiferum, Tengger Cavalry, and Eluveitie has led me to believe that there is a place for folk metal metrical psalmody. In the French Renaissance, metrical psalmody was a significant literary force, not among the Protestants only but among the Romanists as well. People sang psalms not only at church but also in daily life. Today, for imprecatory and elegiac psalms, the folk metal genre seems to be a good way to express some of the Psalmist’s feeling and spirit; the word of God would also lend strength to the genre.

For metrical psalms, there is already plenty of good musical material, some from folk sources and some from classical. The names of Tallis and Goudimel are known well enough among those who listen to Renaissance music that I need not say more about the quality of their music, and likewise the folk tunes still used for unaccompanied metrical psalmody in the Free Church of Scotland are both vigorous and easy to find. The Gaelic psalmody in particular refracts familiar music in ways that could inspire new interpretations. He who seeks will not lack. That the music is not altogether unfamiliar would appeal to ordinary folk hearing it in a new form, and those who were unfamiliar with the traditional music would find it in these modern compositions; for both, more often neglected parts of the Psalter could become a part of common life, and (if musically well clothed) the word of God would dwell more richly in the commonwealth, giving the people a renewed sense of the life of the spirit.

Vocals could generally vary from churchly chanting to more folkish singing characteristic of lustier songs; some growling might be suitable for parts of Psalm 137 and suchlike, though I think a more elegant approach might be influenced by Thomas Campion’s ‘As by the Streams of Babylon’. Much of the heaviness or dark colour required would already come from the instrumentation, of course, giving writers and musicians greater latitude to find fitting vocals that were satisfying æsthetically and ædifying spiritually.

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And graphically, need I say much more? For cover art the sixteenth century has no poverty of invention.

Will anyone do this?

Aside

Tractarians need not think metrical psalms are the sole preserve of uncatholic or even of Evangelical circles. John Keble himself was the versifer of a metrical psalter, its accuracy checked by Edward Pusey. I myself favour psalms chanted before the … Continue reading

The Importance of Orthodoxy in Church Music

The Virgin Nativity Cathedral. Section of northern lengthwise nave. North view. ‘Because of you, O Full of grace, all creation rejoices.’€

Many have attempted to render their song choices impervious to doctrinal accuracy by invoking the notion of artistic licence. It is thought that doctrine is the high and dry and abstract and irrelevant side of things, whereas ‘worship’ (mistakenly used in reference to the musical elements alone) is the emotional and truly spiritual side. Adherence to true doctrine, after all, is no guarantee of a living faith, which is granted by none other than our Lord Christ through the Holy Ghost. Now it has seemed good to the Holy Ghost to give to the Church, as an unerring standard of the faith, the holy Scriptures revealing both the law and the gospel. Though blasphemous men have attributed all kinds of ideas to the Holy Ghost, the test of Scripture shows that what they teach are not of God but of Antichrist.

But in the assemblies where these blasphemers have gained a hearing we have heard abominations. In the name of the Holy Spirit they have denied the divinity of Christ; they have claimed the mantle of the Holy Spirit for blessings to solemnize same-sex ‘domestic partnerships’; they have persecuted the orthodox with allegations of misconduct for daring to help congregations who were departing from their foul parody of the Christian faith. All these things and more have been done in the name of the Holy Spirit.

We as Protestants, however, believe there is no higher authority under the Sun than holy Scripture. No new revelations of the Montanist heretics, and no new discoveries of the Roman Magisterium, despite all their claims to the authority of the Holy Ghost – let all tremble before their authority! – can give us true doctrine that holy Scripture does not already contain. Measured against the righteousness of God, all our righteousness is like filthy rags; measured against the truth of God, all our thoughts are vapour. God tells us that his thoughts are not our thoughts, for they are as far above as the heavens are above the earth.

Knowing that we sinners create golden calves to worship instead of himself as he truly is, this holy God has seen fit in his Scripture to teach us how to worship him. The pages of Exodus and Leviticus are filled with instructions on how, and in no wise else, we may worship him; the Psalms, which are the longest book of the Bible, are songs of penitence, lament and praise that tune our hearts to sing God’s grace; and now Christ has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts to make us his Temple, as the Apostle Peter says. The Colossians, when they adopted the inventions of man in place of the truth of God, were warned by the Apostle Paul lest they suffer everlasting damnation in giving up the gift of the Holy Spirit. The devices and desires of our own hearts are not the ways of God, so the Holy Ghost has given us the Scriptures outwardly and inwardly created obedient hearts. Having a standard of truth, which is the highest court of appeal in the Church, we are not licenced to worship God as we please and utter blasphemies under the name of worship.

Historically this has been borne out in the history of the Church. Nadab and Abihu were struck down for bringing strange fire onto the altar of incense, Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant, Ananias and Sapphira for making a free-will offering according to a lie, some of the Corinthians for defiling the Lord’s Supper. Their physical deaths the Lord has made to us a warning against the everlasting death of the soul: we are to live by the truth, and we cannot be too careful to follow his commandments, for it is his commandments that show us what holy love is. The reprobate may fornicate and esteem it consecrated, but the elect are called by the Spirit of Christ to be pure and holy, not uniting themselves with Belial but devoting themselves in every thing to the word of God. Our sentiments toward heaven, judged according to Scripture, may turn out to be sentiments that pull our hearts toward hell; our highest aspirations may be unmasked as our lowest degradations. The Romanists say their Hail Mary with the intention to pray through her to God, yet is it not justly condemned as idolatry, as a trick of the Devil to dislodge the supremacy of Christ? It is by the standard of Scripture, and of the true doctrine given therein, that we judge it to be a blasphemous practice.

Has not the Spirit himself instructed us to guard against blasphemy and to hold to sound doctrine? Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Have we poetic licence to say in a hymn that God came disguised as a man, but he was only a spirit without flesh? Would the singing of such heresy not reek to high heaven? He who taught such things to the people, whether in sermon or in song, would be a false prophet; he who brazenly commended such things to be sung to God himself would be anathema.

If the biblical truth is not to reign here, then it is not to reign anywhere. If the revelation of God is not to be found in public worship, then it is not to be found anywhere. For it is first and foremost in worshipping God that we learn to love and serve him. If, then, we love and serve an idol in our public assemblies, we will do nothing else in our lives but serve an image inspired not by the Holy Ghost but by the Devil. Holiness will be forsaken. The Temple will be full of Baals. Jerusalem will be desolate. In a word, we will have taught ourselves to worship something that is not God, and judgement will come in among us when we are still perplexed by the writing on the wall.

Let us forsake false worship; let us seek Christ where he may be found. Today is the day of salvation, and today is the day when we will hear his voice: let us not harden our hearts.

A Kyrie for All Saints’ Day

One of the most beautiful Kyries I’ve ever heard, by Tomás Luis de Victoria, from Officium Defunctorum. For God to have allowed for sin to mar the world, this must be an adornment to the glory of his redemption.

Now, the day after Reformation Day, I wonder why God purposed for this piece to come out of the Counter-Reformation: perhaps it’s exactly so that greater glory will shine forth when the Church is reformed according to God’s word and once more united. What is fractured will be brought together. God loves his Church: let no man forsake the vision of her glory.

We remember all our brethren who have tasted death and wait for Christ to return in glory to raise us in the Resurrection of the Body. The collect for today from the Book of Common Prayer reads,

O almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We wait, and we long to see what we now know by faith. Come, Lord Jesus!