A couple of weeks ago I happened upon a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called “The Death of the Old Year.” It had the cadences of a ballad, and I wasn’t doing anything at the time (or I was avoiding doing something), so I picked up my guitar and plucked out a tune to go along with the words. I had so much fun, I decided to try it with a few more poems. My wife suggested I write nine more and compile them in an album called TENnyson. Much to her disappointment, I more or less ran out of inspiration after seven. For now, the album has been demoted to an EP. You can listen to demos of all the tracks here.
Track list: 1. The Lady of Shalott 2. Ulysses 3. The Charge of the Light Brigade 4. The Splendor Falls 5. The Death of the Old Year 6. In Memoriam 7. Crossing the Bar
I grew up in a church that took the psalms seriously. We used a combined hymnal and psalter and each Sunday sang liberally from both halves. It was a great concern of the church leadership that the congregation become familiar with the entire book of Psalms, but it was slow going. Teaching anything to a church takes a while. Teaching them to sing is a years-long process.
As Alastair Roberts says in the video below, Christians need a fuller and less abbreviated relationship with the psalms, since the psalms, sung in their entirety, teach us how to navigate the peaks and valleys of life.
It’s a grand idea, but how does it work in practice? How does a music minister go about teaching the entirety of Psalm 68 to a congregation? A repetitive, metrical version would be easy to learn, but wouldn’t communicate the various sections of the psalm. A through-composed version, which includes the whole psalm in a more or less literal translation, is tougher to learn and almost impossible for a large congregation to sing well. How about good old chanting? Rare indeed is the 21st-century parishioner who doesn’t need a significant amount of coaching to handle a chant.
The question is how to translate Alastair’s (very good) theological point into an actionable plan for pastors and musicians. Answering that question – or, at least, approaching an answer – is one of the reasons I decided to start a yearly music colloquium called Psalm Tap. (Big props to Jarrod Richey for getting this off the ground.) Psalm Tap is where pastors, musicians, and interested laypeople will discuss the nuts and bolts of teaching and composing church music, with a particular focus on the psalms.
Psalm-singing will be a big focus at the colloquium, but other topics are on the table, such as whether we should use books or bulletins for music, what kinds of instruments are appropriate in worship, and how a church can pay for their high aesthetic vision. I anticipate strong opinions and good fun.
The colloquium is free. If you’re in Louisiana in late June, please join us.
UPDATE: Thanks to some health issues, I won’t be attending the colloquium this year. But don’t let that stop you from going. ‘Twill be a grand old time regardless.