New Writing Project: Metrical Psalms

Inspired by studying early American church music, a new semester of composition lessons, and the challenge of a friend to write a choral piece utilizing a metrical psalm setting, I set out to write my first metrical psalm setting.

For those who don't know, a metrical psalm setting is when a Psalm is paraphrased and set into poetry which follows a rhyme and syllable scheme in such a way that it can be sung. 

The most famous metrical psalm tune is the OLD 100TH, which is the tune we commonly use for singing the doxology.  Metrical Psalms are similar to hymns, and utilize the same meters. Thus if you find a metrical psalm text, you could potentially sing it to a tune you know, such as NEW BRITAIN ("Amazing Grace") or NETTLETON ("Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.")

It is also interesting to note that some modern worship song writers have used hymnic structure and syllabic structure when writing songs you may never have equated with hymnody or psalmody. My favorite example is "Love Shines" by Aaron Ivey of the Austin Stone Church. The verses in the song are in common meter.

I decided to write my first metrical psalm text from Psalm 32. I used Common Meter, with the syllable structure of Thus this text could be sung to many tunes, including AZMON ("O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing"), the tune for "Amazing Grace," the melody of the verses of "Love Shines," or the new tune I composed for this text which is not yet named. The text is as follows:

1 Blessed is the one whose deadly wrongs are completely forgiv'n,

the one for whom the blood of Christ was shed to cover sin.

2 Blessed is the one whom God no more looks down upon in wrath,

the one who through the Holy Spir't now walks the truthful path.

3 When I kept silent all day long,  my bones wasted away,

though I was quiet outwardly, I groaned inward all day.

4 For day and night I felt heavy  your hand upon my back,

it was as if the summer's heat all of my strength had sapped.

5 Then I confessed my sin to you  and my iniquity,

and as I exposed all my guilt, you heard and forgave me.

6 Thus let all godly ones pray to you while you may be found,

then when the mighty waters rise you'll keep them safe and sound.

7 You are my shelt'ring, hiding place when troubles do abound,

You sing to me deliverance songs, and guard me all around.

8 I will instruct and counsel you,  and teach you the right way,

Only do not be like the mule, who is slow to obey.

9 So many are the woes of those wicked and evil men,

but God shows his unfailing love to them who trust in him.

10 Rejoice with glad and upright hearts, the name of Jesus praise!

Sing gratefully, you righteous ones, our loudest anthem raise!