How To Use a Split-Leaf Psalter: A Book Review
The Scottish Psalmody: The Metrical Version of the Psalms with Tunes, the psalter of the Free Church of Scotland, 1992, 234 pages, recently reprinted. Available at the lowest price from the United Kingdom, at £19 ($38). It may be purchased online from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom, 133 Woodlands Road (near Charing Cross), Glasgow, G3 6LE, United Kingdom, firstname.lastname@example.org. From the United States, dial 011-44-1-41-332-1760. Be certain to specify the version with music in staff notation. The Scottish Psalmody is also available from the publisher, who do not yet have a web site for online sales: the Free Church of Scotland Bookshop, 15 North Bank Street, The Mound, Edinburgh EH1 2LS, Scotland. The e-mail address of the Free Church Bookshop is email@example.com. From the United States, dial 011-44-1-31-718-4141. Hours of the Free Church Bookshop are 9:30 AM to 1 PM and 1:30 PM to 5 PM, in a time zone five hours ahead of the east coast of the United States. Orders by VISA are accepted at either store, which makes international payment easy, and yields a good exchange rate. The Scottish Psalmody may also be ordered from a distributor in the United States, Crown and Covenant Publications, but at a higher price, $50.
The Advantage of a Split-Leaf Psalter
This book is an edition of the Scottish Metrical Psalter (1650), a text for singing praise in the public worship of God, with accompanying tunes. The Scottish Psalmody is a split-leaf psalter; the pages are cut horizontally, so that the upper and lower portions of the book operate like Dutch doors. At the top of the psalter are the tunes. At the bottom of the psalter, below the split, are the words. This arrangement allows one to match any one of many different tunes to the words of a particular Psalm.
The most frequent meter in this psalter is called Common Meter (C.M.). Common Meter is also designated 86 86. This means that there are eight syllables in the first line of the version, six syllables in the second line, eight in the third, and six in the fourth. Tunes must be of the same meter as the version of words to which they are sung.
A feature of the Scottish Metrical Psalter which makes it valuable for introducing Psalm singing is that each of the 150 Psalms is set in common meter, though eleven Psalms also have a second version in another meter. This means that if one knows only one common meter tune, such as are used in many hymnals, one can immediately sing any of the 150 Psalms. By contrast, the popular American psalter, The Book of Psalms for Singing, with its great variety of meters, requires the knowledge of about 400 tunes in order to sing the paired text and tunes for the 150 Psalms; the consequence is that large portions of the psalter are unused by the many who do not know all the tunes.
Several Psalms in the Scottish Metrical Psalter have a second version in Long Meter (88 88), in Short Meter (66 86), or in other meters. In the Scottish Metrical Psalter there are Long Meter versions of Psalms 6, 100, 102, and 145. There are Short Meter versions of Psalms 25, 45, 67 and 70. There are also versions of Psalms 124, 136, 143 and 148 in three other meters. Above the words of each Psalm version is a suggested tune or tunes, printed in italics.
The Versified Text
The versified words of the Book of Psalms contained in this book are known as the Scottish Metrical Psalter (1650). This version - much like the Authorised King James Version of the Bible - represents the end result of a lengthy process of refining earlier translations; line by line, the versification is the cream of the many English and Scottish psalters which preceded it, and includes extensive revisions by the Westminster Assembly, and soon thereafter six further revisions by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. One concern these two bodies had in revising the psalter was that the verses be closely faithful to the Hebrew text of the Book of Psalms. John Ker, writing about 1886, aptly characterized the translation:
"No version has ever been made which adheres so closely to the Scripture. It proceeds on the principle of giving every thought in the original, and nothing more; and in this it has succeeded to an extent which is marvelous, and which can be realised only by one who has tested it through careful comparison. It meets with some stones of stumbling, and suffers some dislocation of words by adhering to the line laid down; but there is abundant compensation in the life and energy, the picturesqueness and color, which it preserves by close contact with the old Hebrew soil. The thought stands out clear, distinct, forceful, not wrapt up in wordy paraphrases where David himself would have had difficulty in recognising his meaning, or liquefied into weak sentimentalisms from which his manly nature, to take no higher view, would have turned away ashamed. This too may be said, that those portions which the heart feels that it needs in its sorrowful hours, over which it leans and pores in its deep musings, or from the summits of which it mounts as on eagles' wings in its moments of joy, have a tenderness, a quaint beauty, a majesty in their form, peculiar to that age of the English language in which they were framed."
The Tunes and Audio Recordings
The Scottish Psalmody has 193 tunes in six meters. This is a rich stock of varied national origin, but including about twenty recent British tunes, some of which were written especially for Psalm singing, and which are not included in American psalters. Such recent tunes as Arden, Garelochside, Finnart, St. Botolph and Shere demonstrate that music is still being composed which fits the dignity and expressiveness of the divinely inspired words of the psalter. As might be expected, there are also tunes here which have been favorites in Scotland for generations, but which are little known among Psalm singers in the United States. Among these are Cunningham, Free Church, Glencairn, Stornoway, and Walsall. This psalter deserves wide notice for its musical excellence.
On the other hand, a number of the tunes is this psalter are familiar to many American Presbyterians, and this facilitates its use in introducing psalmody. Among well-known Common Meter tunes are Artaxerxes 24, Crimond 46, St. Agnes Durham 104, St. Anne 106, St. Columba (Erin) 109, St. Peter 125, Denfield 49 and Warwick 143. A familiar Short Meter tune is Dennis 162. Familiar Long Meter tunes are Duke Street 3, Old 100th 10, Walton 17, and Warrington 19.
In ordering British psalters, Americans will want to specify the versions with musical notation in staff. British psalters traditionally used sol-fa notation, a system introduced in Scotland in the nineteenth century to make sight reading simple. In tonic solfa the tonic of all major keys is doh (and the corresponding notes are designated ray, me, fah, etc.), and the tonic of all minor keys is lah (with the corresponding notes designated te, doh, etc.). Time values are shown by vertical lines, colons, etc. Americans who are unfamiliar with this system will have to learn it in order to read the music. Recently, sol-fa has begun to go out of fashion in Britain, and British psalters are now produced in staff versions as well, making the music accessible to American congregations.
Of great help in learning the tunes in this psalter are CDs and audio cassettes of singing from the Scottish Metrical Psalter. An assortment of these may be seen online from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom, Glasgow.
The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) has a series of CD sets under the title Worthy to Be Praised. Each set has a listening disc with twelve tunes from The Scottish Psalmody sung in parts, and then also a teaching disc, designed to assist in learning the twelve tunes and the harmony parts. Four sets are currently available, from Mrs. Isobel Scott, 36 Pinewood Place, Blackburn, West Lothian EH47 7NX, United Kingdom, at £8 ($12) for each set of two discs. Volume two is a personal favorite.
Subject Guides and Concordance
There are subject guides to the Book of Psalms, which are useful in choosing Psalms for use in worship services. The Scottish Psalmody has a "Subject Index of Psalms" on pp. 223-226. The best of the subject guides is found in the back of the Book of Psalms for Singing, published by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. It has an extensive "Topical Index" on pp. 461-471, and a list of "Psalms Quoted in the New Testament" on pp. 472-473, citing the psalm verse quoted or alluded to, together with the New Testament reference. The Book of Psalms for Singing may be obtained from Crown and Covenant Publications, 7408 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15208-2531, 412-241-0436, and may be ordered online. The cost is $18.
There is also an every-word concordance of the Scottish Metrical Psalter, 240 pages in length. It is published by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and is available for $9.50 from Reformation Heritage Books, 2965 Leonard Street NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525, 616-977-0599. It is also available from the publisher in Scotland, the Free Presbyterian Bookroom, at a slightly higher price. As may be imagined, this handsome, hardcover volume is extremely useful.
Inexpensive Edition of the Scottish Metrical Psalter
Copies of the Scottish Metrical Psalter in an edition with words only and no music are published by the Trinitarian Bible Society, in black vinyl boards, and are sold by Reformation Heritage Books in a pocket edition for $6. When purchasing psalters for a group, costs can be kept down by obtaining The Scottish Psalmody for singers who read music, and the Trinitarian Bible Society psalter for those who need only the words. The Trinitarian Bible Society also has an edition (ISBN 9781862280960) which has large print, and so is readily used by children and by anyone with vision problems. Moreover, the Trinitarian Bible Society prints the Scottish Metrical Psalter in the back of several editions of Authorised King James Version. The U.S. office of the Trinitarian Bible Society is 927 Alpine Commerce Park, Suite 100, Grand Rapids, MI 49544, 616-735-3695, firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask for their catalog. Or go to the internet site of the Trinitarian Bible Society, follow the directions to the national currency of your choice in order to find a price list in the currency of that nation, and then use the column on the left to go to Other Publications in order to find their larger print edition selling for $7.90.