The poetry contained in the Psalms is beautiful, especially in light of the turmoil and unrest in the world right now. David, and many of the other psalmists, were not afraid of tough questions and wrestling through difficult issues. Anger, doubt, fear, lament, and many more expressions that we sometimes consider “taboo” for church are clearly on display. However, we see that through all of these emotions, the anchor that the psalmists consistently come back to is that God is faithful and his steadfast love endures forever, even in the midst of joy AND pain.
Psalm singing used to be much more prevalent in our churches. I have an old book that I keep on my office desk entitled “Introits and Graduals – Advent to Whitsunday,” where the “graduals” are all choral settings of Psalms to be sung in corporate worship, led by a choir. We have, unfortunately, moved away from singing some type of setting of a Psalm every Sunday, but there seems to be a push to bring this practice back. That being the case, I wanted to offer a handful of musical resources for your use so that you can help get the Psalms to stick in your mind through music.
Psalm Songs, Volume 1 – Word for Word Treatment
First, have a look at this beautiful album from The Corner Room entitled Psalm Songs, Volume 1. The arrangements on this album are beautiful, and the text is taken verbatim from the ESV, which is the version of Scripture we tend to use on Sunday mornings during our times of gathered worship. Also, Volume 1 implies that they plan to release multiple volumes, which is exciting!
Sandra McCracken’s Psalms – Relaxed, But Accurate Adaptation
Sandra McCracken’s beautiful Psalms album is a treasure. This album contains songs that are easy to sing, easy to listen to, and easy to remember. While her lyrics are not completely word-for-word, they are awfully close. As an example, the majority of her treatment of Psalm 43 is nearly word-for-word, but when she gets to verse four where the psalmist mentions “I will praise you with the lyre,” Sandra changes it to “Then I will praise him with my guitar… ” As the lyre is a hand-plucked harp, a very fair modern counterpart would, indeed, be the guitar. This Sunday we will enjoy hearing Sandra’s treatment of Psalm 42 from the worship team as special music during tithes and offerings.
Psalms – Songs Inspired By The Book
Sovereign Grace Music, whose music we often sing, has an album of songs inspired by the Psalms. While some are closer to the text than others, they all have clear inspiration from the specific Psalm they are based on. These songs tend to be a little more energetic and rock-based than the previous albums.
Tumbling Sky – Psalms For Weary Souls, Matt Searles
From “across the pond” comes this beautiful and timely album from Matt Searles, Tumbling Sky – Psalms for Weary Souls. These beautiful and rich arrangements take many of the tougher Psalms and set them to music. Matt says this of the album:
In a society uncomfortable with brokenness and suffering, and in a church culture where struggles and doubts may not always seem welcome, the psalms are a precious gift, as God gives us words to pray to him in all seasons of life.
The psalms teach us authentic spirituality – that brokenness is not a sign of spiritual failure, that sadness is not a denial of the gospel, that tears are not incompatible with the hope of resurrection we have in Christ.
Jesus doesn’t say ‘Come to me you who are happy, come to me you who have everything sorted out, come to me you who have all your questions answered.’ Jesus says ‘Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’
My prayer for this album, and for the accompanying devotions, is that these psalms will help us engage with God in times of trial, and come to Jesus Christ who gives rest to weary souls.
This album’s treatment of Psalm 57, with a single vocalist and hauntingly beautiful jazz-inspired piano is worth the whole album.
An Upcoming Project From An Artist-In-Residence
Wendell Kimbrough moved from Washington D.C. to Alabama to become an artist-in-residence at a small anglican church. One of his main duties there is to write new treatments of each Psalm that comes up in the lectionary every week. As a result, Wendell started a project to record many of these renditions that he has written and arranged. While the project is fully funded it is not yet released. However, I’m really excited for this project to come out, as one of his main intentions with it is to make the Psalms singable for congregations again. Something to definitely keep an eye on!
Lastly – A Large, But By No Means Exhaustive, List
There are countless other arrangements of Psalms available to listen to. This resource gives a very large list of individual songs as well as albums. I realize that I didn’t touch on more traditional and/or classical versions of Psalms in this post. I hope to address just some of these in a separate post.
*original post appeared HERE.
Ryan Egan serves as Director of Worship & Creative Arts at Living Word Free Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD. He is a follower of Jesus, husband, father of three, worshiper & creative.