"Deep is calling to deep." Those words from Psalm 42 keep coming to mind as I reflect on the concert of Psalms.
Early in the concert, the singers' voices called to one another in the gorgeous polyphony of Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus," a setting of Psalm 42. This was followed by Herbert Howells' setting of the same psalm from 400 years later. Written in a single day, January 8, 1941, in London, shortly after the city had been bombed for 57 consecutive days, Howells' music gave a haunting new voice to the psalmist's cry, "Where is now your God?"
Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge" (20
century), engages not
only the ancient text of Psalm 90, but also Isaac Watts' setting of the psalm from the 17
century. Deep is calling to deep: new voices answering old voices.
The anguish and the glory of human existence are given voice in the psalms, and composers down through the ages have adopted, and sometimes adapted, the words of the psalms to speak to their own age. Two of the pieces performed were composed within the past year.
"The Lord is faithful from age to age," proclaims Psalm 100. Even some of the psalmists had their doubts about that, of course, as the many psalms of lament demonstrate. Still, from age to age, these ancient poems have spoken deeply to the doubts and fears, the joys and hopes of the human heart. From age to age, composers have added their voices to the ongoing chorus.
Thanks be to God for the words and the music! Thanks be to God for the voices calling from age to age, the voices calling from, and to, the depths of the human heart.