06 May 2008

Joseph Gelineau, Psalms of DavidGelineau Psalmody

This is an exquisite recording that I acquired just over a year ago. It is well worth listening to and savouring. Of course Jews and Christians have been singing the Psalms for two millennia and more. There are various ways to sing them, including chant and metrical psalmody, the latter of which requires versification according to set metres. Gelineau psalmody is unique in that it combines elements of both. Here is my description of Gelineau psalmody from my 1989 Reformed Worship article, Straight from Scripture:

One of the more interesting ways of singing the psalms was developed by Joseph Gelineau of France. Of all the methods of singing the psalms, Gelineau's chant best preserves the Hebrew poetic style, retaining both the parallelism and the metrical structure of the original. Ancient Hebrew meter is somewhat like early English meter (e.g., nursery rhymes) in that it focuses on the number of stresses within a line rather than on the number of syllables. Gelineau psalmody is often sung to the Grail translation, which was produced specifically for this purpose. The following passage (. . . from Psalm 54) is "pointed" to indicate the regular rhythmic stresses in each line:

          O Gód, sáve me by your náme;
          by your pówer, uphóld my caúse.
          O Gód, heár my práyer;
          lísten to the wórds of my moúth.

Gelineau psalmody also takes into account the different number of lines within each stanza, something that is not possible with other methods of psalm-chanting.

Gelineau psalms are usually sung responsively. The soloist or choir begins by singing the refrain; then the congregation repeats it. The psalm then proceeds responsively with a soloist or choir chanting the verses and the congregation responding with the refrain. Many Roman Catholics, who have recently begun congregational singing, have found this "responsorial" style of psalm-singing very helpful. A refrain (or antiphon, an older term) is much easier to learn than the whole psalm. Among Protestants who are used to exclusive metrical psalmody, the responsorial style has the advantage of making a clear distinction between psalms and hymns. Rather than simply reading the psalm directly from the Bible or singing a paraphrased version of it metrically, the congregation can sing the actual words from Scripture.

This particular recording is performed by the Cathedral Singers of Chicago, conducted by Richard Proulx. Gelineau psalmody is by now familiar to two generations of Catholics, but not to protestants and Orthodox Christians. It deserves to be better known amongst all the followers of Christ.

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can be contacted at: dtkoyzis@gmail.com