I don't normally write about work on any kind of current basis, but I had an extraordinary mid-liturgy exegetical experience that I would like to relate.
Thursday evening, at evensong, the psalm was 73. I had been practicing the accompaniment for psalm all week, mostly trying to line up the notes of the chant with the text. For this particular psalm/chant pairing, this task was a bit more exciting due to the number of passing tones. The chant, incidentally, was written by Henry Smart, who was not a dumb composer.
So there I was working away, and it wasn't as if I was ignoring the words (I usually am either singing them or mouthing the words as I work), but I wasn't quite taking in the whole meaning either.
Because once we sang the psalm at evensong, I understoood the meaning of the opening of the psalm for the very first time.
Generally in a double chant two verses are sung to the same chant tone before it repeats.
So, we begin with 8844 on the Swell.
1. Truly, God is good to Israel, *
to those who are pure in heart.
2. But as for me, my feet had nearly slipped; *
I had almost tripped and fallen;
Then, as I reached over to pull on the Oboe, I inadvertently pulled out new shades of meaning. It might have also been that there is a big difference in singing something yourself and having the same bit sung to you. I hadn't connected how dangerously close the psalmist comes to having "tripped and fallen" with what came next. It seems that his envy nearly brought him to do something that he would regret; it brought him to almost "trip and fall". The dark color of the Oboe was the perfect complememnt for the psalmist's description of the "wicked".
3. Because I envied the proud *
and saw the prosperity of the wicked:
4. For they suffer no pain, *
and their bodies are sleek and sound;
It was a strange experience, understanding for the first time what the psalmist's attitude was toward these "hard-bodies", and how it was all tied into the psalmist's feet nearly slipping. I read along as the choir sang, but was also very concious of my accompanying duties.
5. In the misfortunes of others they have no share; *
they are not afflicted as others are;
6. Therefore they wear their pride like a necklace *
and wrap their violence about them like a cloak.
I have to say, it was a unique experience, this real time liturgical exegesis, mostly because it was so distracting! Here I was, contemplating the meaning of the text while I was playing it.
It seems that I was embodying verse 22 of the psalm (which was not sung at evensong).
22. I was stupid and had no understanding; *
I was like a brute beast in your presence.
. . . not so Smart after all . . .
Labels: Anglican chant, Evensong, Psalms, Smart
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