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Ordinary Time 2017

26 February 2008
Psalm pointing - subjectivity of

Let's focus on a single verse from Sunday's Psalm lection, 95:11

So I swore in my wrath, *
      "They shall not enter into my rest."

Psalm pointing is the craft of divvying up the syllables of this ancient Hebrew poetry (that has since translated into English) so that it might be sung to a chant formula.

In the Anglican choral tradition, the chant formula is often what is known as Anglican chant, but plainsong chant formula is sometimes used (especially in Purple seasons).

Yesterday, Lent 3A, was an interesting case study in Episcopal plainsong psalm pointing. Bruce Ford has pointed settings in the Eucharistic Psalter and James Litton has edited the Plainsong Psalter. The pointing for Psalm 95:11 differs in these two books.

The solution for pointing first part of the verse is simple. This part includes the mediant, which is just a single change from the reciting tone. In this case, simply move on "wrath".

So I swore in my wrath *

Both Psalters agree on this.

The second part is a bit more complicated.

The termination consists of a few more changes from the reciting tone. In this case, a minimum of three pitches. Backing up three syllables gives us the simple answer, as is found in the Eucharistic Psalter.

"They shall not enter in-to my rest."

The other approach would be to nuance this slightly (for what reason? We'll get there). The Plainsong Psalter offers:

"They shall not enter in-to my rest."

In this case, the "my" and "rest" end up being on the same pitch, the last part of the termination.

So, the question at the end of this is, why?

Why wouldn't the first approach work all the time? Is there something inherently more musical or rhetorical about moving the termination back by a syllable? Is it more faithful to the word "rest" if the termination rests on the final syllable? But the verse says that "they shall not enter into my rest". So shouldn't we go with the first one?

Do different editors point psalms differently depending on what tone or chant they have in mind? (I think they do). If so, should they? Or should the pointing be such that it can fit any musical setting?

To what degree is Psalm pointing subjective? should it be subjective?

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Comments:
I chose the latter of the two options, but you can be sure that I spent a good deal of time pondering this. My choir preferred the former, but I was insistent and held my ground.
 
Interestingly, the exact same thing happened at my church. The choir immediately gravitated toward the first way, until it was pointed out to them that it wasn't printed that way.

Odd. There's something unnatural about that pointing if our choirs want to sing it the other way.
 
According to the Liber Usualis (which is likely where the psalm tones you're using come from), each psalm tone has a certain number of accents in its medial and terminating cadences. The pointing of the psalm should line up with these accents. Problem is, the Gregorian psalm tones were designed for Latin translations of the psalms, which makes it difficult sometimes to line up the accents in English with the accents in the cadences.
 

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