Psalm 150 Like You’ve Never Heard it Before

Psalm 150 Like You’ve Never Heard it Before November 18, 2020

Sometimes our desire to praise is simply too great for words…

I created this musical response to Psalm 150 for flutist Elizabeth Ostling from the world-renowned Boston Symphony Orchestra.

There is no singer in this musical composition, and the words of the psalm do not appear. Yet the music, accompanied by nature images, still brings the Scripture to life.

Read the psalm below, then the note I have written about the composition. You can then watch a video of the piece.

If you’d like, please add a comment below. Does this musical response to the psalm work? Do you agree with the way it interprets the Scripture? I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his exceeding greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with timbrel and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

A Note About the Piece

The psalter ends with the command for all things who have breath to praise the Lord. In the Hebrew, each line of Psalm 150 begins with “Hallelujah”, a word which, when heard in the context of that final command, seems intentionally onomatopoeic: a simple breath, out and in, over and over, forever and ever.

In keeping with the universal directive of the psalm (or is it simply an observation?), this work is written for both the flute and the flutist. It explores the sonic and ritualistic dimensions of our breath, and how – like the “ruah” (breath or spirit in Hebrew) – it surrounds us and inspires us, giving life (literal and musical) in ways that we cannot explain.

The piece’s opening gesture – animated, like Adam, by a breath – metamorphoses by the end into the word whose shape inspired it: Hallelujah. The word and the music then return from where they came, merging into the rhythmic breath that sustains us throughout our lives…and whose inescapable cessation will bring us into the presence of the One who made everything from the tiniest drop of water to the spiral nebulae.

The mystical sounds and visuals remind us that the universe will continue to praise God long after it is devoid of anything with breath. Thus, this psalm is really just a beginning….

Psalm 150 was commissioned by Interfaith Youth Core and Hebrew College for their 2020 PsalmSeason project.

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