Before getting to the piece that gives its title to this post, let me start by mentioning a Dan Gardner worship song I learned in the UK, “Come, Sing a New Psalm.” You can listen to it on YouTube. It is interesting because it raises the question, can one write and sing a new Psalm of David as the song’s lyrics imply? My initial instinct, like yours, is to say “no.” Yet the Psalms that are labeled “of David” in the Book of Psalms are in fact more literally labeled “to David.” Whether they belong to him as author, or are dedicated to him, or were composed during his reign and thus sponsored by him, their precise connection with David is less clear than many assume. That still doesn’t mean we can simply write new Psalms of David, but if nothing else, it gets us thinking about authorship. If there are some parts of the Bible that it is possible to imagine God might have dictated, the Psalms make clear that we are hearing the voices of human beings. They may be singing about God or to God, but they aren’t singing as God, at least in most of them.
In the Pentecostal church I attended in my teens there was a tendency to have lively music and then move to something softer and more meditative. And so next, have a listen to this lovely piece by Bruce Babcock. It sets the words “Be Still And Know That I Am God,” which clearly show that sometimes Psalmists did claim to speak on behalf of God or with the divine voice, although even there it does so within a larger framework of human speech about God:
Whenever I think about this biblical phrase I cannot help but think about the way it appears in my own church, Crooked Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis. The imperative phrase ends with an exclamation mark. I think, having had occasion to look at it many times, it was a choice made late in the process of adding the words in the sanctuary, when they discovered that the phrase would not look evenly balanced over the arch in the front of the church unless an additional character were added. This is not merely a source of amusement, but leads to some more serious questions. Several translations of Psalm 46:10 include an exclamation mark. Some translate the initial phrase “Calm down” which works better with that punctuation. There is a serious question here about meaning and connotations. I tried one possible colloquial rendering of the meaning, which includes the exclamation mark. Nonetheless, I still find peaceful, stilling, quieter musical treatments more compelling to me personally.
Babcock’s “All Unto Me” is also a biblical text setting, with an interesting story and source of inspiration behind it. The video below couples the music with that source, which is Desmond Tutu preaching about the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, emphasizing that he said he would draw all and not merely some to himself.
Here is Linus Lau’s setting of Psalm 41:2:
Moving to the New Testament, here is Urmas Sisask’s Ave Maria:
And here is his Laudate Dominum from Gloria Patri:
I am on the lookout for more jazz music that interacts directly with the biblical text. Kirk Whalum’s album The Gospel According to Jazz Chapter 2 starts off with a jazz setting of John 1:1:
Alfred Schnittke’s Three Sacred Hymns are all drawn from/based on biblical texts.
Still want more music? Here is Hendrik Andriessen’s setting of the Magnificat:
Also of related interest: