Author ORCID Identifier
Year of Publication
Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
Dr. Everett McCorvey
The history of singing the Biblical Psalms from the Old Testament goes back thousands of years. Early Jewish worship by the nation of Israel was centered upon singing the Psalms, and this formed the early musical worship of the first-century Christian church as well. Yet today this practice is only observed by a few denominations and has fallen out of style among mainline evangelical churches. There are Psalters being printed, but for the most part they still contain many of the traditional musical and lyrical structures that go back several hundred years. For many, these sacred texts have too much tradition to make them useful or relevant to modern worship services. The singing of The Book of Psalms in corporate worship practice is not a new concept. In 1707, Isaac Watts, an English Congregational minister, began his own attempt at modernizing the congregational music of the English church. He was appalled at the lack of participation and lack of musical excellence pervasive in the congregational worship. Watts believed that there were three main issues that contributed to the decline in the singing of the Psalms, in English-speaking congregations. He desired to address these wrongs: “1) the Psalms alone were neither appropriate or sufficient for congregational worship under the New Covenant of the gospel, 2) most ordinary Christians understood very little of what they sang from the Psalms – especially about Old Testament symbolism or ‘types’– and thus were unable to sing from the heart, and 3) their corporate singing had declined to such an abysmal level which neither edified the singer, nor could it, he insisted, glorify God” (Crookshank, 2016, xii). Watts did his part to assist in solving these issues by writing all new adaptions of the Book of Psalms and hundreds of hymns. In fact, an unintended consequence was that his hymn compositions helped to move English congregational worship away from the Psalms and into hymns. Yet, it seems that these same issues have cycled through history on a regular rotation as musical style has developed and evolved with each generation. Understanding the issues highlighted by Watts and how they relate to current musical tastes has provided an opportunity to re-imagine what psalm singing can look like in a modern context of worship. Each generation of church attendees has had to deal with the frustration of changes to familiar lyrical and harmonic structure in singing. There has always been a division between those who grasp onto the past out of a need for familiarity and those who want to find a comfort in the present musical expressions. Looking at these issues over time, how they were confronted, and what evolved from these confrontations can provide a helpful understanding of how we can grow in regards to the same issues.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Webb, Philip W., "A DEFENSE OF PSALM SINGING: SOLUTIONS TO CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE" (2023). Theses and Dissertations--Music. 230.