Beliefnet
So far, we've been working on singing psalms entirely by ear. Now it's time to branch into a new level of expertise in our singing of the chants and have a look at how to read simple chant notations.

Part of the excitement in the contemporary revival of contemplative psalmody is that monastic communities all over the world are beginning to compose new melodies to sing their psalms to and are developing simple and effective ways of writing these melodies down--"pointing" them is the old, official word--so that anyone with basic sight-reading skills can look at a psalm and see how to sing it.

Let's try our hand at one simple form of modern psalm notation developed by the monks of New Camaldoli Monastery in Big Sur, California. We'll work with the well-known and well-loved Psalm 100, "Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands." Follow the text as you listen to the whole chant:




Shout with joy to the Lord, all you / lands.
Serve the Lord \ with gladness.
Come into his presence \ rejoicing.

Know that the Lord is / God.
He made us and we \ are his,
his own people, the sheep of \ his pasture.

Come into his gates, giving / thanks.
Enter his courts \ with praise.
Give thanks to him and bless \ his name.

Praise the Lord, for he is / good,
his love endures \ forever
his faithfulness from age \ to age.

Doxology:
Praise the Father for his merciful / love;
taste and see that the Lord \ is good;
give him praise in the Ho\ly Spirit.

Now let's try to get oriented on the page for sight singing. In the middle of the page, you'll see what looks like three musical measures. Underneath each one is a caption: "odd lines," "even lines," and "last line only." These three "measures" furnish our psalm tone--which simply means they give us the tune we are going to sing this psalm to. The first one (the "odd line") goes like this:

La La

The second one (the "even line") goes like this:

La La La

The third line (the "last line only") goes like this:

La La La

When you read the first line of the psalm, notice that just before the end there is a forward slash mark (/) separating "Shout with joy to the Lord all you" and "lands." That little slash is a very important orientation point; it tells you how to match the text to the music. Everything to the left side of that slash is sung on that single white note on G. For those of you who know how to read music, it looks like a half-note, but it isn't; it's called a "reciting tone."

Shout with joy to the Lord, all you...

The one remaining syllable on the right hand side of the slash is sung on the one remaining note in that "first lines" measure.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all you /lands.

The second line of text matches the second "measure" of music in exactly the same way. Again, everything to the left side of the backward slash is sung on that one reciting tone (if you're beginning to get the idea that most of contemplative psalmody is chanted on a single note, you're right--a real gift to the musically challenged!). After the slash, the note that looks like an eighth note--it has a flag on it and is actually called a "passing tone"--matches the syllable "with." (The passing tone never takes up more than a single syllable; that's why it's called "passing.") The last two syllables of the line--the word "glad-ness"--are both sung on the final note of the measure.

Serve the Lord \ with gladness.

The third "measure" of the psalm tone--which, of course, matches the third line of the text--works exactly the same way. Everything to the left of the backward slash is sung on the reciting tone. On the right, the passing tone matches the syllable "to," while the final note (or "cadence tone") matches the syllable "joicing."

Come into his presence \ rejoicing.

There, you've done it! Now just continue that way right through to the end of the doxology (a final verse of praise for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit added in all Christian contemplative psalmody), and you've sight-read your first psalm tone. Congratulations!

Psalm 100



Shout with joy to the Lord, all you / lands.
Serve the Lord \ with gladness.
Come into his presence \ rejoicing.

Know that the Lord is / God.
He made us and we \ are his,
his own people, the sheep of \ his pasture.

Come into his gates, giving / thanks.
Enter his courts \ with praise.
Give thanks to him and bless \ his name.

Praise the Lord, for he is / good,
his love endures \ forever
his faithfulness from age \ to age.

Doxology:
Praise the Lord for his merciful / love;
taste and see that the Lord \ is good;
give him praise in the Ho\ly Spirit.
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