This week Colin and Ruth are sharing their thoughts about Psalm 150 and suggesting lots of fun activities!
Psalm 150 is the last psalm of the Book of Psalms found in the Bible’s Old Testament. Colin explains just what that book is all about:
“The Book of Psalms is a wonderful collection of songs for just about every mood, and just about every occasion, reminding us that however we are feeling and whatever we feel like singing, God is listening.”
So here is Psalm 150:
Praise God in his Temple. Praise him in his mighty heaven. 2 Praise him for his strength. Praise him for his greatness. 3 Praise him with trumpet blasts. Praise him with harps and lyres. 4 Praise him with tambourines and dancing. Praise him with stringed instruments and flutes. 5 Praise him with loud cymbals. Praise him with crashing cymbals. 6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!
This, then, is a song about praising God by making music. The psalm before this, Psalm 149, urges us to praise God through singing and dancing. In Psalm 150 lots of instruments are suggested for praising God and it encourages us to play loudly! We have music in our Cathedral Kids’ meetings, real and virtual, and it has an important role in the Cathedral’s services. You all sing and dance and many of you play an instrument too, so next time you’re doing any of these, remember what Psalm 150 tells you about praising God through making music. (N.B playing quietly can be good too!)
Activities – Have fun! Ruth
How about taking up the psalmist’s challenge and making some instruments of your own, some that even resemble those listed?
Cymbals are easy: a couple of metal pan lids are great, as long as nobody minds! Others involve a bit more effort. Luckily, members of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) have put up a series of videos over the last few weeks, showing you how to make musical instruments (even out of vegetables!). All the videos are fun, but perhaps try these first:
13. vegetable instruments
Maybe you’d rather be outside, so go and listen to the music-making going on out there: the deep buzzing of bumblebees, the higher pitch of honey bees and all the wonderful birdsong. Can you recognise any particular song? The blackbird has a distinctive flutey sound, singing from the highest treetop or chimney in the evening – or right by my window at first light! The RSPB website has a great collection of bird songs for you to start listening and learning:
“Let everything that hath breath praise, praise, praise the Lord!” So goes the round in Benjamin Britten’s version of Psalm 150 which he wrote in 1962 for his old school to sing. He takes the words of the psalm and adapts them, but all the ideas are there. It’s written for young people to sing with an orchestra, so see what instruments you can spot in these videos. You won’t see a lyre in an orchestra. A lyre is a plucked stringed instrument, U shaped, so different from and smaller than a harp, and its strings go over a bridge as on a guitar. It’s an ancient instrument not common here, but apparently something like a lyre is played in East Africa. There are plenty of other instruments to find in the videos though. How many can you recognise?
Children’s Choir, Brazil. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Paq7YvIJ9Us
Some of the instruments aren’t easy to see even though you can hear them. Obvious are French horns and flute. Eventually you get glimpses of keyboard, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola and cello.
Children’s Chorus and Cantata Singers Ensemble, Boston. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPxIzX5zN9I
The wind section isn’t visible but you can see all the strings (violins, violas, cellos and double bass). In the percussion section you’ll have a quick view of timpani, triangle, cymbal, side drum and tambourine.
- Which performance do you prefer and why?
- Isn’t it amazing that words of a song written all those centuries ago, read, spoken and sung over the years, can be sung and enjoyed all round the world in new ways?
- Colin has kindly written an account for us of the Book of Psalms, comparing it to our own hymn book and explaining how it came about. It’s great! I learnt a lot – I’m sure you will too.
The Book of Psalms, which we find in the Old Testament of our Bibles, is really the hymn-book or the song-book of the Bible. Although they are often called the “Psalms of David”, after King David, it is very unlikely that he wrote all of them. David was a shepherd before being made King and, being very musical, playing the harp and singing, he may well have written some of them. There is a carving of King David, playing his harp, somewhere in Dunblane Cathedral. Perhaps you can find it some day!
It is likely that many different people wrote Psalms, just as our hymn-books contain hymns and songs by various writers. Our hymn book also contains quite a lot of Psalms from the Bible – the first 107 items are Psalms.
There are 150 Psalms in all. Although we don’t know exactly when they were written, we do know that it may have been up to around 2,500 years ago – 500 years before Jesus was born. Just as they weren’t all written by King David, but by a number of people, they may also have been written over quite a long period of, say, 500 years.
Our hymn book also contains hymns and songs by people from many different centuries: some were written fairly recently and for our particular hymn book; others were written several hundred years ago.
We have hymns or songs of different lengths in our hymn books – some rather long and others extremely short – and we have many different types of hymns and songs too. There are happy songs, and sad songs. There are songs when we say “Thank you” to God, and some where we say “Sorry.” There are songs when we celebrate the world around us and others when we ask God to help us look after it. There are songs we sing when a baby is baptized, and songs we sing at weddings. There are really sad songs that we sing when somebody dies. There are also songs for different times of the year. We have Christmas Carols and songs about the childhood of Jesus and about what he did when he grew up. We have quite a lot about when Jesus died on a cross, and Easter songs about when he rose again. We have songs we sing at harvest, and some we sing when we light the candles during Advent. In other words, we can sing to God about lots of things.
Although the Psalms don’t speak about Jesus and Christmas and Easter, for they were written long before Jesus was born, the 150 Psalms we have cover many themes and moods. Psalm 150 is a song praising God and reminding us about how good God is. Psalm 13 is a sad song, wondering if God has forgotten all about us. Psalm 23, which is one of the best known, is a Psalm in which we are reminded that God is like a Shepherd who looks after his sheep and leads them to the places where they may find food and water. In some Psalms, hard questions are asked about why bad things happen. In others, the writer says “Sorry” to God for something bad he has done. In others, the writer says “Please help me”, and in yet more the writer says “I know God will help me, because he has helped me in the past.”
The Psalms have been sung, not only by Christians, but by Jews, for centuries, and have been translated into virtually every language there is in the world. They have been sung by people on their own, by congregations, or even by huge choirs, accompanied by an orchestra. Although they can be read as poems, or used as prayers, or studied to help us think about God, they are there for singing. Some of them are addressed to the choir master, and others have a note of the type of musical instrument that should accompany them. Others have musical terms, such as Selah, which we don’t quite understand.
The Book of Psalms is a wonderful collection of songs for just about every mood, and just about every occasion, reminding us that however we are feeling and whatever we feel like singing, God is listening.
Colin C. Renwick
If you had a go at any of the activities we would really like you to share them here .
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