Psalm Hymns: Volumes Three & Four, Psalms 73-106, by L.L. Larkins
[Note: I received this book free of charge by BookCrash. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
This is the second book (confusingly called volume three and four because it follows the third and fourth book of the Psalms, of a three volume series, and it follows right along where the previous volume left off. While many of the psalms themselves were set to original tunes (even if we have little idea in many cases what tunes those were), at least some of the psalms were set to familiar tunes to the original psalmist as well as the original audience, suggesting that going back to more than 3000 years ago there was a repertoire among the Levites and other musicians like David and Asaph and others. The editor and compiler of these particular settings of the psalms appears to wish to use more familiar tunes as a way of increasing the acceptance of the psalter, but the matches of word and tune are really odd and unfamiliar. As someone who has listened to the phenomenon of familiar settings going to unfamiliar tunes and vice versa, I can say that this is not an easy sell for many congregations.
This particular book is a bit more than 150 pages and begins with an introduction and a historical note for the psalter, continues to contain settings to music for Psalms 73-106, and then concludes with a discussion of the life of the author himself. For those who hae read the first book of this series (Volumes 1 and 2), the setup will be familiar and the settings are of about the same quality and the tunes chosen are about equally diverse to those which were chosen for the previous volume. What is perhaps most striking about this book is the way that the author’s experience as an academically trained church musician as well as his own interest in the Jesus movement of the 1970’s has led him to attempt to duplicate the efforts of the Scottish metrical psalmists and others of the early Protestant era in a way that is more hip and more contemporary, even if many of the tunes are highly traditional, going back to the 19th century or before in many cases. There is a mixture of old and new to be found here and if the songs chosen are generally not novel, the specific arrangements are, even if the quality of the settings is highly variable.
Ultimately, I am unsure of the specific worth of the author’s attempts at setting the Psalms to a wide mixture of tunes. The settings themselves often appear to be rather lacking in dignity and power, being both too stilted and full of odd words and phrasing to be really relevant for contemporary readers and far too basic in many respects to appeal to those who prefer the grandeur of the Geneva or King James Bibles. In many ways this particular book appears like a compromise made between a variety of elements that may end up really appealing to only a few because it casts such a wide net looking for psalms that would be familiar to readers–it is a rare collection in having Catholic (Faith Of Our Fathers), Jewish (The God Of Abraham), traditional Protestant (Crown Him With Many Crowns), and even political (Battle Hymn of the Republican) settings all mixed promiscuously together, but if you can get beyond the fact that the words being sung to the tunes are very different than what one would expect thematically and that the settings are often less than ideal, there is still at least something to enjoy and appreciate here.