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The Selah Psalter

Editors Richard Leach and David Schaap
Released October 2001
Catalog no. 125-301 (spiral-bound, 106 pages. Complete indexes.)
Price $17.50
ISBN 0-9677408-4-3 (Spiral)

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Read an article by Richard Leach on Psalmody and The Selah Psalter

List of authors and composers | Psalms included | Introduction

"The psalms, Christianity's oldest hymnody, have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, with one of the best features of this revival in worship being the ways in which it crosses old denominational boundaries. Roman Catholics and Anglicans can be heard lustily singing metrical psalm settings, and Presbyterian and Reformed congregations praise God with responsorial settings by folks like Marty Haugen and Joseph Gelineau with even the occasional chant.

One of the latest contributions to this rebirth is The Selah Psalter, a collection of 66 different settings of 47 psalms in varied styles. . . .

Special mention must be made of George Black's responsorial psalm settings, which are probably familiar to Canadian Anglicans, but are probably receiving their first widespread U.S. exposure in this book. These refrains are both accessible and creative, liturgically sensitive and evocative of their texts. These alone are worth the price of the book.

It is also important to recognize the range of authors and composers whom Selah assembled in this collection. In an era when many small supplements include only texts and tunes under copyright by the publisher of the volume, it is refreshing to see this company put service to the Church ahead of maximizing profits (which are rather slim in such enterprises.)

As one approaches the metrical settings, it is important for worship leaders to be exegetically aware. Since the publication of Isaac Watts' Psalms of David, Imitain the Language of the New Testament, authors have been emboldened to use a broader approach to metrical psalmody rather than strict adherence to the biblical texts. While this has been valuable in the development of hymnody and even the survival of metrical psalmody, some traditions would no longer consider all of these to be psalm settings. For example, for my own middle-of-the-road Reformed congregation, texts such as 'When our song says peace' by Richard Leach (#24) and Rae Whitney's 'A small thing like a hazelnut' (#44), while fine hymns, would not count as psalm settings. Worship planners must be aware of their own tradition and theological sensibility. . . .

[The Selah Psalter] is a sturdy, affordable collection of creative and usable psalm settings, and for that it deserves a place on every worship planner's shelf."
--The Hymn, January 2003

Selah Publishing Co. began its publishing in 1989 with Songs of Rejoicing: Hymns for Worship, Meditation & Praise. Selah has become one of the premiere publishers of contemporary hymnody through the supplements and collections published to date, and congregational song is one of our primary concerns. This is only fitting since our name Selah comes from the Psalms, the earliest collection of congregational song.

The word "selah" is a Hebrew word whose meaning has been lost over time. Some scholars believe it might be related to the Hebrew word "salal" which means to lift up. In that case "selah" would mean to lift up your voice in praise to God.

Since the source of our name comes from the Psalms, we thought it only fitting that a Selah Psalter be published. The settings and paraphrases included in this collection are drawn from earlier publications and the authors and composers whose work we represent. There are many newly published in this collection, and we have chosen a variety of Psalms to suit the lectionary usage. In many instances we have several versions of the same Psalm, and have both metrical paraphrases and responsorial settings in this collection. It is our hope that The Selah Psalter will help the church lift up its voice in praise to God.

Introduction by Richard Leach
The psalms are three things at once. They are scripture: they can be heard as words that God speaks to us. This is true whoever the nominal speaker in a psalm may be. They are prayer, words that we speak to God. And they are song. This threefold nature makes the psalms endlessly compelling. The church has relied on them for song since its beginning, sometimes exclusively. Poets and composers turn to them again and again, and here is this new volume as example.

As scripture, the psalms can speak without paraphrase or explanation, just as a Sunday morning lesson may address us even when it is not preached upon. Yet the psalms invite and support interpretation, as all scripture does, in sermons, theology, hymns. Nuances may be highlighted, swiftly passing imagery lingered upon, other parts of the Bible invoked-just to begin to identify interpretive moves.

So composers set psalms "straight from the Bible" and, on the other hand, hymn poets interpret the psalms in a wide range of ways. Both composers and poets are listening for God's word, that the church may hear it and proclaim it to the world.

Good metrical paraphrase comes from this interpretive listening for God's word. It is more than solving a puzzle that slots biblical words into familiar tunes!

As prayer, psalms give those who speak or sing them membership in a vast community of voices, extending round the world, back and forward through time, and beyond the church into Judaism and biblical Israel. Jesus Christ is of course a member, and the center, of that community of song. We sing what Jesus sang before his death and resurrection, when we sing psalms.

Yet more than that: psalms call the church to embrace its identity as the body of Christ. We may not pray for the defeat of our enemies with a completely clear conscience, as certain psalms do. Jesus may, for he knows exactly who and what those enemies are, what must be overcome, what may be saved. We may not assert our innocence before God, as certain psalms do. Jesus may. We sing such psalms freely when we remember that we are the body of Christ, and so sing with the voice of Christ.

Song is both a necessity and a pleasure for Christians. Many congregations sing psalms by chanting them. Others have never imagined doing such a thing, simple as it is! Metrical paraphrases and psalm-based hymns free many people to sing the psalms in something closer to the "mother tongue" of their singing.

Scripture, prayer and song united: the psalms are a wondrous gift. We who have contributed to the Selah Psalter pray that we have received it faithfully, and offer what has been given us to the church.

Richard Leach, Torrington, Connecticut

Selected authors and composers

Black, George
Busarow, Donald
Carter, John
Cutts, Peter
Damon, Daniel Charles
Daw, Carl P., Jr.
Decker, Mark
Doemland, Edward
Downing, Edith Sinclair
Duck, Ruth
Edwards, Rusty
Fedak, Alfred V.
Gilbert, John
Grindal, Gracia
Hopp, Roy
Hopson, Hal H.
Horman, John
Husberg, Amanda
Leach, Richard
Nestor, Leo
Patterson, Joy F.
Quinn, James, S.J.
Robb, David A.
Rowan, William P.
Schaap, David P.
Sedio, Mark
Stuempfle, Herman G.
White, David Ashley
Whitney, Rae E.
Wren, Brian

Psalms included
1, 6, 8, 13, 16, 19, 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 42, 43, 46, 47, 51, 55, 70, 71, 72, 85, 91, 95, 96, 97, 98, 100, 104, 119, 110, 113, 114, 116, 118, 126, 130, 136, 137, 139, 145, 146, 147, 148, 150

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