What is Metre?
Why Should I Care?
And If I Should Decide to Care, How Do I Use It?
How Do I Use It? - A Practical Example
Let's suppose you would like to sing Psalm 92, which is subtitled "A Psalm for the Sabbath Day." We have a version of this Psalm in our hymnal, but the music is a typical Dwight Armstrong effort--a reasonable sounding beginning that quickly degenerates into awkward notes and rhythmic patterns that make it difficult to maintain the joyful mood of the original Psalm. This particular selection has been sung so seldom that few people even know the tune, possibly because the tune does such a serious injustice to the Psalm. So, what can we do?
One of Dwight's favorite sources was the Scottish Psalter of 1650, but his Psalm 92 words do not appear to have originated in that source. Let's take a look at the Scottish Psalter version of Psalm 92. Notice that this is in Common Metre. What Common Metre tunes do we already know? Quite a few. Crimond, for example. But Crimond is not quite the right mood for this Psalm, and is too closely associate with Psalm 23. Something more exultant is called for. A CMD tune named "Forrest Green" sounds nice, but we have never sung that tune and the goal is to sing the words without having to learn a new tune. Then we notice that a CMD tune named "Ellacome" is the tune we already know for "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" and we recall that it is a very uplifting and exultant tune.
The whole psalm is a little bit too long for a single song as we sing them, so we also need to use only part of the psalm, but which part? We finally decided to use some from the beginning and some from the end of the Psalm. Here are the words we finally ended up using:
Verses 1-6, 13-15, from The Scottish Metrical Psalter
A Psalm for the Sabbath day.
To render thanks unto the Lord it is a pleasing thing, And to thy name, O thou most High, due praise aloud to sing. Thy loving-kindness to show forth when shines the morning light; And to declare thy faithfulness with pleasure every night.
On a ten string-ed*** instrument, upon the psaltery, And on the harp with solemn sound, and grave sweet melody. For thou, Lord, by thy mighty works have made my heart right glad; And I will triumph in the works which by thine hands were made.
How great, Lord, are thy works! Each thought of thine how deep it is: A brutish man it know-eth not; fools understand not this. It is that they for ever may destroy-ed*** be and slain; But thou, O Lord, are the most High, forever to remain.
Those that within the house of God are planted by his grace, They shall grow up, and flourish all in our God's holy place. To show that upright is the Lord: he is a rock to me; And he from all unrighteousness is altogether free.
*** - At the time this version was written, an ending "ed" on a word was often pronounced as a separate syllable. We have hyphenated the words here to help with the singing.
Pretty good, isn't it? Can you do better? Try exploring some of the other CM and CMD tunes available here. Some will fit the words, some will not. Some that fit the meter and accents of the words will also fit the mood of the Psalm, others will not. But even after eliminating those combinations that do not work, or do not work well, you will still be left with several different tunes that we could use to sing the words of this Psalm. There are also several other settings of this Psalm into metre that you can try for further variety and insight into the meaning and power of this one Psalm.