St. Simon’s Parish in Partick hosted the Glasgow Archdiocesan Music Committee’s latest workshop on liturgical music on 5 November. Over 50 cantors, singers and musicians from across the Archdiocese attended the workshop which launched the latest St. Mungo Music publication, “Psalms and Songs of the Bible Book 1” and also provided an opportunity to look at the psalms and canticles, their history and use, and take stock of how the Church’s use of them has developed over recent years.

The new publication provides 16 psalm settings, plus settings of the Benedictus, Magnificat, the Canticle of Ezechiel and the Canticle from Phillippians 2, together with an introduction on psalms by Dr. Noel Donnelly. Workshop participants were provided with a workshop edition of the publication, an accompanying CD of the music, and explanatory notes on the psalms.

The workshop itself began with the first part of sung Evening Prayer which created a prayerful setting for participants, as well as an active introduction to one use of the Psalms in church liturgy.

Dr. Donnelly then gave a presentation on the Psalms, their history and place in the Old Testament and their use in the New Testament. He drew attention firstly to the fact that they were meant for ordinary people when they were written, and they therefore speak to our own experiences as ordinary people in the Liturgy of the Word, where they are the link between the First Reading and the Gospel. He reminded the audience that the Psalms are songs covering a wide range of moods and they are also poetry, full of imagery, often quite spectacularly so. Church musicians should keep these aspects of the Psalms in mind when they come to proclaim them in the Liturgy.

Mgr. Gerry Fitzpatrick then led a session on the use of the Psalms in the Church and how this had developed: from their use in the Divine Office and private prayer, to use in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass and in sung Morning or Evening Prayer. Early settings by Gelineau had helped to make them accessible for people to sing. Psalm tones had also helped, although he cautioned that these can look deceptively simple but require careful preparation if they are to be sung well. Finally lyrical settings have been written by a number of composers in the UK and elsewhere.

As the best way of learning is by doing, Mgr. Gerry took participants through a number of different psalms from the new publication, before opening the session for discussion of their own experiences and for questions.

The final session of the workshop looked at the use of psalms and canticles in Evening Prayer, and at the potential for sung Evening Prayer to provide a liturgical resource for parishes. A simple form of an Evening Prayer liturgy had been provided as a basis for this session and for discussion on how Evening Prayer could practically be introduced into a parish. A gradual introduction with a simple format can form the basis for development as parishioners become more familiar and comfortable with it.

There was then a further opportunity for discussion on the materials made available and on issues regarding the use of psalms before the workshop drew to a close with participants taking part in the celebration of Evening Prayer, and the enjoyment of refreshments in St. Simon’s Café.

(Note: copies of “Psalms and Songs of the Bible” are available from St. Mungo Music, cost £10 plus P+P)