Song Journeys, Psalm 115, Not unto us, O Lord
In the Bible, Psalm 115 acknowledges that all glory belongs unto the Lord, and not unto us. The psalmist petitions the Lord (Yahweh) to give glory to His name for the sake of His mercy and truth. The sovereignty of God is illustrated in verse 3, “But our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” These words, and the other verses of this psalm, have challenged and shaped my theological beliefs over the years.
I received a melody for this psalm in the mid to late 1990’s. I do not recall the setting or the circumstances when it arrived. What I do remember is that the rhythm was unusual for me in that it was in 3/4 time. The opening chord was A minor on a guitar tuned down three half-steps. The next chords were G, B, and D minor. This sequence of four chords was repeated multiple times for the first 3 verses with a few variations.
The time signature changed from 3/4 to 6/8 at verse 4, which accommodated the next 4 verses which are structurally parallel in terms of nouns, verbs, and subject matter (the description of man-made idols). The rhythm then returned to 3/4 time with a brief reprise of the opening melody followed by a bridge for verses 9-11. A key change begins at verse 12 which contains the “sweet section” of the song for verses 12-16, celebrating the goodness of God. A somber interlude occurs at verse 17, which discusses how physical death removes opportunity to continue praising the Lord in the land of the living. The final verse of the psalm, verse 18, contrasts with verse 17, “But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the Lord.” This last verse is repeated multiple times in an anthem format.
A home demo recording was made of this song several years after it was composed. The guitar was tuned down three half-steps. Multiple overdubs of the vocals were done at the end to provide harmony for a chorus. A keyboard synthesizer provided patches for strings and chimes. The following video is a MIDI representation of the musical notation of the melody, and is in sync with the home demo recording:
Earlier this year, Paul Ayres began arranging this song for choir and full orchestra. He had earlier completed arranging Psalm 66, vs. 1-4, in a similar format. I had sent Paul a copy of the home demo recording of Psalm 115 with a MIDI file of the musical notation. I had been concerned that the length of the song being over 7 minutes, coupled with basic chords and 3/4 time throughout, would be a challenge to avoid monotony. Paul reassured me that this should not be a problem. The full score was completed recently as of this writing. The key was modified to allow for a better distribution of notes across the choral spectrum. The following video demonstrates a MIDI adaptation of the full score:
Needless to say, I am delighted with the outcome of Paul’s arrangements of these works. As of this writing, we now have two songs arranged for choir and full orchestra, Psalm 115 and Psalm 66, vs. 1-4. There is a possibility that a third song may be arranged soon. We are hoping to record these songs with a professional choir and orchestra in the near future. Please prayerfully consider helping us finance these recordings by donating to our GoFundMe campaign.