Lincoln Center commissioned, David Lang (my wife Linda’s cousin) to compose music for Psalm 101 for a 2017 festival on the music of the Psalms. David entitled his four-minute composition, “If I Sing.” I love David’s take on the Psalm: negotiation with God. I am reminded of the words of Shalom Noah Berzovsky (the Jerusalem-based, 20th century, Slonimer Rebbe), “Songs to God not only express joy; they express pain as well. There is no greater prayer than pouring out one’s heart over the distance one feels from God.”
Psalm 101 is ascribed as “a Psalm for David.” We do not know if King David is the author, another Israel king, or simply a person of power who is identified with the model monarch. What we can see is that the Psalmist seeks to live a life in imitation of God, a life of kindness and faithfulness. As is often the case, each translation of the Psalm is an interpretation. I will look forward to sharing the purposeful construction of the Psalm and some divergence of translation as to what the poet is seeking from God.
Please join David Lang and me today at 12:30pm for a presentation of Psalm 101. This session is co-sponsored by the Orange County Community Scholar Program (www.occsp.net). I will present an original translation of the Psalm and teach the nuances of the composition. We will then hear from David about what this Psalm means to him and his process in composing the music. This presentation is in part a celebration of my thrice weekly teaching of Psalms that will have reached Psalm 101. To watch half-hour teachings of the first 100 Psalms, consider tuning in: https://www.cbi18.org/
if I sing of mercy, if I sing of justice, if I sing your praises, will you come to me?
if I am true, if I am pure, if I know no evil things, will you come to me?
if I’m not proud of eye or heart, will you come to me?
I see the faithful. I try so hard to follow them.
I see the liars. I try so hard to push them all away.
every day I fight this fight, to push the bad away.
will you come to me? come to me
My piece if I sing (after psalm 101) was commissioned by the Nederlands Kamerkoor, as part of its project to sing musical versions of all 150 psalms. It has always seemed to me that the psalms split up into different types of conversations with God. Some are praise, some are self-examination, some are jubilant, some are devastatingly sad. There are a few, however, that seem like they are trying to open up a negotiation with God, or at least are trying better to understand the terms of the relationship. Psalm 101 is one of those. The King James version of Psalm 101 starts:
I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.
I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me?
It almost seems like the Psalmist is trying to make a bargain with God –
if I live an upright life, will you come to me?
In my piece if I sing I tried to make a version of the text that
would keep that quality of negotiation going all the way through.
if I sing was commissioned for the 150 Psalms Project by the
Nederlands Kamerkoor, in celebration of its 80th anniversary.
David Lang, “If I Sing” (after Psalm 101) with the Choir of Merton College, Oxford https://open.spotify.
Interview with David Lang on “Bargains with God”-
NY Times review of Lincoln Center’s 2017 Psalm Festival with nine original compositions, including David Lang’s:https://www.nytimes.
The study of Psalm 101 is dedicated to Professor Robert Alter