GILM 56: The Psalmist


I know you liturgical musicians were wondering if we were going to get to psalmists, cantors, and all. Here we go. One section:

56. The psalmist, or cantor of the psalm, is responsible for singing, responsorially or directly, the chants between the readings – the psalm or other biblical canticle, the gradual and Alleluia, or other chant. The psalmist may, as occasion requires, intone the Alleluia and verse. [94]

For carrying out the function of psalmist it is advantageous to have in each ecclesial community laypeople with the ability to sing and read with correct diction. The points made about the formation of readers apply to cantors as well.

I prefer using the term “psalmist,” as the term “cantor” implies a wider role and doesn’t really apply when there is a schola, ensemble of singers, or a choir.

Not a surprise that the three-fold formation of lectors will apply to psalmists as well. I know of many lector resources that get fairly deep into biblical formation, but much fewer that attend to the full pedigree of the Psalter. Do your psalmists know the background, genre, style, and meaning of the full psalms they sing?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in General Introduction to the Lectionary, post-conciliar liturgy documents, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to GILM 56: The Psalmist

  1. As a cantor/psalmist myself, I find this description of formation is much denser with meaning than it seems on the surface. This is more than an intellectual understanding, but an emotional one. To pray a psalm very well, a psalmist has to have the psalm “by heart” as a personal prayer. This means, if it is a psalm of celebration, you sing with true interior joy. If a penitential one, with real sorrow and sense of your own sinfulness. In order to do that, the cantor has to be an interior prayer life, based in part on the psalter.

    The second requirement beyond an understanding of the texts – which is not named – is to know the music so well and to be technically skilled enough that the text becomes primary, with the music carrying it naturally and freely. When that is true, it frees and opens up the prayer. Only when that is true are the people really enabled to make the responsorial psalm their prayer as well.

  2. Hi Joyce.
    I think our opinions diverge on a YMMV understanding regarding the “delivery” of the responsorial or gradual.
    My wife, the more gifted singer, tends towards your modality of infusing a honed characterization, personalization or spirituality-affected rendition of the versicles.
    I don’t often function as a psalmist (being the director) but as the more experienced chanter in the family, I adhere to the “proclaimer” as vessel modality. The chalice containing the consecrated Blood of Christ should be evidently purely crafted, polished and worthy, but it has no other function than to pour out the sacrament. None of the nature, or element of the vessel affects its delivery. In a more direct sense, when you see/hear the seminarians/deacons who cantillate the lessons at Papal Masses at St. Peter’s, there seems to me no affectation present in the “performance.” The beauty of the voice should be obvious and expected, like a chalice. But the mystery and meaning of the text and its chanted (or even metrical) setting doesn’t require additional musicality, such as accentuation, overt dynamics, crafted rubato, et cetera.
    But that the psalmist must do one’s spiritual preparation as well as musical, we are total agreement.

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