Of Psalm 51

Image result for mercy netOr, more accurately, Marty Haugen’s setting of it.

For some reason, the contemporary/folk vector in the 70s didn’t produce a single setting that stuck like Isaiah 43 (“Be Not Afraid”) or Psalm 91 (“On Eagles Wings”). I doubt this offering from the first Psalms For The Church Year collection has a widespread grab on the Catholic consciousness either.

For me, it was an automatic choice for Ash Wednesday at the student center. And I had used it for many years prior. It had to grow on me, though. Today, I think it’s one of Marty’s best psalm settings, and one of the Church’s best settings of Psalm 51.

A list of positives:

  • It works with guitars, as the recording illustrates. My choice would be one guitar playing open, and a second at the suggested capo 5.
  • I find it works even better on piano–and as a guitarist, maybe that says a lot. I don’t play the keyboard part as written–it took me several years to find an easy way to play it.
  • The highest note, a D, is the second word. If we’re not warmed up, or we’re hardcore altos or basses, we might hesitate, choke, or go flat on the first “merciful.” If that’s a happy accident, so be it. It’s part of the human condition to try to go it alone, without God’s mercy.
  • The psalmist has an easy time on the verses, planted in the mid-range of most voices.

Neil and I have blogged a fair bit on Psalm 51 here. Do a search in the side bar over on the right and you’ll see. When I was younger, I gravitated more to Psalm 91, not for eagles as much as “Be with me, Lord,” or “the God of mercy, the God who saves.” No problem today with any of the superior settings of the fifty-first.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Lent, Liturgical Music. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Of Psalm 51

  1. fraustinfleming says:

    Love this setting, have used it for years, never tire of it.

  2. Liam says:

    Well, in my bones from years of singing it is the late Theodore Marier’s setting, the verses of which join Tone 3a to a sober tone by Palestrina (a cappella), with final verse blossoming on a joyous tone by Palestrina for “O Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise”, the verse that begins almost every liturgical day in the Church. Simple in concept, sublime in effect.

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