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Psalm 150

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Psalm 150
Praise you YAH
     Praise God in His sanctuary: Praise Him in the expanse of His power.
     Praise Him for His mighty deeds: Praise Him for His abundant greatness.
     Praise Him with sounding of shofar: Praise Him with the harp and lyre.
     Praise Him with frame-drum and dance: Praise Him with strings and ugav.1
     Praise Him with melodic cymbals:2 Praise Him with clanging cymbals.3
     All of the breath shall praise they YAH
Praise you YAH

Insights
Psalm 150, the last of the collective manuscripts found in the Hebrew book of Psalms. Thematically grouped as one of the HAL'LU YAH manuscripts4, Psalm 150 is also the only manuscript in the Book of Psalms in which the HAL'LU YAH (meaning: praise you YAH), which brackets the main composition as an opening and closing statement, is found in both the Hebrew texts and the Greek Septuagint translations. Bracketed by the HAL'LU YAH, the main body of the composition consists of five verses and a type of closing statement referred to as a Tag.

HAL'LU YAH
     verses 1-5
     Tag
HAL'LU YAH

Looking at only the literary content and structure of this simple, yet beautifully written work, we find that each progressive section introduces an important element of the overall theme of 'praising YAH.' Taking each thought as it is developed, we see that the scope of this work extends into both the musical and social system of the Hebrew people.

HAL'LU YAH - opening call to "praise YAH"

     Where is He to be praised? (vs. 1)
          "in His Sanctuary" and "in the expanse of His power"

     Why is He to be praised? (vs. 2)
          "for His mighty deeds" and "for His abundant greatness"

     How is He to be praised? (vs. 3-5)
          "with the sounding of shofar"
               (associated with the Levite priests)
          "with the harp and lyre"
               (associated with the Levite musicians)
          "with the frame-drum and dance and with strings and ugav"
               (associated with the common people)
          "with melodic cymbals"
               (associated with the Levite singers)
          "with clanging cymbals"
               (associated with the common people)

     Who is to praise Yah? (closing Tag)
          "all who have breath"

HAL'LU YAH - closing call to "praise Yah"

The five main verses that comprise Psalm 150, like many of the verses within the Psalm manuscripts, consist of an antecedent phrase and a consequent phrase sung responsively by the lead cantor singing the antecedent phrase and a male vocal ensemble singing the responsive consequent phrase. We further find that there are two melodic variations of the antecedent phrase (a1 and a2) and three melodic variations of the consequent phrase (b1, b2, and b3).

(lead singer) (choir)
antecedent phrase consequent phase
vs. 1 a1 b1
vs. 2 a1 b2
vs. 3 a2 b2
vs. 4 a2 b1
vs. 5 a1 b3

From a modal standpoint, the underlying and primary mode utilized for the melodies of Psalm 150 and in fact, many of the Psalm manuscripts, is the ahavah rabbah mode. This mode is not only the primary mode associated with contemporary Hassidic Klezmer music, but can also be historically linked to the traditional Hebrew songs of the Egyptian, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor Hebrew communities of the Common Era.5 Although traditionally not associated with the intoning or singing of the Psalm manuscripts, it is evident not only from the melodies found within Psalm 150, but also from the limitations and capabilities of the instruments that accompanied these works, that the ahavah rabbah mode was used extensively in the melodic motifs for many of the existing Psalm manuscripts.

Psalm 150 formats

Another noteworthy aspect of this work, is that Psalm 150 is one of only a few of the Psalm manuscripts that has what may have had notated harmonies. This simple two-part notation found in the te'amim, consists of the melody note (F) and a lower secondary tone (A). This sequence of tones also directly correspond to the manner in which the associated chords were playable on the lyre may be an indication that the te'amim was primarily an instrumental notation and secondarily, a vocal one.

Psalm 150 example

In this example (outlined with dotted lines in the example), the lyre is playing an F chord, to an A minor chord, and then back to the F chord. Using only the open 6th, 5th and 4th strings, the lyre player can easily play both the F and A minor chords by merely pressing or releasing the 4th string from the middle column. To play the A minor chord, the musician plays the open 6th, 5th and 4th strings (A - C - E). To play the F chord, the lyre player strikes the same three consecutive strings only this time presses the finger of the left hand to the middle column thus raising the pitch of that string from an E to an F creating the 1st inversion of an F chord (A - C - F). By removing the finger from the column, the open A minor chord in the root position is played (A - C - E).

We also find that Psalm 150 utilizes multiple time signatures. The opening and closing HAL'LU YAH's and the Tag being in 4/4 time6, while the verses in 5/4 time7. Even though Psalm 150 is not directly attributable to the works of David, the Jewish historian, Josephus makes mention of this type of meter in his writings:

"And now David being freed from wars and dangers, and enjoying for the future a profound peace, composed songs and hymns to God of several sorts of meter; some of those which he made were trimeters (i.e., 3/4 and 6/8), and some were pentameters (i.e., 5/4). He also made instruments of music, and taught the Levites to sing hymns to God, both on that called the Sabbath day, and on other festivals." - Antiquities of the Jews 7:305 JOS

From a stylistic viewpoint, Psalm 150 is unique in that unlike the flowing melodies of many of the other Psalm manuscripts, this work is very reminiscent of the early Gregorian chants and may have been one of the initial influences and benchmark compositions from which this style of music evolved many centuries later. In all aspects, Psalm 150 is a textbook example of some of the fundamentals employed within the musical system of the Levites and preserved within the Psalm manuscripts and although not directly stated, the physical placement of this manuscript along with Psalm 146, 147 and 148 may be an indication that this work was written during the times of the Haggai, Zachariah and the second Temple.


Traditional Translations
Jewish Publications Society
1. Hallelujah. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the firmament of His power.
2. Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His abundant greatness.
3. Praise Him with the blast of the horn; praise Him with the psaltery and harp.
4. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and the pipe.
5. Praise Him with the loud-sounding cymbals; praise Him with the clanging cymbals.
6. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Hallelujah.

King James Version
1. Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
2. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
3. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
4. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
5. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
6. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.


Lead Sheet
Psalm 150 page1

Psalm 150 page 2


Footnotes
1 ugav - most likely some type of string instrument of unknown function and form
2 as per Greek Septuagint
3 i.e., cymbal clappers playing a rapidly oscillation cymbal pattern. lit. "cymbals of teruah"
4 the HAL'LU YAH manuscripts: Psalm 105, 106, 107; 111, 112, 113, 114-115; 117; 135:1-2, 135:3, 136; 146, 147, 148, 149, 150
5 Jewish Music-Its Historical Development, Abraham Z. Idelsohn, pg. 87
6 i.e., 4/4 time = four beats per measure with a quarter note receiving one beat.
7 i.e., 5/4 time = five beats per measure with a quarter note receiving one beat. In Psalm 150, a 5/4 measure could also be considered as a measure of three beats and a measure of two beats.