Those who sing their prayers pray twice!
These psalm tones are modal and so work within the ancient musical form as traditional plainchant. The starting point is the natural rhythm of speech. The tones conform to the pattern of language, rather than imposing their own rhythm on the words. This means that once you understand how the system works, which is pretty simple, they flow naturally and it frees you to contemplate the text more deeply.
Any psalm tone can be sung to any psalm, so once you know even just one, you can sing the whole psalter. These tones are arranged so that any tone can be applied to any text and they always follow the natural rhythm of the words of the text. The system is so simple, that you don't need a deep musical training - if you can sing it, you can teach others to sing it. This means that in just a few minutes, you could have a completely fresh group able to learn a tone and sing a whole Office together. Also, because the system of matching tone to text is so natural, it makes it easy to compose new tones. So if you don't like mine then compose your own, but if you use the system of matching the tone to the text, again, you can compose just one tone and then sing the whole psalter to it.
How to sing the tones
You can apply these tones easily to any off-the-shelf psalter, bible or breviary. You don't have to buy a particular edition to sing them. So whichever version you or your group has, you can now sing it together.
In order to sing them you need to 'point" the text. Pointing is the name given to marking the stressed syllables. This takes two minutes for an average psalm - you can just mark them lightly in pencil on the page of your breviary or bible. There is an instruction video below showing you how to do it; and then it explains how to sing the psalm.
If you get more sophisticated you can sing these tones in four-part harmonies - appropriate perhaps for more solemn liturgies and psalms sung in Mass. The harmonisations (with the exception of one done by Thomas Tallis) are done by Paul Jernberg. We recommend his sung Mass for the new translation, the Mass of St Philip Neri. You can obtain scores for all Paul Jernberg compositions at csmus.org.
Psalters for Singing
Universalis.com now offers an option of seeing the whole psalter pointed in this way. Other than that you can get out a pencil and just point it as you say it! We have sung Vespers at home, for example, with the Anglican Use psalter (the beautiful Coverdale translation) and it took five minutes for everyone to get out a pencil and point it. In my experience even young children from aged 7 or 8 can do it. Afterwards we quickly compare notes and when there are very occasional discrepencies, we decide whose we go with and we can now sing together with any of the Clayton Psalm Tones that they know. The Coverdale Psalter is my chosen version as it has all 150 psalms pointed and set out on 30 day cycle and even includes the cursing psalms, which do not appear in some modern versions. If you want to, you can legitimately substitute these psalms for Morning and Evening Prayer for any form of the Divine Office you use. According to the General Instruction any psalms that are generally used for any particular Office can be substituted, and the Coverdale psalms are approved version - used by the Anglican Ordinariate. I am currently pointing this and hope to have a pdf of this, pointed, available here soon (watch this space). The St Dunstan's Psalter has these in.
The chant tones (pdf scores)
pdf: 1. Chant tones This is a small selection of tones to start with. There are three simple tones which are for beginners; and then two per mode which melodically characterize the mode. All are derived from gregorian tones. These tones are the ones taught in the online class, available through www.Pontifex.University
pdf: 2. Chant - All 80 psalm tones in all modes with options for each psalm depending on how complicated you want to get - we are talking neums and melismas! See below for a schema that helps you to choose the appropriate tone for each psalm. These are getting complicated but the way of singing them to the text is systematic and ensures that the text is king. However, I'm guessing that you might need me to explain the rules as to how to apply them to the text by singing over the phone or something...I am going to write a better explanation to go with them at some point.
pdf: 3. Table.allocating modes and tones to each of the 150 psalms This table tells you which mode (and if you want to follow guidance further, which particular tone) to sing to which psalm. Th attribution is based on that of the Sarum psalter
pdf: 3. Chant antiphons tones These are generic, which means that you can apply them to any antiphon, choosing the appropriate mode. Because antiphon texts vary hugely in length and number of lines, you may have to improvise a little. You can cut out notes and melodic phrases. The important parts to retain however are the incipit (the introductory notes), the reciting note, and concluding note of the whole antiphone. These characterize the mode.
pdf: How to sing these psalms.document to accompany the audio files. Written description of how to sing the tones, to help you apply the tones to the text. The audio files that will go with this are yet to come.
Harmonised Tones (pdf scores)
- pdf: Harmonised.Mode I. Mode I (Tallis, Boyce harmonised)
- Mode II. harmonised.standard.notations.first.tone Mode.II.second tone
- Mode III Form 1. harmonised Mode III.Form2.Nunc Dimittis
- Mode IV harmonised, and here in chant notation:4. Harmonized.modeIV.three.chant notation
- Mode VI. harmonised
- Mode VIII
- Modes IV, V, VII.harmonised.standard.notation
- Mode Tonus Peregrinus harmonised
Mass pdf scores
- Mass of St Thomas More - chant.English, unison or with organum drone Credo I, Mode IV; Credo II, Mode IV; Credo III, Mode IV
- Our Father 4a
- Our Father TTB
- Our Father.SATB
Recordings, so you can hear what they sound like....
Audio files with video of scrolling music scores - listen for yourselves. We have applied different tones to Psalm 141 (except where another is specified) so that you can see how all of them can be applied to the same text, the first set also have a scrolling musical score so you can see the link directly:
- Mode I, example Mode II, example Mode III, example Mode IV, example (Creed I) Mode V, example Mode VI, example Mode VII, example Mode VIII, example Gloria from Mass of St Thomas More Credo II
- Harmonised Psalm Tone - Magnificat, English Harmonised Psalm Tone - Nunc Dimittis, English Unison and Harmonised: Responsorial Psalm
- Harmonised - Our Father (composed by Paul Jernberg)
- St Michael Prayer (Tr. Arr Jernberg/Clayton)
- Holy, Holy, Holy from Mass of St Philip Neri (composed and arranged by Paul Jernberg)
All compositions are by David Clayton, unless otherwise stated, copyright David Clayton/ The Way of Beauty. All harmonisations are by Paul Jernberg, copyright, unless otherwise stated.
Want to know more?
Read the essay on the pointing and singing of psalms in English so that it might become a living tradition: How the system for pointing the psalms in English was developed. Published on Chant Cafe, University of Notre Dame Sacred Music blog and in Monastic Musicians Magazine (May edition).