Gelineau psalmody is better known in Roman Catholic than in protestant circles. Here is a description of this genre of psalm-singing from my Reformed Worship article, Straight from Scripture:

One of the more interesting ways of singing the psalms was developed by Joseph Gelineau of France. Of all the methods of singing the psalms, Gelineau’s chant best preserves the Hebrew poetic style, retaining both the parallelism and the metrical structure of the original. Ancient Hebrew meter is somewhat like early English meter (e.g., nursery rhymes) in that it focuses on the number of stresses within a line rather than on the number of syllables. Gelineau psalmody is often sung to the Grail translation, which was produced specifically for this purpose. The following passage (again from Psalm 54) is “pointed” to indicate the regular rhythmic stresses in each line:
O Gód, sáve me by your náme;
by your pówer, uphóld my caúse.
O Gód, heár my práyer;
lísten to the wórds of my moúth.

Gelineau psalmody also takes into account the different number of lines within each stanza, something that is not possible with other methods of psalm-chanting.

Gelineau psalms are usually sung responsively. The soloist or choir begins by singing the refrain; then the congregation repeats it. The psalm then proceeds responsively with a soloist or choir chanting the verses and the congregation responding with the refrain. Many Roman Catholics, who have recently begun congregational singing, have found this “responsorial” style of psalm-singing very helpful. A refrain (or antiphon, an older term) is much easier to learn than the whole psalm. Among Protestants who are used to exclusive metrical psalmody, the responsorial style has the advantage of making a clear distinction between psalms and hymns. Rather than simply reading the psalm directly from the Bible or singing a paraphrased version of it metrically, the congregation can sing the actual words from Scripture.

Within the last month St. Peter’s Church in Columbia, South Carolina, has posted on youtube six Gelineau Psalms, numbers 23, 24, 29, 34, 80 and 104. Here are Psalms 23 and 80:





Those wishing to hear more should obtain this exquisite recording, Psalms of David, performed by the Cathedral Singers of Chicago under the baton of Richard Proulx. Although I myself have worked with metrical psalms, I firmly believe Gelineau psalmody deserves to be better known outside of Roman Catholic circles.

Articles by David T. Koyzis

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