Thursday 18 August 2011

Psalter Commons

I have a new project! It's called Psalter Commons and I would love your help with it.

I'd like the words of the psalms to be freely available for liturgy and study, but copyright law means the only truly free translations are quite old.

If you have translated or paraphrased a psalm or many psalms, please feel free to add the texts!
They don't need to have music, though if you do have music that's great too. If you know of existing public domain psalters not listed on the category page please add those, too, preferably with links. Using a wiki is easy and quicky, er, quick.

More background details:

I have often whinged about the lack of freely-accessible, modern-language, metrical settings of psalms available these days. The older psalms available in the public domain are glorious! I do love them, and I'm very glad to have a chance to sing them fairly regularly in London Gallery Quire (though I play the serpent more often than I sing, I still get to read the words as I usually play from a vocal score). However, the language is considered archaic by many, and in some cases the translations are a bit suspect too, compared to modern scholarship.

There are modern metrical translations. Some of them are even included in the Christian Copyright Licensing Initiative (CCLI), which means that for a fee and with a lot of paperwork, we're allowed to make copies of the words -- if we've already bought a copy of whatever book they're in. That's admirable, but for a small parish like St Andrew's it's still a pretty high barrier to use. Why not just release them under a CC-BY-SA license and let everyone use them? Then I would be able to write my own musical settings if I wanted to, or set them to existing hymn tunes where appropriate.

There are accessibility difficulties with prose translations, too. The Common Worship Psalter publication terms aren't too bad for liturgical use but if I want to use that material in a separate piece of music I have to write an ask for permission. The Coverdale psalms which are usually bound with the Book of Common Prayer, and those in the King James Authorised Version of the bible, are commonly thought to be in the public domain, but in the UK they're actually under strange special copyright laws which mean that, again, I would need to ask for permission to use them.

So, I was having my usual moan and a friend offered to set up and host a wiki. It seemed like a better idea than just whingeing, so I said yes.

I hope that Psalter Commons will eventually become a valuable resource for anyone interested in the psalms for study and liturgical purposes. It will take a lot more work than I could do myself, which is why a wiki makes so much sense -- now others who are interested can join in. Please do, and please send this page to others who might be interested.


Crimperman said...

I'm asking this here in case it occurs to anyone else.

You mention paraphrases or translations of the psalms but what about new work which can still be classified as part of a psaltery?

For example I have a book which is a collection of Celtic psalms, they follow the same patterns, themes and often metric as the Biblical ones. There are other psalters not based on scripture as such (although I don't claim to be an expert here - certainly in such company as yourself) and I was just wondering if it was appropriate to include these on the wiki?

So this would include things like the "Prayer of St Patrick".

Kathryn Rose said...


I'm not sure whether they'd be appropriate to include or not; though I know of material that imitates psalmody in its structure and content I don't really consider these poems to be psalms.

I suppose we could have a category for non-canonical psalms (or some similar name which makes very clear their lack of inclusion in Jewish, Eastern Orthodox and Western canons), but then we have to define what a psalm is. I don't think the Prayer of St Patrick really has the sort of parallelism that I'd expect in a psalm, for example. Possibly this sort of work belongs on a different wiki entirely.

I'll think about this some more.

Kathryn Rose said...

Another question this raises is how to deal with the canticles -- Anglicans would be sorry to see them not included in a psalter, to be sure, but I'm not at all certain who else would think they should be included...

Paul said...

There is a new translation of the Grail Psalms (as used in the Roman Liturgy) and it's available here:

Kathryn Rose said...


Thanks for that. We can't include the Revised Grail Psalms in Psalter Commons under the license terms they specify, but I have added a page with a link.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathryn, this looks like a fun project. I'm not sure I'm all that scholarly, as I'm not in a position to go back to the Hebrew text and check meanings etc, but I could have a go at some psalms that would do for liturgical use in parishes. You've seen what I did with the Song of Moses and Miriam, which is a pretty exact parallel of the CW canticle. I could try the same with some psalms, and will let you know how it goes!

Kathryn Rose said...

Reverend Ally,

You don't have to translate directly from the Hebrew! But if you wanted to, there are inter-linear translations available online. It would be great if you could contribute.

To see what modern translations we have so far take a look at :) (Though Bob MacDonald's Psalm 73 is not metrical).