Psalm 137, the lament of Jews in exile “By the Rivers of Babylon,” is one of the best known and the most frequently referenced psalms. Conductor Susan Swaney and the ensemble Voces Novae offer a musical tour of some its various settings.
From Classical To Reggae
“Singing and setting psalms is something that people have been doing for thousands of years. There is something quite special about a group taking a text and singing it together. As different composers and generations interpret a text, powerful social and artistic forces come into play.” (For example, Swaney says, the recent controversy about how a local high school student chose to sing the National Anthem.)
“We’re singing quite a variety of settings. There are classical settings by Orland di Lasso, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Solomone Rossi and [WFIU operations director] Cary Boyce. We’ve also included “Willow” from the musical Godspell and a reggae version by the Melodians. We’ll be closing the program with a sing-a-long on the reggae tune.”
Why Psalm 137? “In part we chose Psalm 137 because there are so many settings, but we also picked it because of the message. There’s the issue of a group or people being forced or coerced to sing their songs by the dominant culture. And there’s the universal theme of the lament of people disenfranchised, separated from their homeland.”
By the Waters of Babylon
Settings of a psalm of lament.
Unitarian Universalist Church
March 5, 2011 at 5:30