P'sukei d'Zimrah

Updated 21 July 2005

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NEW! [July 21] PDFs for the summer singthrough/recording project!

Some background

"Pesukei d'Zimrah" is a 100-minute, 24-movement oratorio for mixed chorus, soloists, and small orchestra (4 winds, 5 brass, 2 percussion, and 12 strings). The text is taken from the introductory section of the Jewish morning liturgy, known as Pesukei d'Zimrah (Verses of Song). Consisting mostly of entire chapters from Psalms, it explores the various aspects of God and our relationships with the Divine: as individuals, as Israel, as humanity, as the matter of the Universe.

While traditional synagogue music is a cappella, there is a long tradition within Judaism of setting Psalm texts (as well as liturgical excerpts) as art music for performance outside of liturgical contexts. Inspired in equal parts by Ernest Bloch's "Sacred Service" and by Felix Mendelssohn's "Elijah," I decided ten years ago to begin exploring the text of Pesukei d'Zimrah by setting each chapter as a movement of an oratorio.

I have spent over 1,000 hours during the past decade composing the music, preparing the orchestration, and typesetting the conductor's score. In February 2004, I held a sing-through with twelve singers and a professional pianist to workshop the entire piece and identify rough spots. One participant later wrote, "There is a lot of music here that I find intellectually and spiritually inspiring," while another wrote, "This is a gorgeous piece of music and lots of fun to sing. Many thanks for the opportunity to share the work in progress. I eagerly look forward to the next installment."

Prefatory remarks to Pesukei d'Zimrah

Pesukei d'Zimrah is the introduction to our daily prayers. Consisting mostly of entire chapters from Psalms, it explores the various aspects of God and our relationships with the Divine: as individuals, as Israel, as humanity, as the matter of the Universe. Recited early in the morning (frankly, often while still half-asleep), these texts help set our perspective for the day and act as a "spiritual stretch" to limber our minds and mouths for the prayers of praise and supplication of the shacharit (morning) service proper.

Although P'sukei d'Zimrah is filled with incomparable poetry and powerful imagery, it is one of the most difficult liturgies to approach with kavannah. We tend to rush through it, with barely enough time to get the words out -- forget about contemplating their meaning! And we (especially the Orthodox) tend to recite it privately rather than sing it -- it's all p'sukim, and no zimrah!

In an attempt to better understand these texts, and then to serve as an emotional aide-memoire, I asked myself how I would interpret each of these psalms as song. Over ten years, I accumulated my answers. The result is this "choraltorio".

The full text of P'sukei d'Zimrah is recited only on the holiday of Hoshannah Rabbah; on weekdays the central portion is omitted, and on Shabbat and holidays Psalm 100 is omitted. I have chosen to set the entire text, partly in honor of an old tradition to spend the night of Hoshannah Rabbah in a vigil of song.

Most of these settings are adaptable to liturgical use, even for those who do not use instruments on Shabbat, and those who do not repeat words in their tefillot. (On the matter of repeating words, I have found that the Psalmist uses word repetition sparsely and effectively; for me to repeat phrases where he did not would diminish the text which I am trying to honor and to understand. In a few places, I fudged this point by having different voices sing the same word or phrase one after another; in a few spots the repetition serves a specific liturgical purpose.)

A remark on the current translation: It is geared toward enabling performers to understand the meaning of the Hebrew text; it is my intent to evolve it into a singable translation which can be used when a Hebrew performance would be too difficult for the singers or audience, or liturgically inappropriate. At the moment it's more of a "follow-along-able" translation.

Latest version and Change Log

Summary of each movement

PART I: "God in this World"0:25:37
1.Baruch Sheamar0:04:16TBSATB
3.Hodu Lashem, Kir'u lishmo0:02:14TTBB
4.Hod v'hadar0:05:08SSA
5.V'hu rachum0:05:24SSATB
INTERSTICE: "Thanksgiving"0:01:01
7.Mizmor l'todah0:01:01SATB
PART II: "God in Heaven"0:33:08
8.Hashamayim M'sap'rim0:07:37SASATB
9.L'david b'shanato ta'amo0:05:03Tnone
10.Psalm 900:07:25TSATB
11.Yoshev b'seter elyon0:03:33SATB (+)SATB
12.H. Hallelu et shem hashem0:05:50SATB
13.Hallel Gadol0:03:40SATSATB
PART III: "Justice and Glory"0:19:44
14.Ran'nu Tzidikim0:04:56SATB
15.Mizmor Shir l'yom haShabbat0:07:00SATB
16.Hashem Malach0:01:38SATB
17.Y'hi Ch'vod Hashem0:06:10SATB
INTERSTICE: "Fortunate"0:03:42
PART IV: "Halleluyah Suite"0:16:02
19.H. Halleli Nafshi0:02:03SATB
20.H. Ki Tov Zam'ru Elokeinu0:04:41SBSATB
21.H. Hallelu et H' min hashamayim0:02:00SATB
22.H. Shiru Lashem Shir Chadash0:03:41BSATB
23.H. Hal'lu keyl b'kawdsho0:02:29TSSAATBB
24.Baruch Hashem L'olam0:01:08TBBSATB