Waiting, hoping and trusting : the same but different

Subtleties of translation

Just as translating something gives you a rare chance to get inside the text and really understand it, writing a tune for a line of text makes you chew it over far more carefully than a quick reading does.  This is even truer of the Alleluia verses than the psalms, because they are mostly so short. The functional problems tend to be getting the balance right, especially as you aren’t allowed to repeat anything (except the word ‘Alleluia’, obviously). But precisely because they are so short, you have to focus on the exact rhythm of the words, and the meaning, and the way the two interconnect.

Sometimes the different country versions are clearly dealing with the same idea, sometimes they decide to stress different aspects of it. The words for the Alleluia verse this week were on the one hand simple, even monosyllabic, but on the other hand so different in the choices which had been made, that I was intrigued.

Hope, trust, wait ; one verse, four versions

The only easy way to compare is to set them all out on the page, so bear with me.  I’ll leave out the Alleluias.

CAN : I wait for the Lord; I hope in his word.

OZ :    I hope in the Lord, I trust in his word.

UK :   My soul is waiting for the Lord, I count on his word.

US :    I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for his word.

The original Psalm verse

The origin for all these Alleluia verses is Psalm 129/130, v 5, so let’s have a look at some translations of that. Grail version : My soul is waiting for the Lord, I count on his word.  Revised Grail : I long for you, O Lord, my soul longs for his word (awkward shift from second to third person there, but that’s the newest translation, so presumably the most accurate).   King James : I look for the Lord, my soul doth wait for him : in his word is my trust.  Jerusalem : I wait for God, my soul waits for him, I rely on his promise. Scottish metrical psalms, for the purposes of comparison : I wait for God, my soul doth wait, my hope is in his word.

Back to the (differing) Alleluia verses

So full marks to the British for keeping as close as possible to the original psalm version, and let’s talk about that one first, after a pause while I clear away all the books I have just looked everything up in.  The two first striking things are that it is ‘my soul’ rather than ‘I’, and that the verb is an ongoing present tense. ‘My soul’ for ‘I’ is a fairly common Latin circumlocution (we’ve recently had it put back into the prayer just before Communion in the new translation…’and my soul shall be healed’, where it is definitely meant to mean the same as ‘I’, which was the previous version), so that’s easy, though I must say I like the directness of the ‘I’ that everyone else has gone for.  But that present continuous is interesting, because you get a sense almost of patient impatience, as if we are saying to God, ‘Here I am, look at me actively waiting, your move now’, where the simple ‘I wait’, though it technically means the same, is more a description of a state.

Commas and semi-colons

And look at the punctuation.  The UK and OZ versions describe two simultaneous aspects : I hope, and at the same time I trust;  I am waiting, and at the same time I count on the Lord’s word. I accept ‘count on’ as equivalent to ‘trust’, but because what divides the two phrases is a simple comma, they are in balance, not causally related (I am feeling terrible nerdy here, I hope someone else is as interested in this as I am!).

In the US and CAN versions, we have a semi-colon which indicates a different relationship between the clauses.  The CAN one seems to me to be causal : I wait for the Lord [because] I hope in his word;  whereas the US one is much more limited, even repetitive, but intensified : I wait for the Lord; yes, my deepest self is waiting for what he has to say.  That connects neatly with God’s instruction last week at the Transfiguration to listen.

Waiting leads to hoping leads to trusting?

What first set me thinking about this was the way that the OZ and CAN verses almost sound like two stages of one process.  First (CAN) I wait, [because] I hope; then (OZ) I hope, [while] I am trusting.  You can do the same thing with US and UK : first (US) I wait for the Lord, [yes really] my soul waits for his word; then (UK) my soul is waiting for the Lord [while] I am counting on his word.  But where in the process do we start? Are these sequential? Do we wait because we believe, or because we hope? Do we hope because we believe, and so we wait?  Is trusting the same as hoping or believing?

Waiting, hoping and trusting : similar but not quite the same, and one day I’m clearly going to have to learn Hebrew and probably Ancient Greek as well (Latin I can manage).  Failing an examination of the original words, I went off to have a look at Spe salvi, as being the most recent official teaching about hope.  And I was lucky, because it was illuminating.  ‘Faith is Hope’ is the title of the second section. ‘The one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life’ (SS2). Aquinas is quoted as saying that this faith is how eternal life takes root in us (SS7), but where I really struck gold was in section 9, where it explains that the word St Paul uses for this is hypomone, normally translated as patience, perseverance, constancy (so there is my ‘wait’) and goes on to say, ‘this word was used expressly for the expectation of God […] on the basis of the certainty of the Covenant’ (and there is my ‘trust in his word’), summarising this as’a lived hope, a life based on the certainty of hope’ (SS9).

The perfection of hope and trust

So it isn’t sequential, more relational and even dynamic, like God himself (I knew the Greek would be helpful).  The waiting we are talking about here is active, like Advent, like pregnancy, as I’ve mentioned before.  And then in the last section of Spe salvi, there is a meditation on Our Lady as the symbol of hope, not just Stella maris but also the star of hope.  There we can see someone hoping, believing, waiting and trusting all in one, like any mother only on a cosmic scale.

Actually writing the tunes

The emphasis throughout then is on patient trust-filled waiting, so when I was writing the tunes I concentrated on not resolving the wait, but allowing a sort of conscious patience to support the meaning.  All the settings came out differently, which I felt was appropriate in the circumstances.  Luckily I had forgotten (or I would have been totally intimidated) that Bach set this, as part of one of the cantatas, and you can hear how he keeps the waiting hanging over several bars.  My other favourite example of musical ‘waiting on the Lord’ (a recurrent psalm theme) is Mendelssohn Ps 39/40, but there the waiting is resolved in rescue, so the feel is different.  The waiting is in the past tense.   Do hope and trust figure?   Sometimes the words just say ‘he answered my cry’ or ‘he heard my complaint’, but the translation I sang with my sister ends with the words ‘he inclined unto me, who put my hope and trust in him’.  Not a faithful translation, but full of the same hope and trust as this week’s Alleluia verse.

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

What about the organ, ‘the king of instruments’ ?

The organ rising from the primaeval swamp

When we think about church music in the west, we think of choirs and we think of the organ, but the organ is not an instrument mentioned in the psalms, unless you include the wonderful prophetic reference in Psalm 41 (42) : ‘Deep calleth unto deep at the sound of thy waterspouts’.  Sadly even this doesn’t survive into more modern translations; The Grail has ‘…in the roar of waters’, new Grail ‘…in the roar of your torrents’, which are powerful and frankly make better sense, but I regret losing the organ reference. The Anglican psalter has ‘ One deep calleth another, because of the noise of the waterpipes’, which is definitely prophetic, but perhaps the translation then was influenced by knowing that organs started that way, rather than the other way round.   Still, it delights any organist.

First water pressure then air

The organ is the first keyboard instrument (press not plink) and the biggest of all the instruments, according to my trusty Ladybird book.  The Greeks thought of it first, as so often; possibly  it was Ctesibius of Alexandria .  It was indeed water pipes, and about the third century BC (so about 700 years after the psalms).  Bellows instead of water power came in around the fourth century AD.  It was always a large instrument, because each note needs a separate pipe to sound, so it tended to be built into large buildings.  Deep notes need very long pipes.

Great cathedrals and great organs

It was Guillaume de Machaut who called it ‘the king of instruments’.  He was born in 1300, went off to work for the King of Bohemia in 1323 and that’s another place that has fine historical organs.  We remember also that at this stage, kings tended to be much bigger than other people because of a better diet. The great mediaeval cathedrals had big beautiful organs built into them (Machaut went on to work in Rheims), and this style of organ just kept getting bigger, as ingenious musical engineers developed new stops and more potential volume.  (I know of an organ builder who puts a special local stop into any organ he builds.  The last one was bagpipes.)  But these organs were built in and so fixed in position, so later developments are the portative organ, small and portable as the name suggests, and the positive organ (not easily portable, but which could be moved, maybe standing on a table).  Bach had pedals, and so did the other Europeans, but they were not part of English organ building until nearly the end of the eighteenth century, and then the cunning French worked out how to use electricity in 1867 to power the organ, so it was all debugged and fully operational in time for Messiaen (born in 1908).

Getting bigger, getting smaller

Until the telephone exchange was invented, the organ was the biggest and most complicated machine in existence.  Now we have computers, and they just keep shrinking.  So do the telephones.  Now we have electronic organs and keyboards, which are portable, but they don’t make the same noise as those wonderful enormous church organs.  However, those do need to be sensitively played when accompanying, or they can easily swamp  any number of voices, but when they are playing solo, there is nothing comparable.  Except possibly the voice of the Almighty, which is also preceded by the rushing of a mighty wind.

Saint Cecilia sadly not involved

I am really sorry to have to admit that Saint Cecilia was not involved in the invention of the organ.  I had a woolly idea of her inventing the organ on the sea shore because of the inspiration of the wind and the waves, but alas, no.  I think it’s partly confusion between Britten’s Ode to Saint Cecilia and Britten’s own memorial on the beach at Aldeburgh.

Cecilia is an early martyr (died around 167 AD), and she’s the patron saint of music because when her parents decided to marry her against her will to a pagan husband, she sang in her heart to the Lord during the wedding, not in gladness but in supplication.  The Lord sorts everything out, the husband converts and his brother also, and eventually after many other converts, including all the soldiers sent to arrest this most persuaive lady, all the Christians are killed on the orders of Marcus Aurelius (presumably in one of his less humane moments).  Chaucer’s Second Nun in the Canterbury Tales tells the story of St Cecilia, but interestingly it’s all about vows of virginity and converting lots of people on the way to death, so the music angle evidently became more important later.  We really know almost nothing about her, but I think her popularity is grounded in the natural desire to honour a patron saint of something so important to so many people.

Patron saints and tactless iconography

It’s good to find a positive patron saint (especially a female one).  Often they are special because of their method of martyrdom (teeth for St Apollonia, eyes for Lucy), even using them as namebadges in mediaeval portraits (Catherine and the wheel, Lawrence and the grill), so it’s good to find St Cecilia accompanied by various instruments, harps, lyres, trumpets, other instruments; but very often a portative organ.  Any sort of organ except the original hydraulis is going to be of far later date than the saint; and what I think we have here is evidence of the idea that because organs are in churches, they are uniquely suitable to music on sacred themes.  I think this is wrong.  I think any musical instrument, like any language, can be just as appropriate as any other for singing to or about God.

All are welcome, not just organists

People have preferences, and that’s good.  It keeps things varied and interesting.  What I don’t like is when someone insists that ‘only’ one specific instrument is the right one, whatever it is.  Church musicians are a band, like any other band.  Just like in so many films, you assemble the band, and then you play the gig.  So on a Sunday, or hopefully at the rehearsal beforehand, you work with the musicians who present themselves.  One of the most encouraging psalms says,’ Make a joyful noise unto the Lord’.  Not a refined noise, or a performance with no errors, or a gloomy little whisper, just a joyful noise.  And we can all manage that.


Thank you to Mary who first asked the question, to wikipaedia, to various reference books I happen to have (Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford Companion ditto), to Geoffrey Chaucer, and my old Ladybird book.  This has been a fascinating distraction from all the other things I should have been doing!

© Kate Keefe and Music for Mass 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kate Keefe and Music for Mass, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.