Composition and audio © Alexander Massey 21 Sept 2015
Ach, tov vachesed yird’funi, kol y’mei chayai;
V’shavti b’veit Adonai l’orech yamim.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
I wrote this setting of the last verse of Psalm 23 for the Mincha service at Yom Kippur, for the Jewish Renewal community the London Ruach Chavurah. Our style of davenen and praying is to aim to reduce the amount of words that get said or sung in a service, and allow more space for chant, reflection, and meditation. Like in many Jewish communities, not everyone is fluent in ancient Hebrew, and trying to remember or read a lot of Hebrew can detract from having a more reflective experience. So rather than setting the whole psalm, I decided to focus on just the last verse.
Keen listeners may notice that the V’shavti section pays affectionate homage to Bach. It is a variation on music from his cantata ‘Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd‘ (BWV 208). The movement I have cited is known in the original German as ‘Schäfe können sicher weiden‘, or, in the more familiar English translation ‘Sheep may safely graze‘. This seemed an apt reference for a psalm about a shepherd, and the theme of safety!
Possible ways to use this prayer-song
- The prayer can be sung as a single congregational line.
- The second half of the verse (V’shavti …) can act as a chorus or chant by itself.
- The two parts can be sung layered over each other.
- The prayer can also sung as a round.