Thursday, December 12, 2013

Psalm 137 Revisited

There is a type of rock song that begins slow and low, vocals over arpeggiated acoustic chords, and then builds in tempo and volume until it reaches a screaming electric crescendo. There should be a name for this kind of composition but, if there is, I don't know it. Examples of this type of song include The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes," Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and, of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird."

In a recent blogpost, I wrote:

It might be an interesting exercise to read through the psalms and assign each one to a musical genre. Psalm 46 is country. Psalm 102 is blues. Etc. I'm not going to do it, but it might be interesting.

While I don't plan to do this exercise for all of the psalms, it occurs to me that Psalm 137 would benefit from the Behind Blue Eyes/Stairway to Heaven/Free Bird treatment. It begins slow, sweet, and sad.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
   when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
   we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
   our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
   while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4)

In the middle section sorrow gives way to resolve. Bring in the drums and electric guitars.

  If I forget you, Jerusalem,
   may my right hand forget its skill.
 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
   if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
   my highest joy. (Psalm 137:5-6)

Insert a guitar solo here and then crescendo on the last verses as resolve gives way to unrestrained anger.

Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
   on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
   “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
   happy is the one who repays you
   according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
   and dashes them against the rocks.  (Psalm 137:7-9)

The song then either ends with a long fade on an instrumental jam or a return to acoustic instruments and a repeat of the first line.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept....

If I were a musician, I'd be working on this.

Psalm 137 is quoted from the New International Version

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