Singing the Psalms with Victoria

2013-01-12_18-56-38_612And thinking about her in the week of her birthday

Not long ago I wrote an article in which I suggested ways of developing the cultural sensibilities of children, here. I have many blessings in my life and one is a young daughter Victoria (undoubtedly the most beautiful and endearing little baby girl in the world!). So already I am putting some of these things into practice.

As the father of a household, coping imperfectly with all the duties and responsibilities (just ask my wife), I try to fulfill one of the fatherly roles of praying on behalf of our family to God. I do my best to rise early and each morning, I face the icon corner in our home and sing softly (so as not to disturb others still sleeping) the Office of Readings and then Lauds. I like this time on my own. The house routine has developed so that usually Victoria is awake by the time I get to Lauds so I feed her. Then I hold her up and show her the icons and tell her who they are (Isaias, St John the Baptist, Our Lady and Jesus). I am always surprised, and gratified I must admit, by how much she responds to these, pointing and smiling. Then I put her down next to me and start to sing the Office. She responds very well to the music too and seems to enjoy it, smiling and laughing as I chant. (I probably shouldn’t flatter myself too much though, because she seems just as delighted with the musical plastic pig from Toys R Us). I look forward every day to this close time with her.

Victoria is just learning to speak at the moment – she chatters away constructing whole sentences in which all the modulation of speech is apparent, although the words are not quite formed yet (certainly I’m blowed if I can understand anything she is saying). She clearly listens though to everything that the adults around her are saying and it occurred to me that the words that she hears daily sung in the liturgy are likely to be influential on her vocabulary-in-formation. This has influenced me to use the psalms from the St Dunstan’s psalter at home and to use the modes from this psalter.

Saint Dunstan's Plainsong PsaltarThe St Dunstan’s Psalter has the psalms in English set to traditional Sarum tones (the pre-reformation forms from the Dioceses of Salisbury and York). It was compiled in the 16th century. The language of the psalms has a poetic, Elizabethan feel to it, but is accessible and understandable nevertheless (so I’m guessing that it has been modified gently over the years as each edition has come out). My thoughts are that the singing of this elegant prose to modal music will help to impress the patterns and rhythms of the cosmos, as well as the vocabulary and of course in time the values that they are transmitting, on her precious soul. If one day I find that she is singing: ‘Thou o Lord art my defender, thou art my worship and the lifter up of my head’, or perhaps in an off moment, ‘He that dwelleth in Heaven shall laugh them to scorn, the Lord shall have them in derision’, then I will know that it has had an effect!

In this week of her birthday, her first, she is away temporarily on a trip with my lovely wife, so I am particularly wistful each morning as I sing the office alone each morning. Happy Birthday Victoria!

By the way, after an earlier article about the icon corner in my home, a friend sent us a beautiful lace cloth just for the icon corner. Thank you! (You know who you are!)

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David Clayton

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at thewayofbeauty.org.

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