Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Pilgrim Psalter

In connection with the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing in Plymouth, Sister Mary Huffman of Birmingham, Alabama has republished The Pilgrim Psalter by Henry Ainsworth (originally, The Book of Psalmes, Englished both in Prose and Metre. With Annotations, opening the words and sentences by conference with other Scriptures. Amsterdam: Giles Thorp, 1612). In December of 1620, the Mayflower Compact Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Harbor. In their worship, they used Ainsworth’s Psalter.

Description from The Psalter Company website:
The Pilgrim Psalter (originally titled “The Book of Psalms, Englished in Prose and Meter”) was produced by Henry Ainsworth in 1612. Ainsworth was a Hebrew scholar and Bible teacher among the English Separatists in Amsterdam. Ainsworth’s metrical translations of the Psalms are remarkably faithful to the Hebrew text, and he set them to many of the standard tunes of the Reformation era. The Pilgrims began using this Psalter while living in Amsterdam, and they carried it with them on the Mayflower. It was used in Plymouth until the colony ceased to be independent in 1692. It is here newly reprinted with updated spelling and musical notation, along with a historical introduction explaining its history, features, use, and lasting influence.

ISBN: 978-1-7369918-0-0
Publisher: The Psalter Company, LLC
Binding: Hardcover, Cloth
Pages: 446
Dimensions: 9 1/4" X 6 1/4" X 1 1/4"
Price: $20 each of $325 for a case of eighteen​
Sister Huffman is a devoted Christian and talented musician well-qualified to edit this edition. In addition to the metered psalms and accompanying tunes, the front material has 60 pages, including:
  • An endorsement from Colonel John Eidsmoe, Board of Directors of the Plymouth Rock Foundation
  • Foreword by Gary Marks, minister emeritus of the Church of the Pilgrimage
  • The original preface by Henry Ainsworth
  • Introduction by Mary Huffman, explaining the Pilgrim history as well as the psalms and tunes of the psalter
  • A brief essay on the worship of the Pilgrims, by Paul Jehle, President of the Plymouth Rock Foundation
The bulk of the book – 358 pages – contains Ainsworth’s translations of the Psalms in meter, with accompanying tunes. There are, of course, 150 psalms. Each is provided with a tune – some with more than one tune. This new work presents these psalms not just as historical material, but as songs for the churches to sing. The modernizing of spelling and updating of how the tune is presented will aid in this. The Pilgrim Psalter could be used exclusively by churches that want to sing the Psalms only. It could be used as a hymnal supplement in churches that would not want to sing the Psalms exclusively.
The back material includes a writing by Ainsworth on the life and work of David; a biography of Ainsworth; information on the tune sources; and a bibliography.
To truly understand the heart, mind, and soul of the Pilgrims, we need to understand their music...Through their music they received comfort, assurance, and inspiration to their quest and pursue their vision. And their music was not the chanting of monks, the cantatas of Bach, the oratorios of Handel. Their music was plain and simple, sung without musical accompaniment, assembled in the Reformation Psalters, and based upon the word of God, particularly the Psalms. John Eidsmoe, “Endorsement”
To combine all these factors and considerations of Hebrew and English poetry in a consistent way throughout the entirety of the 150 Psalms is no small task. Indeed, while other English Psalters have achieved more polish by English standards, none has achieved more accuracy with the Hebrew in wording and structure, and in such a systematic and comprehensive way, and still with a remarkably intact English poetic structure. Mary Huffman, p. xxxii
The mark of the Reformation and doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer restored the concept that the choir was the congregation, and thus the Pilgrims’ focus was on the participation of the people in worship. Paul Jehle, p. lx
This work provides continuity by making good use of The Music of the Pilgrims by Waldo Selden Pratt – a book published in 1921 (Boston: Oliver Ditson Co) on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock.

The book is very handsomely done! I highly recommend it. If you are a collector of song books, it will make a nice addition to your collection. If you are a student of church history and/or American history, you will want this book. If you are looking for songs to sing – The Pilgrim Psalter has them.
Sample Recording, Psalm 33 from The Pilgrim Psalter

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