Pilgrim Psalms is my latest musical journey, writing songs for all fifteen Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) from June-September, 2020.
A number of elements came together to set me on this journey. First, as I watched protests against police brutality unfold across the country, I lamented the loss of the protest song. Marches in the 60s drew from a deep well of music that united people’s voices: Negro Spirituals, Black Gospel, and the folk songs of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. Marchers without a song are just a crowd.
At the same time that I was contemplating the types of music that might be sung by a moving crowd, I began rereading Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, a wonderful companion to the Songs of Ascents. Psalms 120-134 accompany modern readers on our spiritual journey, but for faithful Jews, the songs accompanied their physical journey. They sang these fifteen songs as they journeyed to Jerusalem to worship. I decided that each of my Pilgrim Psalms should be singable by a group, without sheet music. These are simple songs that rely on repetition, call and response, rounds, and other techniques that folk music and work songs have used for centuries to allow common people to take part.