Listen to "Joy, Praise, Hope -- Psalm/Mantra Music"
About the Music
Composer: Barbara Ulman
Composed from: 1976 - 2010
Performers: Composer's Choir - Daniel Shaw, Director
This composition reflects my conviction that all religions have a similar intent: to help people live ethical lives in touch with something larger, higher, all-encompassing. In combining a Sanskrit mantra with four Psalms, I blend the chant of Hindu meditation with the three-part choral singing of the very poetic King James version of the Psalms.
The mantra is Adittya hridayam punyam sarv shatru bena shenam. Translation: Evil vanishes from life for one who keeps the sun in his heart. In each movement, the mantra is sung by a different section of the chorus, repeated continuously until the end of the movement, while the other three voices sing music to the words of the Psalm. In the second through the fourth movements, the mantra starts one pitch higher than in the previous one.
First conceived in 1976, I didn’t feel ready to write this music until 2010. A more complete history of its origin and composition appears in the biographical section of this website.
Program Notes for Psalm/Mantra Music
Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord begins with a choral fanfare expressing joy. After two repetitions of the opening theme, the top three voices sustain their notes on the word “lands,” while the basses enter with the mantra; they repeat it through the rest of the movement. The words “with gladness” and “with singing” are passed among the remaining three voices, followed by the return of the opening theme, leading into contrasting passages that reflect the meaning of the text. As this movement concludes, the earlier melody for “...all ye lands” takes on different words and a faster tempo, and then returns once more, in the original tempo, as the mantra fades.
I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes Unto the Hills begins with the altos singing the mantra. The sopranos begin the Psalm with leaps of a fourth while the other two parts sustain their notes to make a chord of fourths, followed by an angular melody reminiscent of hills. As the tenors continue singing the words of the Psalm, the basses add counterpoint in short triplet passages. At “He will not suffer thy foot to be moved...” the sopranos sing a longer triplet passage, followed by a more chordal section at “Behold, He that keepeth Israel....” After more triplet passages, the melody echoes the opening themes. The sopranos repeat the music used at “Behold...” now using other words and supported by different harmony. The movement ends with the mantra fading out in the alto part.
The Lord Is My Shepherd starts with the tenors singing the mantra. The sopranos enter high, singing a flowing melody while the altos and basses provide counterpoint in a scale often used in Middle-Eastern music. At the words “soul” and later, “evil,” the music echoes passages alluding to those ideas from the previous movement.
The middle section is a prayer; it is directed to God, in contrast to the rest of this Psalm and the others, which talk about God. Here the music for the altos and basses is a nearly static chant, while the sopranos sing a restrained melody.
At “Surely...” the text again speaks about God, and the chorus resumes the Middle-Eastern scale as the movement ends. The mantra fades in the tenor part as the last movement begins.
The fourth movement is a fugue on This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. The sopranos sing the mantra high above the other parts. The remaining voices each introduce the fugue subject in one of the three segments. In the third segment, the subject theme is sometimes inverted, and occasionally overlaps with the theme presented in its original form. The final setting of “let us rejoice” is chordal, repeated three times, recalling harmonies of the previous movements. A triplet passage echoes an early phrase of the first movement, and the composition concludes with the mantra fading to silence.
JOY, PRAISE, HOPE
Sanskrit mantra: Adittya hridayam punyam sarv shatru bena shenam.
Translation: Evil vanishes from life for one who keeps the sun in his heart.
Pronunciation: Ah-deet-tee-ah hree-dah-yahm poon-yahm sarv shah-troo ben-ah sh’-nahm
from The Bible, King James version:
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made Heaven and Earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 118: 24
This is the day that the Lord hath made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Sheet music and audio file available at: