Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lined Out English Psalm Singing

For the longest time I thought that lined-out singing was something only done in Gaelic , and in a handful of small American denominations--the Primitive Baptists, for instance, and some African-American groups, where it is also known as "Dr. Watts hymn singing".  I knew that the Scottish psalter had once been lined out, but thought that practice had died away long ago.

So, I was surprised to learn, recently, that a few Free Presbyterian congregations in the Highlands of Scotland still practice lined-out psalm singing in English.  The lining out is traditionally done, specifically, during communion table services (while approaching and sitting at the Lord's Table). 

For those who are unfamiliar with lined-out singing: lining out is the practice of having the precentor read or sing each line of a hymn or psalm, after which the congregation sings the same line to the appropriate tune.  The Westminster Assembly in the "Directory for the Publick Worship of God" suggested lining out as a solution for congregations where most were illiterate and could not read the psalm for themselves, or congregations with not enough psalters to go around.  Of course, Free Presbyterian congregations are literate and have plenty of psalters, but lining out is still done at some communion table services for the sake of those communicants who do not take a psalter with them to the table, and who do not yet have the usual psalms memorized.

(Apparently a very small but very vocal group of American Presbyterians think that lining out is the only appropriate way to sing the psalms--I think that argument is well refuted in this article by a Mr. Coldwell.)

I've recently been sent two recordings of lined out psalm singing in English that I thought I would share with you.  The first is a very nice older recording which I've come across more than once, and which you may have heard already.  This is Psalm 116 to Coleshill, lined out by precentor Calum Mackay, in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, Portree congregation.  This recording was made in the 1980s.

The second recording will have to wait till later in the week: a recording of lined-out psalm singing from another part of the world. :)


  1. I remember hearing hymns lined out, as a child, in a Strict Baptist chapel. I think that the practice is now virtually extinct in these churches-there were only a couple of chapels, of which I am aware, that were doing this in the 1970-1980s.
    Can't say that I mourn the passing of this custom-it seems to have outlived its usefulness.

  2. Shame I can't listen to that, it says something about tracks may be unavailable in your country.

    I am very used to hearing lined out gaelic singing, it is particularly useful as if someone doesn't have a gaelic psalm book (hard to come by) or forgotten it, they can still join in the singing. And besides that I don't read Gaelic very well!!

    Only recently my husband's aunt was saying that FP's sing lined english at communions (she may have been referring to where she lives), I would love to have heard that.
    Dawn x

  3. Oh dear, I didn't realize that Playlist.com (the site I used to create this playlist) wasn't available in other countries. I used to use Mixpod.com to create playlists, but then they got rid of the option to upload your own recordings. I'll have to try to find something else. Anyone have any suggestions?

  4. As a temporary fix, for the sake of those outside of the US, I've inserted the player from archive.org.

  5. Thanks for that :o)

    That was strange for me to listen to, I am so used to hearing gaelic singing, and it sounds just like it, I could only tell in the part the line was given out it was english. Thank you for sharing that xx

  6. My grandparent would sing like this and it brings back so many memories. Thanks for posting! This type of singing should never be lost.


Anonymous comments will be permitted so long as you identify yourself in some way. Thanks!