Psalm 133: Three Musical Interpretations

music stand

As a way to honor those who have come before us and showcase the diversity of musical interpretations of the psalms, we will occasionally highlight artists who have engaged with the psalms in the past. This week we bring three different settings of the opening line of Psalm 133:

Hineh mah tov umah na’im shevet akhim gam yakhad
How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together.

Harry_BelafonteHinei Mah Tov: Harry Belafonte 

Harry Belafonte, iconic musician, actor, and activist, sings Hinei Mah Tov at Carnegie Hall in 1960. (Photo by David Shankbone)

Hinei Mah Tov: Abayudaya Jewish community of Uganda

Introduced by Rabbi Jeffrey Summit and performed by the Abayudaya Jewish community of Uganda.

Chichester Psalms

Introduction by Joshua Jacobson, PhD

In 1965, Leonard Bernstein accepted a commission to compose a setting of the Psalms for a music festival in Chichester, England. Bernstein chose verses from six Psalms and set them in the original Hebrew. In responding to the commission, the composer wrote, “It would be a suite of Psalms, or selected verses from Psalms.… The music is all very forthright, songful, rhythmic, youthful. The only hitch is this: I can think of these psalms only in the original Hebrew.” We’ll listen to a brief excerpt of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, the end of the composition. The movement begins with a dissonant Bernsteinian “God-wrestling” and then settles into a lyric rendering of Psalm 131, “Adonai, Adonai, lo gavah libi” “(O Lord, Lord, My heart is not haughty”), before this stunning coda, with the opening words from Psalm 133: “Hineh mah tov umah na’im shevet akhim gam yakhad (“How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together as one”).

Written by Leonard Bernstein and performed by the Chœur de Radio France. Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) is a renowned American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer, and pianist. Founded in 1947, the Radio France Choir is the only permanent symphonic choir in France.