Choir Notes: My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

by Clarence Zuvekas

Sunday, May 12 — One of the great musical settings of Psalm 23 is the arrangement by the American composer Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) of My Shepherd Will Supply My Need. The text was penned by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who is regarded as the father of English hymnody.

The tune arranged by Thomson is an American composition of unknown provenance. It first appeared in print in an 1828 collection of hymns, and, in a form more familiar to us, it was included in the 1854-55 Southern Harmony collection. Thomson studied music at Harvard and, like Aaron Copland and many other of his American contemporaries, in Paris, with the revered composition teacher Nadia Boulanger (whose students addressed her simply as “Mademoiselle”).

Thomson composed in almost every genre, including film scores, one of which (Louisiana Story) won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1949. He was also an influential music critic.

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