The New LDS Hymnbook: Changes and Possibilities

Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that they were going to prepare a new hymnbook and children’s songbook for use in the worldwide Church. Specifically, the goal is to create unity in hymn numbers and selections that reflect the needs of a global organization. This is the first time in over thirty years that the official hymnbook for the Church has changed, and it is a matter of no small excitement for Mormon musicians and general membership. The current hymnbook is wonderful, but change can always bring new opportunities and improvements. Part of the excitement is that there is an unprecedented amount of involvement of general membership being made possible through online surveys and song submission opportunities.

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Salt Lake Tabernacle Organ, image courtesy Wikemedia commons

Based on trends within the Church, the history of hymnbooks in Mormonism, and the statements that have been made about the forthcoming books, what might the new hymn and song books look like? There are a number of faucets to examine in considering this question, including continuity with past hymnals, new LDS music available for use, what might be removed and changed, and the hymnbook and songbook’s relationships to the general Christian tradition of music, and the tunes being used. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Continuity

During the latter half of the twentieth century, hymnbooks in the LDS tradition have been kept around the same physical size. The major consideration has been the size of hymnbook holders in the pews of Mormon chapels. Thus, the current hymnbook is quite a bit smaller than most comparable Christian hymnbooks (often about half the size), but this is not likely to change. Rather, it is likely that the forthcoming hymnbook will be similar in size, with a core portion of hymns remaining while others are switched out for new inclusions.

Hymns_Manchester_1840

Title page of the 1840 Manchester hymnal

Having a core selection of hymns that are passed on from hymnbook to hymnbook has always been the way of things. For example, 26 of the original 90 hymns included in the original 1835 hymnbook are still included in the current hymnbook, such as “The Spirit of God”, “O Say What Is Truth,” “Redeemer of Israel,” and so forth. The relatively large 1840 Manchester hymnbook compiled by the Quorum in the Twelve in England under Brigham Young’s direction served as the primary hymnbook of the Latter-day Saint tradition in Utah during the 19th century and is the direct ancestor of the current hymnbook. There were 78 hymns retained from the 1835 hymnbook, with 193 hymns added. This served as the official hymnbook of the Church until 1912. Music of the music used in the 1985 hymnal we currently use was written for use with the Manchester hymnbook and compiled in the late 1800s. Thus, it is likely that the core hymns Mormons sang and wrote in the 1800s will continue to be the core of the future hymnbook, with newer hymns that have gained a foothold in Mormon congregations becoming a part of this core.

Currently, LDS hymnbooks for non-English speaking regions of the world are compiled by beginning with a core group of approximately 100 hymns mandated for all LDS hymnbooks, then a regional committee is given the opportunity to select around 100 more hymns for the remainder of the hymnbook. The list has never been officially released, but may be guessed by seeing what all LDS hymnbooks have in common. I’ll list the full selection as an appendix to this post, but many of the favorite and significant hymns in the English hymnbook are included, such as “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” and “Love at Home.” It is a distinct possibility that this core group of approximately 100 hymns will serve as the backbone for the forthcoming hymnal, with other favorites from the current hymnbook and new additions being added around the core group.

Lanugages

Hymnbooks in different languages

Another form of continuity will be the addition of hymns from the current Primary Songbook and LDS hymnbooks in other languages to the forthcoming hymnbook. We already have a few pieces from the Primary book in the hymnal, most significantly “I Am a Child of God.” Other pieces in the Primary Songbook, such as “Beautiful Savior,” “All Things Bright and Beautiful” and “Stars Were Gleaming” are included in other Christian hymnbooks and may find their way into the LDS hymnbook in the future. Often, when LDS hymnbooks have been compiled in other languages, the committees working on them select a few hymns not included in the English hymnal. A few Christmas carols that serve as recognizable examples include “What Child Is This” (Russian), “Christmas Comes Anew,” (French) and “Lo How a Rose E’re Blooming,” (French and German). Including Spanish hymns like “Placentero nos es trabajar” will probably also be a priority due to the growth of the Church in Latin America. It is very possible that some of these hymns that are already included in the international LDS tradition will be included in the general international LDS hymnbook.

Subtractions

Based on the assumption that the current and future LDS hymnbooks will be similar in size, it is likely that any new additions will be in place of hymns that have been dropped from the current hymnal. The Church has already indicated that patriotic songs will not be included in the forthcoming hymnal due to its international nature (though they will still be made available through digital resources). More hymns will have to be trimmed to make room for new hymns, however, and there are some candidates that are likely to not make the cut.

First, there are a lot of hymns that are rarely, if ever, sung in Mormon meetings. I have been known to joke about the sealed portion of the hymnbook with the 40’s, 50’s and mid-200’s in mind. A survey by SingPraises.net revealed that there are around 50 hymns that were rarely reported in sacrament meeting, with “O Home Beloved,” “Rise Up, O Men of God” and “See the Mighty Angel Flying” appearing most rarely.[1] I would imagine that the committee working on the current hymnbook is aware of this survey or will conduct a similar one themselves and that many of these rarely-sung hymns will end up on the chopping block when push comes to shove. Based on the survey, this will likely mean the reduction or removal of the specific “women” and “men” sections with only a few favorites like “As Sisters in Zion,” “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy,” and “Ye Elders of Israel” remaining.

There are also a few hymns that no longer align with the Church’s image or carry some historical baggage that isn’t necessary to perpetuate. Hymns of praise to Utah don’t have a place in a global church. While most of these were removed for the current hymnbook (i.e., “Utah, We Love Thee”), there are a few remnants, like “Our Mountain Home So Dear,” “O Ye Mountains High,” and “The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close.” The hymns “Up Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion” and “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” both stand out as hymns with historical baggage, with the former being connected to anti-American feelings during the Utah War in the 1850s and the latter being connected to the Adam-God doctrine that the Church has disavowed since the late 1800s. Incidentally, “For the Strength of the Hills” carries both of these problems, but via the words are usually taken metaphorically for temples as a refuge from conflict with worldliness rather than using mountains as fortresses against invading armies, as was the case in Switzerland (its country of origin) and Utah when was adopted for use during the Utah War. As such, it remains popular in Mormon circles (though I was always amused when it was used in sacrament meetings in the flat lands of the Midwest). In addition, since the Church switched to a 3-hour block, singing hymns in Sunday School has become rare. Hymns specifically for use in Sunday School like “Come Away to the Sunday School,” “Thanks for the Sabbath School” and “We Meet Again in Sabbath School” have fallen out of common use as a result. Thus, there are several hymns that will likely be dropped for being obsolete in the current Church.

Salt_Lake_City_-_July_16,_2011

Hymns written to praise Utah as Zion or rendered obsolete through changes in Church practices will likely be omitted

New LDS Music

In the past 30 years, there have been some significant additions to LDS Church music that are likely to be incorporated in the new hymnbook. The Church has sponsored an annual hymn writing and music arranging competition for decades now that has resulted in a large pool of options that can be drawn from. In addition, music recorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, performed in general conference or other significant LDS settings, and published in the Church’s official magazines have gained a foothold that makes them likely to be included in the new hymnal.

There are several important examples of the last phenomenon. “Faith in Every Footstep” has been recorded on Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs, performed in general conference, published in the Ensign, and has even been sung from time to time in LDS sacrament meetings within the last few years. President James E. Faust’s hymn “This is the Christ” enjoys similar status in Mormon culture, though it has not been noted as being sung in sacrament meetings.[2] Other, less visible examples of new Mormon hymns include President Gordon B. Hinckley’s “What is This Thing that Man Calls Death,” sung at his funeral and published in the Ensign, John S. Tanner’s “I Love the Lord,” and David Zabriskie’s Advent hymn “Come, Lord Jesus, Come,” from the Savior of the World musical performed on Temple Square and made available through LDS.org. There are also a number of songs written for use in Primary that are popular and will likely be included in the new children’s songbook (i.e., “Scripture Power”). I would expect that most of these newer hymns and songs will be included.

CCAud_Detail

New LDS hymns, particularly those already being performed in general conference and sacrament meetings, are likely to be added to the newhymnbook.

Hymns of Christian Heritage

When Emma Smith compiled the first LDS hymnbook in 1835, she relied heavily on both hymns recently written by Mormons and hymns from the broader Christian tradition that she was familiar with. Every LDS hymnbook since then has been a mix of hymns drawn from other Christian groups and Mormon hymns. I would expect that Christian hymns that are well known to Mormons and a few other new ones that the committee is aware of will become part of the LDS hymnbook. The prime example is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which has become incredibly popular since Mack Wilberg’s arrangement was released in the 1990s. Based on its current popularity among Mormons, inclusion in past hymnbooks and the fact that it is being sung in general conference and LDS congregations, I have no doubt it will make a return. A couple other significant hymns that have been in previous Mormon hymnals that are very popular in Christian circles include “Amazing Grace,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” both included in the 1841 Nauvoo hymnal. I have heard many individuals express a desire to include “Amazing Grace” in the LDS hymnbook over the years, and would imagine that it will be considered as a possible addition in the future.

Phelps hymnal

The 1835 hymnbook. LDS hymnbooks have always been a blend of general Christian and uniquely Mormon hymns

There are of course, other Christian hymns that are candidates for inclusion. “Take Time to Be Holy” has been sung in general conference and arrangements are available through LDS.org for use in church services. In fact, my wife was surprised to find that it wasn’t in the current hymnbook when we pulled it out recently for our ward’s choir. Popular Christmas and Advent songs like “O Holy Night,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and the Sussex carol may be considered for inclusion. There are also many newer Christian hymns that worthy of use. A personal favorite of mine is “God Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens,” which incorporates modern understandings of astronomy and society into praising God’s creations. The primary issue will be one of licensing. There are thousands of hymns available for use that reflect a commitment to Christ that can be used in Mormon worship services.

A big part of the new hymnbook is a push for more hymns in local and international styles. We are behind the curve in producing uniquely Mormon hymns in diverse styles. I have no doubt that there will be some submitted for consideration (there were 6,000 hymns submitted last time there was a general call, and the Church is much larger today, with opportunities for submission around the world), but there has not been enough time after the Church has indicated an interest in this field of hymns to develop the tradition fully. Thus, it is likely that for now, we will have to partially rely on efforts by other Christian churches who have produced hymnbooks for use in global church communities in recent years for hymns based outside of European and United States traditions.

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The LDS Church is growing into and ever-more international Church. Image courtesy LDS.org.

One of the most significant exclusions in previous LDS hymnbooks is African-American spirituals. Such hymns, however, are known and often well-enjoyed in Mormon circles, such as “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” “Rise Up Shepherds and Follow,” “Were You There,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit.” I have even had friends suggest that they should add “Battle of Jericho” or other more upbeat spirituals to the new hymnbook. President Dallin H. Oaks indicated that the past 40 years have been a time of fading prejudice against individuals of black African descent in the Church, and it is possible that the new hymnbook will reflect this lessening of prejudice.

Music

Prior to the 1985 hymnbook, the hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob” was rarely sung due to a difficult, bright melody designed more for a trained choir than a congregation. For the current hymnbook, however, the beautiful minor-key tune Kingsfold was paired with the text. The result has been increased popularity for a previously undervalued hymn. Similar changes may be made for hymns currently in the hymnbook by changing hymn tunes. In the broader Christian tradition, the hymn “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” is often sung to Parry’s tune Aberystwyth, which is a personal favorite of mine. If the change was made in future LDS hymnbooks, the hymn may follow the path of “If You Could Hie to Kolob” in becoming more popular. Other hymns that I would consider worth keeping, but with a different tune, include “’Twas Witnessed in the Morning Sky” and “Savior Redeemer of My Soul” (which could be used with an adaptation of the Robert Gardner setting from Joseph Smith the Prophet and 17 Miracles).

Historically, minor-keyed hymn tunes were generally excluded from LDS hymnals and tune books to emphasize the joyous nature of the gospel. A few minor key hymns were included in the current hymnbook, however, such as “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” “That Easter Morn,” and “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” These hymns are, to me, some of the most beautiful hymns that we have. More tunes from traditional Christian hymns could be used, such as Aberystwyth, Wondrous Love, I Am a Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger, and many others. Original compositions will also provide other minor-keyed hymn tunes for consideration. There is opportunity to include more minor keyed hymns for their contemplative and beautiful nature in the new hymnbook.

Conclusion

The forthcoming hymnbook and its companion children’s songbook will likely be a fine-tuned blend of old and new. It is likely that a core of hymns currently included in the hymnbook will carry over, with obsolete and rarely-sung hymns being omitted and new hymns from both the LDS and mainstream Christian faiths being added. Current hymns included may face some changes in tune to improve their chances of being sung. Each one of us has the opportunity to give input by visiting the Church site for the new hymnbook and filling out the survey or submitting hymn texts and music. The 1985 hymnbook was a triumph for the Church in many ways as a usable and beloved hymnbook. I would expect the new hymnal to excel even more as a hymnbook worthy of the gospel in the global Church.

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Appendix: The core hymns

Count Hymn Name Number of Hymnbooks
1 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God 38
2 A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief 38
3 Abide with Me; ’Tis Eventide 38
4 Abide with Me! 38
5 All Creatures of Our God and King 38
6 An Angel from on High 38
7 Angels We Have Heard on High 38
8 As I Search the Holy Scriptures 38
9 As Sisters in Zion 38
10 Away in a Manger 38
11 Be Thou Humble 38
12 Because I Have Been Given Much 38
13 Behold the Great Redeemer Die 38
14 Called to Serve 38
15 Choose the Right 38
16 Christ the Lord Is Risen Today 38
17 Come unto Jesus 38
18 Come, Come, Ye Saints 38
19 Come, Follow Me 38
20 Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice 38
21 Come, O Thou King of Kings 38
22 Come, Ye Children of the Lord 38
23 Come, Ye Thankful People 38
24 Count Your Blessings 38
25 Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd 38
26 Did You Think to Pray? 38
27 Do What Is Right 38
28 For the Beauty of the Earth 38
29 Gently Raise the Sacred Strain 38
30 Go Forth with Faith 38
31 God Be with You Till We Meet Again 38
32 God Bless Our Prophet Dear 38
33 God, Our Father, Hear Us Pray 38
34 Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah 38
35 Hark, All Ye Nations! 38
36 He Is Risen! 38
37 High on the Mountain Top 38
38 Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth 38
39 Hope of Israel 38
40 How Firm a Foundation 38
41 How Gentle God’s Commands 38
42 How Great Thou Art 38
43 I Am a Child of God 38
44 I Believe in Christ 38
45 I Know My Father Lives 38
46 I Know That My Redeemer Lives 38
47 I Need Thee Every Hour 38
48 I Stand All Amazed 38
49 I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go 38
50 Improve the Shining Moments 38
51 In Humility, Our Savior 38
52 In Memory of the Crucified 38
53 Israel, Israel, God Is Calling 38
54 Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King 38
55 Jesus, Once of Humble Birth 38
56 Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee 38
57 Joseph Smith’s First Prayer 38
58 Joy to the World 38
59 Keep the Commandments 38
60 Lead, Kindly Light 38
61 Let Us All Press On 38
62 Love at Home 38
63 Love One Another 38
64 Master, the Tempest Is Raging 38
65 More Holiness Give Me 38
66 My Redeemer Lives 38
67 Now Let Us Rejoice 38
68 Now the Day Is Over 38
69 O Little Town of Bethlehem 38
70 O My Father 38
71 Oh Say, What Is Truth? 38
72 Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful 38
73 Onward, Christian Soldiers 38
74 Praise to the Man 38
75 Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire 38
76 Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel 38
77 Redeemer of Israel 38
78 Secret Prayer 38
79 Silent Night 38
80 Sweet Hour of Prayer 38
81 Sweet Is the Work 38
82 Teach Me to Walk in the Light 38
83 Testimony 38
84 The Lord Is My Shepherd 38
85 The Morning Breaks 38
86 The Spirit of God 38
87 There Is a Green Hill Far Away 38
88 There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today 38
89 Though Deepening Trials 38
90 True to the Faith 38
91 Upon the Cross of Calvary 38
92 We Are All Enlisted 38
93 We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet 38
94 We’ll Sing All Hail to Jesus’ Name 38
95 While of These Emblems We Partake 38
96 Ye Elders of Israel 38
97 As the Dew from Heaven Distilling 37
98 Families Can Be Together Forever 37
99 Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains 37
100 Glory to God on High 37
101 God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand 37
102 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing 37
103 Help Me Teach with Inspiration 37
104 How Great the Wisdom and the Love 37
105 Nearer, My God, to Thee 37
106 O God, the Eternal Father 37
107 Rejoice, the Lord Is King! 37
108 Sing We Now at Parting 37
109 You Can Make the Pathway Bright 37

Information for appendix provided by singpraises.net

References

[1] http://singpraises.net/statistics/sacrament-meeting

[2] http://singpraises.net/statistics/sacrament-meeting

See also https://www.lds.org/church/news/church-announces-plans-for-new-hymnbook-and-childrens-songbook?lang=eng for more information about the new hymnbook and children’s songbook

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One comment

  1. Kathy Farra · · Reply

    I am excited for the new hymnbook’s arrival. I hope that, as mentioned in the article,
    Faith in Every Footstep will certainly included and that Savior Redeemer of My Soul using Rob Gardner’s tune will be there too (every time I hear that song I feel my spirit yearning and tears come to my eyes). I was surprised to find it in our current hymnbook since I don’t recall ever singing it. I believe Gardner’s wonderful tune is what makes the hymn so outstanding. Amazing Grace, Simple Gifts and Take Time to Be Holy are songs I often sing with myself and would be delighted to be able to sing them in church also. Hope this input is’nt too little,too late for consideration and thank you for your kind attention

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