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.
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.
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 or smaller, with a core portion of hymns remaining while others are switched out for new inclusions.
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 50 hymns from a list of suggestions and 50 more hymns dear to their culture 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. They may even take the same approach as the non-English hymnals and aim for a smaller collection of around 200 to 250 hymns for the official hymnbook of the Church.
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). Spanish hymns like “Placentero nos es trabajar” will probably also be a priority to include due to the growth of the Church in Latin America. A similar process took place with the hymn, “Hark All Ye Nations,” which was originally written in German and was included in the 1985 hymnal due to its popularity. 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.
Based on the assumption that the current and future LDS hymnbooks will be similar or smaller 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. 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.
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 militant 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. 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.
Finally, there are issues of copyright and licensing. Hymns like “How Great Thou Art,” “Because I Have Been Given Much,” “Be Still, My Soul,” and music arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams (i.e. the tunes used with “If You Could Hie to Kolob” or “All Creatures of Our God and King”) have proven difficult for the Church to manage in an increasingly digital age. Many Latter-day Saints have probably noticed this when trying to use phones or tablets for hymns in sacrament meeting and found that they could not access them. Rumor has it that some of the copyright deals that the Church has negotiated in the past for hymns are expiring and that they may not be willing to renegotiate them. Whatever the case, the Church has mentioned that one reason for the new hymn book is to resolve copyright issues from foreign translation restrictions and to provide more consistent digital access. That process may include simply removing some of the more troublesome hymns.
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. 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.
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 believe it will make a return (though it may go through some minor edits). 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, though the focus on salvation by grace does cast some doubt on its return.
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.
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.
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 simplified 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.
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.
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|
|80||Sweet Hour of Prayer||38|
|81||Sweet Is the Work||38|
|82||Teach Me to Walk in the Light||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
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