The History of LDS Hymnbooks, Part 9: The 1985 Hymns

The dissolution of the hymnbook committee in the late 1970s brought the work of preparing a new collection of hymns for the worldwide Church to a halt. Approximately five years later, the First Presidency instructed Michael F. Moody of the Church’s Music Division to proceed with the creation of a new hymnbook. Virtually all members of the previous committee were not included on the new one. Instructions were given for the hymnbook committee members to put their own music training and tastes aside and focus on what congregations in the Church needed and wanted. As one adviser pointedly stated, he felt that the committee had “only one disability: they knew too much about music.”[1]

1985 LDS Hymnbook

1985 LDS Hymnbook

To fulfill their mandate, Moody’s committee used the previous committee’s work as a starting point, but worked to test out the hymns in congregations and fireside groups to evaluate them. They also smoothed out difficulties from previous hymnbooks by simplifying keys, modernizing the music notation (most notably the bass clef), slightly adjusting wording and music when necessary, and removing many of the rarely-sung and obsolete hymns. The committee aimed “to select music that people would want to hum as they walk down the street and go about their daily work.”[2] The ultimate goal of the LDS hymnbook was to both appeal to the masses and maintain the Church’s distinct identity. The result was a highly serviceable, largely beloved and thoroughly Mormon hymnal that conformed to the general vision of the Correlation Department in the 1980s.

This hymnbook was the first Mormon hymnal to be translated and disseminated worldwide from Church headquarters. The general approach was to select a core group of approximately 100 hymns from the English hymnal that were included in every LDS hymnal, then allow a language-specific committee to select approximately 100 more. The results often were mostly based off the 1985 English LDS hymnbook, with relatively few hymns outside of the selection in the 1985 hymnal being included. Examples include “Placentero nos es trabajar” (“How Pleasing It Is to Work”) and “Si la via es penosa en a lid” (“If the Way Be Full of Trial, Weary Not”) in the Spanish hymnbook and “Noël nouvelet” (“Christmas Comes Anew”) in the French hymnbook. Through this process, the hymnbook has been published in approximately 40 languages.

After 30 years, however, it has been determined that it is time to develop a new hymnbook for the Church. In June 2018, the Church announced that it would be compiling a new hymnal and children’s songbook. According to Elder Ronald A. Rasband, “we desire to offer a consistent core collection of hymns and songs in every language that reflects the diverse needs of the global Church in our day.”[3] We are still several years away from the project being completed, and it will remain to be seen what the results are. But, as historian Michael Hicks observed, “To dismantle a greatly loved hymnbook and construct a new one in its place requires the wrenching of a whole culture of worship. And to attempt that is to confront fundamental questions of human experience: what to salvage and what to throw away.”[4] The forthcoming hymnal will likely be a mix of decisions that each of us agree with and disagree with, but will hopefully be well-suited to the needs of Church members around the world in our day.


Hymn Examples:

“Press Forward, Saints” is one of the many hymns included for the first time in the 1985 hymnbook. Commentators have noted that very few hymns in the LDS tradition have been based specifically off the Book of Mormon or other restoration scriptures. Most have been hymns based on the Bible or focused on specific topics rather than restoration scripture verses. Marvin K. Gardner wrote this hymn based off 2 Nephi 31:20 after hearing it mentioned in a talk during a stake conference.[5]

“I Am a Child of God” was one of several children’s songs adapted from the previous LDS children’s songbook. Inclusion of children’s songs is a relatively rare phenomenon in Christian hymnals, but is embraced by Latter-day Saints because children attend the entire sacrament meeting.


Si la via es penosa, 1Si la via es penosa, 2

“Si la via es penosa en a lid” is the Spanish version of “If the Way Be Full of Trial, Weary Not”, which was included in previous LDS hymnbooks (i.e. the Deseret Sunday School Songs) but not in the English 1985 hymnal. It has, however, found its way into translations of the LDS Hymns, as selected by the language-specific committees.



[1] Hugh W. Pinnock, quoted in Kathleen Lubeck, “The New Hymnbook: The Saints Are Singing,” Ensign 15 (September 1985): 9.

[2] Quoted in Lubeck, “New Hymnbook,” p. 9.


[4] See Hicks, “How to Make (and Unmake) a Mormon Hymnbook.”

[5] Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 110-111.

34 comments for “The History of LDS Hymnbooks, Part 9: The 1985 Hymns

  1. Eric
    July 9, 2018 at 11:57 am

    The cover is green on this hymnal because that’s the color President Monson specifically wanted. My dad was a purchasing agent for the Church’s audio-visual department during most of his career, and that’s something he heard about when this hymnal first started publication.

  2. The Other Clark
    July 9, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    I’d bet virtually any sum of money that the advisor behind footnote #1 is Boyd K. Packer. It matches the tone of his infamous “Arts and the Spirit of the Lord ( “Some of our musicians are more temper than mental.”

    It seems that in the end, the musical dieticians lost the battle.

  3. The Other Clark
    July 9, 2018 at 12:16 pm

    Also, I find the timing odd for a new edition. As recently as Sept 2015, the Ensign reported “Given the quality and continued usefulness of the current hymnbook, there are no plans at this time for a new edition.” (

    Elder Nelson has been driving hard on Sabbath Day Observance and improved teaching during the 3-hour block. Maybe the push for a new hymnbook is part of that effort?

  4. Chad Nielsen
    July 9, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Hugh W. Pinnock was the one who made the statement quoted in 1, but it certainly reflects Elder Packer’s philosophy.

    I was also intrigued by the sudden change after being so insistent that they weren’t going to change any time soon. We have been making new official hymnbooks for the Church about every thirty years for the last few, so the timing is consistent. It might just reflect differences in approaches to church administration between President Nelson and President Monson.

    That’s interesting that President Monson pushed for that. Maybe it was from fond memories of the green hymnbook from his childhood (the 1927 one).

  5. Clark
    July 9, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    Your point about kids in sacrament and their being part of the singing (or more often bored out of their minds – distracted with various coloring pages or books) is important. I do hope that whatever the aims of the new hymnal that making it funner and more participatory for all is a high priority.

  6. Chad Nielsen
    July 9, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Makes me think of the time that we sang “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” in stake conference. About a third of the congregation jumped up at the appropriate times and everything. I still think it was one of the funnest memories I have of a stake conference.

  7. Left Field
    July 9, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    “Popped up at the appropriate times”?

  8. Chad Nielsen
    July 9, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    It’s somewhat traditional to jump to your feet on the beam of sunbeam.

  9. Gabriel G
    July 9, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    This is a wonderful series. Thank you, Chad.

    Could you tell us a little bit more about the burgandy hymnal used in Spanish before the current, green hymn book?

  10. Left Field
    July 9, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    Okay. I’m not familiar with that tradition. Perhaps it is not universal among all decades, regions, climes, nations, tongues, and peoples. Or maybe I’ve forgotten since the last time I’ve regularly experienced the song, several decades and climes ago.

  11. Jim Wallmann
    July 9, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    Chad, thank you for your well-researched and fascinating series. As one who studied organ at BYU from 1973 to 1977, I guess I know “too much about music.” I detest “How Great Thou Art” and would like to see it dropped. (Every time I hear it, I think I’m at a Billy Graham crusade.) I thought we had President Benson to credit/blame for its inclusion in the LDS hymnbook.
    Perhaps there is hope for the new hymn book. When then-Elder Nelson visited our stake a few years ago and I was playing prelude music appropriate for December, he recognized that my organ prelude included an arrangement of “In Dulci Jubilo” (“Good Christian men, rejoice”). Maybe that Christmas hymn will make the cut, although the text needs to be adjusted so as not to leave out half the congregation.

  12. Chad Nielsen
    July 9, 2018 at 7:37 pm

    The sunbeam tradition may have just been where I grew up. I really don’t know. I think they’ve started discouraging it these days anyway.

  13. Chad Nielsen
    July 9, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    As for the Spanish hymnal. I can only speak to what I’ve learned from reading about it in English (which is not ideal). From what I understand, though, the earliest Spanish hymnals were mostly produced by the Mexico mission. They were a collections of texts translated by missionaries from the United States with references to where you could find the music in the English hymnals (or the tune if not found in English LDS hymnals). The 1942 hymnal Himnos de Sion (which I think is the one you’re asking about) was the first to be produced from headquarters in Salt Lake City and the first LDS Spanish hymnbook with music included. It was a compilation of all the various songbooks used in Utah–the children’s songbook, the Sunday School songbook, the Mutual songbook, and the 1927 hymnbook (the green hymnbook). The result was an eclectic hymnbook, ranging from songs about brushing your teeth to full-blown choral anthems. The translations were uneven in quality, but were often colorful, if ungrammatical. It was difficult transition to the 1992 hymnal that is currently used because major changes were made to the translations of the vast majority hymns in an effort to improve their clarity. For people who had learned the words by heart for years, having so much change was not a pleasant surprise when the new hymnbook came out.

  14. Hedgehog
    July 10, 2018 at 1:39 am

    Not familiar with jumping for sunbeams here, in my part of the UK.

    According to my more modern hymn books ‘in dulci jubilo’ opens with ‘good Christians all rejoice’ which would seem to be a sensible way to make it inclusive.

    Have loved this series btw. Thank you.

  15. Celebro carminibus antiquis
    July 10, 2018 at 11:13 am

    1) Thank you very much for this very educational series, Chad. I’d love to see one more post for the new hymnbook, ideally with investigative research to aid in forecasting its direction, but even just with reasoned speculation and/or your own personal hopes.

    2) Jumping on “beam” has been around in all my wards in California and Utah over the past four decades. I don’t remember seeing it in the mission field, except for the missionaries.

    3) I think it would be premature to count out the dietitians, Other Clark. These things tend to act like a pendulum. The volunteer nature of the Church will always drive people with talent to pursue musical training, and once they have it, they will (correctly) want to consecrate their skills to building up God’s kingdom. So that pressure will never go away. And when we’ve swung too far astray into populism, that pressure will again help guide us back toward the holy mean.

    Maybe the swing will begin now, and we’ll get the beautiful “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” in our new hymnal. (I completely understand the concern about exclusivity: all the non-Christian visitors really are snubbed by that English lyric.)

    Of course, maybe we’re not done swinging toward populism. Perhaps someone will write some good sunshine lyrics to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together.”

  16. Gilgamesh
    July 10, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    I did not like the reworked wording in High on a Mountain top. It is not nearly as fun as hearing a congregation sing Yoohoo unto Jesus.

  17. The Other Clark
    July 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    Gil- I suspect you mean the reworked wording on “How Firm a Foundation.” Other random observations: Jumping on “Jesus Wants me for a Sun BEAM” was ubiquitous along the Wasatch Front and southern Idaho when I was growing up. Maybe it’s a “Zion Curtain” thing. I served in Mexico in ’94, and a few areas still had the red hymnbook. I remember the “Brush Your Teeth” song just because it seemed so out of place. And yes, the new translations threw everyone for a loop. Imagine “I Am a Child of God” with all new words. (An actual example.)

    I’ll politely push back on Celebro’s prediction that populism will be less noticible in the new hymnbook. I think we’ll see a major shift in worship music because: (1) The average standard of musical training in the Church has declined significantly in recent decades, to the point most new buildings have pre-programmed electronic keyboards rather than traditional pianos. So that means less appetite for and appreciation of the dietician’s music (2) Traditional pipe-organ hymn singing is on the way to extinction in most churches, as it just doesn’t match the culture or spirit of the times. (3) Growth of the Church is fastest in Africa–almost half of all converts–and traditional classically-based hymns don’t match the worship style and expectations. The same holds true in many other areas with significant growth (Philippines, Latin America, Pacific Islands).

  18. Chad Nielsen
    July 10, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    My mother has complained about the change to How Firm a Foundation over the years as well (though partly in jest). I can only imagine what it would be like to have entire hymns change, though.
    It’s hard to really predict what will happen with the new hymnbook. I think as far as posts go, my lengthier one I posted first really has most of what I have to say on the subject. I might make some slight edits based on some things I’ve thought about in the past few weeks. Other Clark does give an accurate, if unfortunate assessment of the state of music training in the Church. I had a friend who expressed similar concerns about the new hymnbook, and said it may be much smaller and more populist than the current hymnbook. On the other hand, the committee may be made up mostly of professional musicians who could push for following similar standards to well respected Protestant hymnals. The things that have been stated so far about it sound similar to changes I’ve seen made to the Presbyterian hymnal at the church where I volunteer in their music ministry. With the current administration, it is really hard to guess. The apostles who were very vocal in populist opinions in the 1980s have passed away and President Nelson had shown a willingness to break with the past ways of doing things to streamline/further modernize the Church in some areas. The announcement is very new still, and a lot likely has not even begun to take shape.
    I am most curious to see how the effort to be more inclusive works out. We’ve had the approach of producing so much in English and disseminating it out from Utah to the rest of the world for so long that it may prove more difficult to actually put the idea of translating new hymns in other languages to English into action. Many of the older hymns we’ve adopted were originally in German, Latin, true, but after how long allowing people to speak their native languages in general conferences lasted, I’m a little concerned. Comments I’ve seen from
    some music department members before have been about how happy the translation committees have been to just take hymns from the English hymnal, which also makes me wonder how effective it with truly be. If they do approach it how they have said, I imagine priority will have to be given to hymns from non-English speakers, and a lot of changes will be made compared to the current hymnal.

  19. Clark
    July 10, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    Say “yooo-hoo” unto Jesus.

  20. Left Field
    July 11, 2018 at 8:55 am

    I have heard kids sing “sunBEAM” with an abnormally shrill note, but the jumping is not something I remember. I do remember occasionally seeing some sort of hand motions with “Book of Mormon Stories.” When I was a kid in weekday Primary, we stood up and sat down at the appropriate places when singing “The Grand Old Duke of York.”

  21. JR
    July 11, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    In 1985 Michael Moody asked me what I thought of the then new hymnal. He was clearly expecting a negative reaction. Instead, I told him I thought they could not have produced a hymnal to satisfy the individual preferences of Mormons’ widely varying tastes in music and texts, but did a remarkably good job of balancing the choices and appealing to that variety of preferences. There’s something there for almost all North American Mormons to like and something there for almost all North American Mormons to despise. (I can’t speak to the preferences of other English speaking nations.) I just wished the 1985 hymnal could have been much larger in order to include more. But I think we’re now headed for less and that the supplements to be made available for various countries/cultures will also be limited and little used. I hope my concern turns out to be misplaced.

  22. Grandpa
    July 12, 2018 at 11:35 am

    One of the things I’m NOT seeing discussed across the internet on the topic of this upcoming revised hymnal and children’s songbook is — are we to the point that music from the African-American heritage is going to finally make its way into our LDS musical tradition, both in Primary and in Sacrament Meeting? ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’, ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’, ‘I Want Jesus to Walk with Me’, ‘Were You There?’, ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’, ‘In Christ There is no East or West’, and ‘In God We Trust’ could be good candidates — as a Primary music leader in various wards I’ve lived in, I’ve introduced several of these into our singing time (with all the proper permissions from local leaders; I know the handbook). The Tabernacle Choir has been singing some for years now, although I’d like to see them done as if they were NOT from some New England Puritan hymnal. And Sister Gladys Knight has helped introduce us to a few others. Is it time?

    In another direction, during the time I was stationed in England in the military, I heard of lot of good members express the hope that some of what we American Saints unaffectionaltely refer to as “stuffy old British hymns” might make a comeback. I will admit that I am a lover of some of these grand old hymns, Isaac Watts still being one of my favorite composers. One that might be a good candidate for returning to our hymnal is “Behold the Lamb of God”, which was in English-language LDS hymnals up through the 1927 hymnal. While I was a missionary in Japan, this hymn was a favorite and was faithfully sung at every baptism. Hey, if we can continue to learn and appreciate the language of the King James Bible, we can appreciate one or two “stuffy old British hymns.” :-)

  23. Chad Nielsen
    July 12, 2018 at 11:50 am

    I did mention that there is a good chance African-American music could be included in the new hymnbook and songbook in my longer post on the new hymnbook, but I think you’re the first one to really bring it up in discussion. I would love it if they were included. They’re used frequently at the Presbyterian church In the town where I live and I think they would be well loved by Mormons too. There’s an old story of Gladys Knight telling President Hinckley that she wanted to revise the hymnbook to add a bit more zip to it. Who knows, she could very well be asked to be part of the hymnbook committee and push for their inclusion. I do think it’s time, whatever the case.

  24. Lisa
    July 12, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    The inclusion of African American music in the new hymnal has been mentioned several times in the LDS music-oriented facebook groups I’m involved with. Even the trained and experienced classical musicians (like myself) for the most part want to see this happen.

    By the way, thank you for this entire series. I did an independent readings project in graduate school on a related topic, and it was nice to see you express so eloquently everything I already knew. My project was focused on the history of hymn tune styles and their inclusion in our current hymnal; the history and evolution of our Mormon hymnals was part of what I studied.

  25. Chad Nielsen
    July 12, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    Thank you Lisa. I’m glad that this series has been so well received.
    Your reading project topic sounds like a very interesting subject to study. I’ve learned a bit about the tune styles in LDS music during some of the research I’ve done before, but have wanted to take a more in-depth look.

  26. Rigel Hawthorne
    July 13, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    I’m puzzled by the announcement of discontinuation of a separate children’s songbook. Surely in our tradition there is room for 2 books of song rather than one very large book of song? Not to mention that the Childrens’ Songbook has a picture book quality to hold children’s attention, give them a visual related to the song, and thereby bring them to look at elements of music theory.

  27. Chad Nielsen
    July 13, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    From what I understand, it is still the plan to publish a separate hymnbook and children’s songbook. The “unified” in the announcement has reference to language editions around the world rather than a merger of the two.

  28. Eric
    July 13, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    To Rigel’s comment, part of the original announcement from June 18 says, “When the revisions are complete, there will only be one hymnbook and one children’s songbook, offering the same hymns and songs in all languages.” So one hymnbook for congregations, and one songbook for children, but both books will have the same songs in every language, which has not been the case with any of our musical publications up to this point.

  29. Hedgehog
    July 15, 2018 at 8:08 am

    As one of those Brits who loves our stuffy British hymns I recommended quite a few be included in the new hymnbook, and also recommended a few African American songs too when completing the survey. African American songs have been in British published hymn books for years, I even got to sing them at school decades ago, so I agree, it’s beyond time they were included.

  30. E.C.
    July 22, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    I’m looking forward to the new hymnal, though with (I admit) a bit of trepidation. I personally hope that they’ll put in “Let Peace Then Still The Strife”, because I think we don’t have enough bereavement/consolation hymns. It’s lovely, though they might have to simplify it for inclusion (Mack Wilberg definitely wrote it for a choir not a congregation).
    Also, a bunch of the hymns have decent lyrics but melodies that are either hard to sing or just plain ugly. “Savior, Redeemer of My Soul”, for example, deserves a better tune – maybe Rob Gardner’s? I was looking through and realized that we have a bunch of hymns about all kinds of subjects that never get sung, probably because the tunes are difficult to sing or just not that attractive, which I feel is a real shame.
    There are a ton of hymns from Protestant and Methodist hymnals that I’d love to see included, like the haunting music of “His Voice As The Sound” or “My Shepherd Shall Supply My Need”.
    I would love to see some African-American hymns – and some international ones! – included as well. The few Welsh hymns I’ve heard have very graceful melodies, and there are many other musical traditions I’d love to learn more about through their hymns.

  31. KLC
    July 25, 2018 at 5:55 pm

    Chad, I know someone with a family member in a prominent music position in the church. She was told that one of the reasons for the new hymnbook is that copyrights are expiring on some of the songs and will not or maybe cannot be renewed. Have you heard this?

  32. The Other Clark
    July 25, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    It seems that having songs out of copyright (and into the public domain) would make their use LESS restrictive, right? Unless it was some sort of deal where the Church negotiated permission to use copyrighted music for some limited time period and the reprint permission is expiring.

  33. KLC
    July 25, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    Yes, it’s your latter scenario, rights that were negotiated are expiring, not the copyrights.

  34. July 26, 2018 at 11:19 am

    I haven’t heard that elsewhere, though to be honest, I don’t have many connections who would be close enough to decision making processes to know something like that. It is very possible, especially with dealing with copyright laws around the world all at once, electronic distribution though the internet, and use on tablets and smart phones during church meetings. I have had some friends guess that to be the case, because of those issues. Most likely this would affect the Oxford University Press hymns (Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangements), “How Great Thou Art”, and ” Be Still My Soul”, along with a few others.

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