Updates on the New Hymnbook

It’s been nearly a year since the new core hymnbook was announced. While there have been a few rumors about the book (like a smaller size and getting rid of hymns with problematic copyrights), very little actual news has come up. Recently, however, the Church published an updated set of guidelines for the hymns and children’s songs that are being submitted. The timing is opportune, with less than two months to the submissions deadline left. Accompanying this publication are a few articles on the Church’s newsroom and on lds.org. What do these reveal about the forthcoming hymnbook?

First is the announcement of the committees that are going to guide the creation of the hymnbook and children’s songbook. Two committees (one for each book) have been organized. Each has members with expertise in areas relating to the hymnbook and songbook (music, various cultures, doctrine, etc.). Members of the hymnbook committee include Steve Schank (a music manager for the Church), Ryan Murphy (the associate music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square), Cherilyn Worthen (Utah Valley University professor of Choral Music Education and the director of the Tabernacle Choir’s training school), Stephen Jones (BYU professor of music composition), Sonja Poulter (a German alto in the Tabernacle Choir), Carolyn Klopfer (author of the words to “Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth”), Herbert Kopfer (a long-standing member of the Church Music Department and composer of the hymn tune for “Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth”), Anfissa Silva (background in accounting and marketing), and Audrey Livingston (a product manager for the Church). Something interesting about these committees is that they do not have authority to make final decision about the hymnbook and songbook. They are only functioning as a group that will make suggestions to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve so they can make the final decisions on what goes in the books.[1] This is likely a result of previous conflicts between hymnbook committees and top Church leaders, most notably in the 1970s.[2]

The hymnbook committee has been hard at work. All 550 hymns included in the hymnals the Church currently publishes (341 hymns in the English hymnal and 209 that have been added to the various translations) as well as music found in other publications of the Church have been evaluated. According to the articles, there are five core principles guiding these evaluations, based around the idea that sacred music is most effective when it:

  1. Increases faith in and worship of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
  2. Teaches core doctrine with power and clarity.
  3. Invites joyful singing at home and at church.
  4. Comforts the weary and inspires members to endure in faith.
  5. Unifies members throughout the Church (or unifies Latter-day Saints and others throughout the world).[3]

These principles are guiding the process of selecting hymns from all the sources available to the Church as well as any edits to hymns (in both text and music).[1]

The committees have also been evaluating the ongoing results of the survey that all Church members can take to offer their suggestions for the hymnbook. As I indicated was likely the case in a previous post, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has been the most-suggested hymn for inclusion in the new book, with other hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “If the Savior Stood Beside Me” also receiving considerable attention. (As a side note, the reporter for the Church’s press releases seemed ignorant of the 1841 Nauvoo hymnal and reported that “Amazing Grace” has never been published by the Church, even though it was.) I am always curious what all has been suggested through the survey, so I was glad to see at least a little bit mentioned there. I will also put in a plug here to take the time to visit the Church’s site and fill the survey out if you haven’t already.

Based on their ongoing evaluations of hymns, the committees have released a list of topics they would like to see more submissions cover. Broad topics they want to focus on include “Praise and Worship”, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ”, “The Plan of Happiness”, “Gospel Learning and Revelation”, “The Family of God”, “Our Families”, “Priesthood Power and Authority”, “The Restoration of the Gospel”, “The Gathering of Israel”, “The Sabbath Day”, and “The Second Coming”.[4] So, if you have an interest in writing hymns or composing hymn tunes (or children’s songs for that matter), these are some areas to focus on in the next month and a half. It is also my understanding that hymns written in languages other than English are being encouraged in particular to reflect the multicultural and international nature of the Church more fully.

So, what have we learned about the forthcoming hymnbook? First, that the committee charged with guiding the creating of the book is largely made up of musicians associated with Temple Square and Church headquarters, with some of them having international backgrounds and expertise in areas other than music. The committee doesn’t have decision-making authority, though—the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve will be the ones to make decisions, drawing on the suggestions of the committee. We have learned what the five core principles are that are guiding the evaluation of all hymns being considered. Finally, we have learned a little about the results of the committee’s efforts so far and their suggestions for submissions during the final few weeks before the deadline to submit passes. What exactly all of this means for the hymnbook remains to be seen and is likely to continue to evolve in the coming months and years ahead.

 

References:

[1] Elanor Cain Adams, “Committees and Strategic Goals Announced for Hymnbook and Children’s Songbook Revision,” lds.org 9 May 2019, https://www.lds.org/church/news/committees-and-strategic-goals-announced-for-hymnbook-and-childrens-songbook-revisions?lang=eng. Accessed 10 May 2019.

[2] See Michael Hicks, “How to Make (and Unmake) a Mormon Hymnbook,” in A Firm Foundation: Church Organization and Administration, ed. David J. Whittaker and Arnold K. Garr (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 503-19. https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/firm-foundation/22-how-make-and-unmake-mormon-hymnbook

[3] “Music Submission Content Guidelines”, https://www.lds.org/bc/content/ldsorg/music/PD60008660_000%20MusicSubmission.pdf?lang=eng See also “Fine-Tuning: Church Updates Guidelines for New Hymnbook and Children’s Songbook Submissions”, MormonNewsroom.org, 9 May 2019, https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/updated-guidelines-new-hymnbook-children-songbook-submissions and Elanor Cain Adams, “Committees and Strategic Goals Announced.”

[4] “Music Submission Content Guidelines”, https://www.lds.org/bc/content/ldsorg/music/PD60008660_000%20MusicSubmission.pdf?lang=eng

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