Start practicing not hating the new hymn book now.
The time is now to adjust your expectations, which have gotten a little unmoored from reality. Here’s the hard facts: With maybe 500 hymns that have to address the needs of every age from pre-nursery to postmortem and every meeting from Albanian baptismal services to Zimbabwean zone conferences, a lot of good songs are going to be left out. And for the same reason, some of your favorite current hymns are going to disappear, while others you can’t stand are going to stay. Resist the urge to see some agenda or the baleful influence of your least favorite general authority in the failure to include your favorite song, composer, style or genre.
As for the new hymns, you probably won’t like many of them. (Personally, I’d like to see several more Reformation chorales, but I’m not getting my hopes up; at least “Beautiful Savior” might make the cut.) Music speaks to us for a lot of reasons, but music that’s already tied to key formative experiences tends to speak the loudest. If you were a teenager or older when the current hymnbook was introduced, most of your favorite hymns were probably already included in the old hymnal of your childhood. (The most I can say about the 1985 additions is that some of them are okay, I guess.) The new hymns are meant to serve a lot of people who aren’t you and whose backgrounds are a lot different from yours. Practice telling yourself that the new hymns are there for someone or other, just like conference addresses that don’t do much for you can be deeply meaningful for someone else.
There are going to be some clunky lines, questionable music choices, and awkward translations. Remember that composing music that works for a congregation of average musical ability is difficult, committees are populated with human beings and the inevitable misses don’t invalidate the whole project.
We have a certain musical cultural in the church, at least as I’ve observed it in a couple dozen wards in the United States and another half dozen in central Europe, and that culture is focused on congregational singing, often in parts, with organ accompaniment, with occasional ventures into ward or stake choirs, and that’s pretty much it. Other churches have gospel choirs or hand bells or rock bands, and that’s okay, too. Let’s proceed with the assumption that there’s no wrong way to praise God in music, even as we recognize that there are some ways that work best for most of us. If you were looking forward to rock bands in sacrament meeting, you should probably temper those expectations. When you look up and down the pews, do you see a lot of people who would be uplifted by rock bands, or a lot of people who would be disturbed and alienated? Think of those people, too.
And try to have some sympathy with the ward organist struggling through some unfamiliar music. The organ is an unforgiving instrument. You can hit half the notes wrong on the piano and get away with it. On the organ, everyone hears every missed note. Tempo is great, but faster is also harder. If you’re an organist, by all means try to do your best. That’s all I could do, long ago when I was the accompanist for sacrament meetings, a role that outstripped my actual musical talent by a good measure.
Finally, remember that we worship through music. Music is a means to an end. The point of introducing new songs to the hymnbook is solely to help church members in their worship, so any new hymns will either be assimilated into our musical style, or they will uselessly take up a precious page on the hymnbook that could have been used for something that would be sung more often. Please don’t get hung up on cultural appropriation, authenticity, or any other excuse to make people feel bad about singing in church. The goal is not to add one more thing that we can criticize and belittle, but to join our voices in worship.
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Chad has some thoughts on this topic. Stay tuned for his counterpoint!