The New Hymnbook: The Saints Are Singing!

“The New Hymnbook: The Saints Are Singing!” Ensign, Sept. 1985, 7

The New Hymnbook:

The Saints Are Singing!

When Saints sing, the soul rejoices. And there will be plenty of singing and rejoicing now that the new Church hymnbook has rolled off the presses and into the hands of Church members.

The long-anticipated hymnbook is filled with hymns, old and new, that can touch the lives of every Church member, offering us a way to share our feelings of worship, love, and fellowship again and again. Hymn singing is an important part of our spiritual heritage.

When Emma Smith was instructed to prepare the first hymnbook for the Church in July 1830, the Lord said, “My soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:12.)

With the able assistance of William W. Phelps, Emma compiled the hymnbook and published it in August 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio. The introduction to that book states: “It is sincerely hoped that the following collection, selected with an eye single to his glory, may answer every purpose till more are composed, or till we are blessed with a copious variety of the songs of Zion.”

The new hymnbook commemorates the 150th anniversary of that first Latter-day Saint book of hymns. Following an excellent tradition of LDS hymnody (see accompanying article, “Latter-day Saint Hymnbooks, Then and Now”), it will indeed bless the lives of Saints for many years with “a copious variety of the songs of Zion.” Twenty-six of the original hymn texts found in Emma Smith’s hymnbook have been included, as well as numerous hymns the Saints have loved for generations. In addition, the new hymnbook has seventy-seven newly added hymns, and new musical settings for fourteen texts in the previous hymnbook.

Hymns in the book are grouped into several general sections: hymns of the Restoration, hymns of praise and thanksgiving, hymns of prayer and supplication, hymns for the sacrament, hymns on special topics (such as Christmas, Easter, missionary work, teaching, family), children’s songs, and hymns for women and for men.

All hymns in the new book, except a few arranged for men’s and women’s voices, are appropriate for both choir and congregation. Ward choirs are encouraged to use the hymnbook as their basic resource. And many hymns—particularly those in the choir section of the previous book—have been altered and transposed to lower keys, making them more accessible for congregations and organists.

Names and dates of authors and composers are listed at the bottom of each hymn, along with other information such as copyright details. Of special interest to organists are the brackets suggesting a suitable introduction for each hymn.

Scriptural references are included with each hymn, referring Church members to related verses in the standard works. “Some hymns are based on scripture,” said Michael F. Moody, chairman of the General Music Committee, “and others correspond to many verses of scripture. We’ve selected one or two scriptural references for members to use as a starting point to get into the scriptural relationship of each text.”

An appendix called “Using the Hymnbook” includes helpful information, such as conducting patterns, ideas for adapting hymns for men’s and women’s voices, ideas for choirs, and information for beginning musicians.

Seven new indexes have been added to encourage the wide use of a variety of hymns. They include an explanation of how poetic meters work and how to coordinate the text of one hymn with the tune of another (a traditional practice with hymns). “And the new topical index includes many subjects found in the hymn texts,” Brother Moody said. “This will help people easily find hymns that serve particular topical needs.”

In the previous book, hymns were identified by their first lines, which, in some cases, differed from their original titles. “But some hymns are not accurately represented by their first line,” said Brother Moody, “and in those instances, we’ve returned to original titles, such as ‘Scatter Sunshine’ instead of ‘In a World Where Sorrow,’ and ‘Count Your Blessings’ instead of ‘When upon Life’s Billows.’”

The book itself—6″ by 9″—is larger than the previous hymnbook and the music and words are larger and easier to read. This standard edition, sporting a forest green cover with gold lettering, is available at Church distribution centers (stock no. PBMU0585; $3.75 each). Special editions, such as spiral-bound, large-print, and simplified accompaniment hymnbooks will be published in the future by Deseret Book Company.

The typesetting of the music was innovative. Randy Nikola, production supervisor for typesetting at Church headquarters, designed a computer program to typeset the music on the Church’s Mergenthaler typesetting computer, an accomplishment which has received international recognition.

“A few people are setting music on personal computers, but it’s more for home use,” he said. “The quality of the graphics on those computers is not very high—mostly just rough notes on a video screen. What we’ve been able to do is achieve the high typographic quality needed for printing requirements.”

A new music computer program recently developed at Church headquarters on a Bedford typesetting computer will be especially useful for adapting the hymns into other languages where the words of the text may be longer or shorter than in the English version. With the new typesetting program, the music can be easily adjusted to the words.

Brother Nikola’s unusual background prepared him for the challenge of putting music onto computer. He received a degree in music theory from Brigham Young University, then moved back to his home in Chicago, where he took a job as a typesetter. Eventually he was offered a job with the Church.

“When the offer came, my wife and I felt that we should take it, but we didn’t know why at the time. We understand now,” said Brother Nikola.

The project of putting together the hymnbook was a mammoth task, with less than two years for the members of the General Music Committee to accomplish what needed to be done. Fortunately, the work of an earlier committee in the 1970s laid an excellent foundation for the final hymnbook preparation.

An estimated six thousand hymns had been submitted in recent years by members of the Church, and each was considered for inclusion in the new book. During the selection process, all names were taken off the texts and music submitted so they would be evaluated on their own merits, not on the credentials of those who submitted them.

“Historically, many of the beloved hymns were written by nonprofessionals who drew from everyday experiences to create hymns that people could relate to,” said Brother Moody. “We’ve been happy to include so many new hymns by Church members.

“A great love for the gospel is expressed in the hymns that were submitted,” he said. “Behind each hymn is an individual who felt inspiration in creating it. Whether it was included in the hymnbook or not, there is value in every hymn’s creation. Our task was to select those that would best suit the needs outlined for the book.”

The direction given by the Brethren to the committee was to compile the new hymnbook with the general membership of the Church in mind not just the musicians. “I told the committee that they had only one disability: they knew too much about music,” said Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, managing director of the Priesthood Department and adviser to the Music Division. “Sometimes musicians, with their deeper understanding of music, will choose music that is artistic and technically correct, but not as singable for the average person. The committee has been sensitive to select hymns of worship that people will enjoy singing.

Throughout the project there has been a spirit of unity between the Church leadership and the musicians working on the hymnbook, and the Brethren are very supportive of the work that has been done.” Elder Pinnock had counseled the committee that if questions arose between musical expertise and spiritual promptings, the path of the Spirit was always the path to follow.

“We’ve tried to select music that people would want to hum as they walk down the street and go about their daily work,” said Brother Moody. “We also wanted texts that could come to people’s minds during times of trial or temptation, reinforcing gospel truths. As mentioned by the First Presidency in the preface, the hymns are to meet the needs of the members as individuals and as families, as well as groups of Saints in meetings.”

“We had to feel strongly that each piece of music would do a great deal of good, that it would be loved, and that it would be of high enough quality that a member’s spirit could be touched,” added committee member Bonnie Goodliffe. “We wanted hymns that would touch our hearts in a Sabbath setting and stay with us during the week, too.”

As a result, during the selection process the committee members looked at the hymns’ potential, rather than disqualifying them for errors in form or mechanics. “If we felt approval from the Spirit, we worked with the hymn, in consultation with the originator, until we felt it was right,” said Marvin K. Gardner, committee member. “As we reviewed each new hymn, we prayed to know if it was pleasing to the Lord, and if it would bless the lives of Church members. I’ll never forget the many times I had the unmistakable feeling that the Spirit was indeed pleased with particular hymns and that I could without any reservation recommend that we use them. Each committee member felt that Spirit often.”

“It was thrilling to realize,” said Vanja Watkins, committee member, “that there are so many people in the Church who have strong testimonies and can express them in artistic ways.”

Selecting the relatively few hymns that would finally be added to the book was a challenge. “I would compare it to buying a house,” said Sister Goodliffe, “There are other factors involved in choosing, besides just the house itself. It has to be right for the family, in the appropriate price range, in a suitable location; it’s not enough that you like it. Selecting these hymns was similar. There were more factors involved than I had dreamed of. And there were many wonderful hymns we couldn’t use.”

From the numerous hymns submitted, about two hundred were gleaned for final review and field testing. “We invited hundreds of people in various groups representing a broad cross section of Church membership to listen to these hymns, and they indicated which ones they felt were most effective,” said Elder Pinnock. “The selection of hymns for the book was based on this field response to hymns proposed by the committee.”

The new hymnbook has a relatively high proportion of hymns by our own members. Of particular interest among the new hymns are texts written by General Authorities: “My Redeemer Lives,” by President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency; “I Believe in Christ,” by the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve; “That Easter Morn,” by Elder Marion D. Hanks of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy; and “Testimony,” by Elder Loren C. Dunn of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Elder G. Homer Durham, late member of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, wrote the music for President Hinckley’s text.

Indeed, the wish expressed by Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve is coming to fruition: “If I had my way there would be many new hymns with lyrics near scriptural in their power, bonded to music that would inspire people to worship.” (Ensign, Aug. 1976, p. 63.)

The new hymns were chosen to fill particular needs for Church members, said Brother Moody. “Hymns are functional by nature, and serve the immediate needs of people. Over the years, some of those needs change. A good hymn communicates to the people of its generation—and great hymns last through generations of time.”

Some of the topics not extensively covered in the previous hymnbook—and now included in the new one—are families, testimony, fasting, genealogical and temple work, missionary work, sisterhood, and service.

Another consideration addressed in the new hymnbook was the need to accommodate all age groups—the children, for example. “Sometimes we forget that our congregations in sacrament meeting are made up of children as well as adults,” Brother Moody said, “and the music in our meetings needs to speak to them, too.”

Among the children’s songs selected for the new book are “I Am a Child of God,” “Teach Me to Walk in the Light,” “Families Can Be Together Forever,” and “The Light Divine.” “As a father of young children,” Brother Gardner said, “I think singing songs and hymns that the children know will help them feel more a part of the congregation. And the children’s favorites are usually loved by adults too.”

Some new hymns from other cultures have been included too, said committee member Darwin Wolford: “We’ve added German, Finnish, Swedish, Dutch, English, and Irish folk melodies to the book, which add to the international flavor. And one reason we simplified some of the musical arrangements of the hymns we’ve sung for years is so they can be more easily adapted in other cultures.”

“I’m sure that’s why the Lord made the hymn the basic form of musical expression in the Church,” Brother Moody added. “It speaks to all, regardless of education or background. The worldwide Church is united through the hymns.”

In addition to new hymns written by Latter-day Saints, some beautiful standard hymns that were not in the previous edition have also been added, such as “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” “Prayer of Thanksgiving,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” A few texts in the previous hymnbook received new musical settings. And although songs about Utah have generally been deleted, many favorite pioneer hymns have been kept. “In a sense, the pioneers are the forefathers of all Church members, whether we’re actually related to them or not,” said Brother Gardner. “Church history belongs to all Latter-day Saints, and we’re proud to share that heritage.”

“We as a Church do have a great heritage of hymns,” added Brother Moody. “Many hymns are unique to us as a Church, and we’ve added new material that will become a part of that tradition. We have a tradition of singing in four parts, which is somewhat unusual; most other churches don’t do that to the extent we do. Part of our Latter-day Saint hymn tradition is rooted in the American gospel song, a spirited, rhythmic kind of hymn such as ‘In Our Lovely Deseret.’ Another part of our tradition is the English hymn the early Saints brought with them when they came to America. Both of these traditions continue in our hymnbook.”

“Our doctrine is reflected in our hymns—and in our newly created and newly borrowed texts,” said G. William Richards of the committee. “I have great confidence in the ability of Church members to learn the new hymns. As they do so, their lives will be greatly enriched.”

Karen Lynn Davidson, also of the committee, agreed: “A new member coming to the hymnal will find it a great source of learning about our beliefs. And it will add a new dimension to the lives of all Church members.”

Just as some hymns have been added to the book, some have also been deleted. “Through the years a number of hymns have only rarely been sung,” said Elder Pinnock. “Wanting to keep the book to a reasonable size, and needing to add new hymns, we felt it would be wise to remove some of the little-used hymns.” Members may want to keep their old hymnbooks as a treasure, Brother Moody suggested, and continue to sing the hymns they love that may not appear in the new book.

When the content of the book had been determined, the committee members were then faced with the job of editing texts and music. Each hymn—whether new or retained from previous hymnbooks—was carefully analyzed, completely edited musically and textually, and recopied. Committee members were careful to follow the guidance given—to make as few changes in the existing hymns as possible. They recognized the folly of tampering unnecessarily with hymns already known and loved by the members of the Church.

Nevertheless, the editing required a great deal of time and effort. “One member of the committee copied out nearly every hymn by hand, taking into account the transposition recommendations and editorial changes,” said Brother Richards.

“Meeting deadlines was definitely a challenge, but we all felt the Lord directing the events in bringing forth this book,” said Brother Moody. “Every step of the way, the right person was there at the right moment with the talents needed for the task. And the committee members have all done the work voluntarily as Church service. The tremendous amount of work would ordinarily have been a heavy burden, but we’ve had wings on our feet as the work has gone forward. I’ve never had such a clear feeling of spiritual support. We’ve been blessed with strength, peace of mind, and assurance as decisions have been made.

“We’re pleased that the book has been finished, and grateful to all who have in some way contributed to its completion,” Brother Moody continued.

One of the great motivating aspects of the new hymnbook is the preface by the First Presidency, exhorting the Saints to become a hymn-singing people:

“We hope to see an increase of hymn singing in our congregations. We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns. … We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes.”

“The hymnbook does have a place of importance for Church members,” said Brother Moody, “because each of us can draw upon hymns as a source of inspiration and gospel learning. Almost every member of the Church can remember a time when a hymn has blessed his life. In a moment of discouragement, a line from a hymn may come to mind and give the strength or courage needed for that moment.”

Elder Pinnock agreed: “There’s no question that the hymns lead to intensified spirituality when thoughtfully sung. Hymns also teach great messages. Our doctrine is memorized when we memorize our hymns. It is our prayer that a significant resurgence of music in the Church will come with the introduction of the new hymnbook.”

And in the words of the First Presidency, as found in the preface: “Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.

“Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end. …

“Brothers and sisters, let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord into our congregations, our homes, and our personal lives. Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment. Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, ‘and it shall be answered with a blessing upon [your] heads.’”

  • Kathleen Lubeck is manager of Magazine Features, Church Public Communications Department. She is a member of the Taylorsville (Utah) Thirty-first Ward and the Young Women general board.

Photography by Scott Tanner

Features included in the new hymnbook are scriptural references to related verses in the standard works, brackets suggesting a suitable musical introduction for each hymn, names and dates of authors and composers, and copyright details and other information pertaining to hymns.