“Celebrating the New Hymnbook,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 105
They came to sing hymns—and they sang with all their hearts, filling the Assembly Hall on Temple Square with the sound of praise and thanksgiving. As they rejoiced, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985 was officially launched, and a new period of LDS music was ushered in.
Six hundred invited Saints from several states attended the celebration on 3 September 1985, representing the many people who had participated in the hymnbook project: General Authorities, hymnbook committee members and their families, authors and composers, editors, designers, typesetters, production staff, printers, and their guests.
The meeting had the flavor of a hymn festival. Directed by Vanja Y. Watkins and accompanied on the Assembly Hall organ by Bonnie L. Goodliffe, the congregation sang fourteen hymns from the new book.
Calling the hymnbook “a tremendous milestone,” President Gordon B. Hinckley, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, quoted the Lord’s promise that the song of the righteous is a prayer that will be answered with a blessing. (See D&C 25:12.) He expressed the hope that the new hymnbook will “motivate our people to sing the songs of Zion, that they may be worthy of the blessing the Lord promised through revelation.”
Later in his address, President Hinckley noted that “The Spirit of God” has been sung at every temple dedication in our dispensation, joining through music each of those great events in Church history.
Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “My prayer is that we will learn once again in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to really sing. We simply must do something with our congregational singing to bring out the spirit of music in the heart and soul of every boy, every girl, every man, and every woman.”
Noting that many congregations do enjoy that spirit, he told of visiting the Saints in the German Democratic Republic. When it was time to interview priesthood leaders, he noticed about thirty brethren singing in beautiful harmony from the hymnbook. “Do these brethren represent a priesthood choir for the meeting?” he asked. “Oh, no,” he was told. “They’re the brethren we’re going to interview this afternoon. They would prefer singing to chatting.” The group sang for four hours. “If you love the Lord, if you love his doctrine,” said Elder Monson, “you’ll love the hymns. And when you love them, you sing them. This is the spirit I would hope we could inculcate in the heart of every person.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve recalled an experience he had forty years ago when he and other war-weary infantrymen assembled on a hill in Okinawa for an LDS service. As they sang “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” they watched carefully to see who would come, knowing that the absent ones had been killed or wounded. “I don’t remember a thing that was said at that meeting, but I remember what we sang.”
Speaking “as one who spends most of his time in the world of words,” Elder Maxwell said he is continually impressed with the power of music to comfort and counsel in a way that often exceeds the power of the spoken word. “This [new hymnbook] is not alone a gathering of hymns for us to sing in our meetings—which is reason enough, but it is the means by which the rising generation will be able to learn the hymns of Zion and carry them in their minds and in their hearts whithersoever they will go.”
Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and adviser to the Hymnbook Committee, recalled the words Elder Monson told the committee early in the hymnbook’s development: “‘We want a hymnbook filled with songs the Saints will sing.’ That became our slogan,” said Elder Pinnock, “—to create a hymnal that would be utilized in our homes and in our meetings and in our conferences, that we would hum and sing wherever we might be.”
Speaking for the music committee, Karen Lynn Davidson encouraged Church members to “be open to the entire book” rather than rotating a few favorite hymns and allowing the rest of the hymnal to be a sealed book. “Our goal for the new hymnal is to have no sleepers—no dormant pages. It’s not true that the only good hymns are hymns you already know.