“The New Children’s Songbook,” Ensign, June 1989, 15
Alec is a four-year-old Sunbeam. He likes cartoons, action figures, and hot dogs (always without ketchup, sometimes without the bun). He dislikes shoes and socks and girls. Especially girls. He has plenty of muscles that he’ll gladly show you—if you beg. Alec also loves to sing Primary songs. Resolutely. Joyfully. And very loudly. His favorite?
“THE GOLDEN PLATES!” he roars.
“The Golden Plates” also happens to be the favorite song of his mother, Annlouise. “Every time we sang that song in Primary when I was a little girl,” she remembers, “I used to wonder what the actual golden plates looked like, what they felt like.” Annlouise pauses, then smiles. “I was positive that they must have been very heavy for Joseph Smith to carry.”
“The Golden Plates,” with its familiar lyrics and lilting melody, serves as a link between mother and son, connecting her past with his present. Indeed, many of the best-loved Primary songs—“I Am a Child of God,” “Give, Said the Little Stream,” “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”—fill this purpose: they provide a sort of cultural continuity between the Church’s children and its adults. “Primary songs,” says Michael Moody, chairman of the Church Music Committee, “allow our children to join their voices with the voices of children of earlier times in their expression of the gospel.” In addition, says Primary General President Michaelene P. Grassli, “they bring gospel principles into the lives of our children in a joyous way.”
And it is for our children that the Church has just published a new Primary songbook. According to Betty Jo Jepsen, first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, the task was undertaken “to consolidate the various existing resources of children’s music.” Those resources include Sing with Me, More Songs for Children, Supplement to More Songs for Children, Activity Songs and Verses, songs published in the Friend and the Ensign, and songs used in the Primary’s annual children’s sacrament meeting presentations.
These music resources were reviewed, edited, and compiled—with a new twist. “In the past, songbooks have been published mostly for Primary leaders to use in teaching children,” says Pat Graham, a former member of the Primary General Board. “Although Primary music leaders and accompanists will continue to teach from this new resource, this book really is for the children.”
“We want people to use it at home,” says Stan Thurman, the songbook’s designer. Sister Jepsen agrees: “The book is not just for the Primary, but for the home and family as well. I think it is essential that parents know the music their children are learning in Primary and then reinforce it at home.”
Appropriately enough, the new book is simply titled Children’s Songbook. “Even the preface and the introduction are directed toward the children,” says Sister Jepsen. “The preface will begin with ‘Dear boys and girls,’ rather than ‘Dear parents and teachers.’”
Children of all ages will no doubt be attracted by the songbook’s charming, picture-book appearance. Delicate full-color illustrations appear throughout, and two-page spreads introduce each new section. The illustration accompanying the section called “The Savior,” for example, depicts children participating in a Christmas pageant: a tangle of children (a few with unruly hair and slipping beards—and one sucking his thumb) are dressed as junior shepherds, wise men, and angels. They are singing together, rejoicing with the might of children in the birth of Christ. The illustration, washed in hues of purple and rose, sweetly depicts this pivotal event.
Other attractive features of the new book include pastel-colored borders around each page (songs in the same section sport the same color) and a section in the back called “Using the Songbook.” There are also assorted indices of authors and composers, topics, and titles and first lines. The book is easy to read. Two bindings are available—hardback (stock no. PBMU0643) and spiral (stock no. PBMU0705). Each is available at Church distribution centers for $6.25.
While the book’s design and illustrations capture the eye, its songs capture the ear—and the heart. President Grassli feels that “the simplicity of the songs helps us understand some gospel principles better than we could any other way.” Adult Church members will probably find included most of the songs they loved as children. The credit for this goes to the brothers and sisters who were directed to select songs from existing resources for the new book.
Choosing material for the new songbook was an awesome task. Those working on the project had to assemble all the proposed songs and, one by one, march them past committee members for review. “We had a total of 386 songs to consider from present resources,” remembers Virginia Cannon, former first counselor in the Primary General Presidency. To guide the committee in reconciling the claims of sentiment with the demands of space, they relied heavily upon a survey conducted earlier by the Church’s Research and Evaluation Committee.
Even before Dwan Young had been called as Primary General President, a survey had been sent to countries throughout the world, asking Primary leaders to evaluate existing resources. Leaders were instructed to list their Primary’s favorite songs. They were also asked to comment on the familiarity of Primary songs to their children and the frequency with which they were sung.
Some surprising discoveries were made. Sister Graham laughs when she remembers reading some of the survey results. “We discovered that even in the islands children love ‘Once There Was a Snowman’!” Sister Cannon recalls being intrigued by the same thing. “Children in Samoa love the song ‘Falling Snow.’” This type of feedback, however unexpected, was put into the Church’s computer system. All songs were then ranked on the basis of responses from Primary leaders the world over.
Initial decisions about which songs to include were easy enough. Songs appearing at the top of the list of favorites down to a certain point were included in the new publication. Some other songs were no longer appropriate since the elimination of Junior Sunday School from the consolidated schedule. Many of the sacrament songs from Sing with Me, for instance, were left out of the new book. But soon the easy part was over, and remaining songs were rigorously evaluated by many people before final decisions were made.
In addition to evaluating existing material, the group working on the new songbook also decided to include songs covering topics not found in existing resources. Songs were chosen for specific purposes. There was a real effort, for example, to include songs that would meet the needs of the older Primary children. A new song deals with the proper steps of prayer. Another song includes the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We decided we needed a song with the exact title of the Church,” says Sister Graham, “to help our younger children learn to say it sooner.”
Sister Graham believes inspiration was visibly at work. “One composer told us that she had been having a strong feeling about a certain topic,” remembers Sister Graham. “As it turned out, we didn’t have a song about that topic—the premortal existence.” So a new song was composed entitled “I Lived in Heaven.”
One of the new songs included in the Children’s Songbook came about through the efforts of a former Primary board member, who felt strongly that a song addressing the needs of disabled children should be included. It is “I’ll Walk with You.”
A total of 268 songs were decided upon, 17 of them new. Songs were then arranged into an order that, says Sister Graham, “unfolds a story or expresses our beliefs in a logical fashion.” Songs are ordered under the following section titles: My Heavenly Father, The Savior, The Gospel, Home and Family, Heritage, Nature and Seasons, and Fun and Activity. The concluding section contains prelude music—something that was not included in Sing with Me.
But even though the music is grouped into logical sections, says editor Diane Kirk, “we hope the organization of the book doesn’t limit the use of any of the songs. We hope people will refer to the index of topics to broaden the use of each song in the book.”
Brother Moody, who has worked side by side with the Primary General Presidency and board in the production of the songbook, notes that some Primary leaders have complained in the past about songs that seem to be pitched too high. Others have expressed a desire for simpler musical arrangements. For these reasons, the decision was made to set some songs in a lower key and to simplify some of the more difficult arrangements. Many of the songs’ original composers, as well as fine Church musicians such as Darwin Wolford and Grietje Rowley, have assisted in this undertaking. “This will open up songs that are real jewels,” says Sister Cannon, “and make them more accessible to everyone.”
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that simplifying Primary songs has made them less musically interesting. Brother Moody notes that descants, ostinatos, or obbligatos have been added to a number of songs, giving the child, parent, or Primary music leader the option of dressing up a song and adding variety.
Clearly, the countless people involved in making the Children’s Songbook a reality hope that it will be pleasing to those who use it. At the same time, Church members are invited to keep the old resources. “I hope people will keep their old books,” says Brother Moody, “because some of their personal favorites may not be included in the new book.”
It would be impossible to compute the hours that have gone into the creation of Children’s Songbook. Musicians, editors, illustrators, graphic designers, committee and board members—many of them serving on a volunteer basis—have worked hard on the project. It has been a labor of love.
Designer Stan Thurman expresses the feelings of many: “One of the best Church jobs I ever had was teaching in the Primary where I could hear all the songs. That’s why this has been such a fun project for me.”
Fun and inspiring. That’s the new Children’s Songbook!
“Primary songs teach the truth of the gospel in a beautiful and simple way. They are suited for carrying messages to the worldwide Church,” says Michael Moody, chairman of the Church Music Committee. For this reason, the new songbook will be translated into the twenty languages used most often for Church materials.
Test your knowledge. Here is “I Am a Child of God” listed in twenty languages. Can you tell which languages these are?
1. Soy un hijo de Dios
2. Sou um filho de Deus
3. Sono un figlio di Dio
4. Ich bin ein Kind des Herrn
5. Jeg er Guds kære barn
6. Ik ben een kind van God
7. Jag är Guds lilla barn
8. Jeg er Guds kjære barn
9. Je suis enfant de Dieu
10. Oon lapsi Jumalan
11. O Au o se Atalii o le Atua
12. Fanau Au ‘a e ‘Eikí
16. Aku Anak Allah
18. E Tamarii Au na te Atua
20. Au Nona na Kalou