Conversation: Learning and Singing Hymns

“Conversation: Learning and Singing Hymns,” Ensign, Aug. 1994, 79–80

Conversation: Learning and Singing Hymns

The First Presidency has emphasized the importance of learning and singing hymns—at church and at home. To learn how hymn singing can become a larger part of our public and personal worship, the Ensign talked with Michael F. Moody, chairman of the Church General Music Committee.

Question: Why is inspirational music such an important part of worship services?

Answer: Music is one of the most effective ways to teach the gospel and to inspire members. Hymns deliver a powerful message, and they invite the Spirit. Hymns also stir feelings and evoke memories of past experience. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve has said, “Music is of enormous importance in our worship services. I believe that those who choose, conduct, present, and accompany the music may influence the spirit of reverence in our meetings more than a speaker does” (Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 22). That may be why, when you look at the outline of a normal sacrament meeting, so many of the items involve music: the prelude, the opening hymn, the sacrament hymn, special musical selections, the closing hymn, and the postlude.

When the new hymnbook was issued in 1985, the First Presidency suggested that members and families might be invited to perform their favorite hymns as musical numbers during sacrament meeting. The First Presidency also encouraged ward and branch leaders to assign speakers to talk about the importance of worthy music and the value of singing hymns (see Ensign, Nov. 1985, pp. 108–9).

Q: Is hymn singing equally important in other Church meetings?

A: Yes. In addition, when appropriate, lessons may include singing or quoting from the hymns. It is also valuable to play recorded presentations of the hymns in priesthood groups and quorums, in Relief Society, and in Young Women, Sunday School, and Primary classes.

If we could train ourselves to realize that hymns are gospel sermons, if we could assimilate their messages and let the music speak to our spirits, we would be edified.

Q: In light of the recent elimination of hymn practice before Sunday School, are there other ways we can continue to learn and practice hymns?

A: The elimination of hymn practice does not lessen the value of the hymns or the importance of inspirational music in our lives. Church members are still encouraged to learn and sing the hymns, but now they must be more personally responsible—both in church and at home.

We suggest that priesthood and music leaders encourage members to join in congregational singing, and that these leaders also foster the singing of both familiar and less-known hymns. And we encourage increased participation in choirs. As stated in the preface to the hymnbook, “Latter-day Saints have a long tradition of choir singing. Every ward and branch in the Church should have a choir that performs regularly.”

We recommend that ward choirs sing in at least two sacrament meetings each month throughout the year. Sacrament meetings give ward choirs a great opportunity to inspire the congregation. These minutes of music are moments well spent, because music teaches the gospel with extra power.

We encourage choirs to use the hymnbook as their basic resource. Other music in keeping with the spirit of the hymns of the Church may be used, but I’ve become convinced that a hymn is often the most inspiring and appropriate musical selection a vocalist or instrumentalist could perform. Familiarity strikes a responsive chord. Even if the lyrics are not presented, their message is still there during instrumental presentations of the hymns. In sacrament meetings, choir music may be supplemented occasionally by appropriate music performed by vocal or instrumental soloists or small groups.

Q: What can Church members do at home to better learn and appreciate the hymns?

A: In the preface to the hymnbook, families are encouraged to have and use the hymnbook in the home. Parents are encouraged to teach the hymns to their children and to sing hymns as lullabies. The First Presidency also encourages members to sing hymns as they work, play, and travel together. Hymn singing is a great enhancement to family life. A hymn is a prayer (see D&C 25:12), and as such, it provides a wonderful preparation to scripture reading and family prayer. Singing is a wonderful way to teach children the gospel and to bring the Spirit into a home.

Q: Has the Church Music Department produced resources to help families learn the hymns?

A: We have a lot of materials to help families bring the music of the Church into their homes. We have the basic hymnbook and an abridged version called Selected Hymns, which features sixty of our most beloved hymns. We have an audio version of Selected Hymns on six cassette tapes, as well as an audio version of Hymns, which presents all the hymns in the hymnbook performed on piano and on string and woodwind instruments.

We have Hymns and Children’s Songs, a set of six audiocassettes of instrumental music that includes all the hymns and songs in the Gospel Principles manual. The music is designed for use during worship services. Each cassette side includes prelude music, an opening hymn, a sacrament hymn, a closing hymn, and postlude music. Parents can create an appreciation of the hymns by using these materials at home. The recordings are a valuable tool for bringing the Spirit into the home.

We also have a new Church Music Handbook. In addition to the music handbook published in 1975, we have periodically published a series of guidebooks on music skills for organists and conductors, and guidelines for choral music, children’s music, and youth music. There was a lot of material there. The Brethren wanted to put all the basic policies, procedures, and guidelines into one book—the new Church Music Handbook. We also have new Basic Music Course kits for developing keyboard and conducting skills.

Q: What can wards and stakes do to enhance music education?

A: Stake music chairmen and ward music chairmen should evaluate the training needs of their own units and find ways to provide for those needs. Training programs could be held in a ward or branch or on a stake basis. The ward music chairman, for example, could arrange to have someone teach conducting skills or keyboard skills during a weekday evening. Most wards need to develop a broader base of talent in organ and piano playing skills and in music conducting skills. A stake music chairman also might consider getting ward choir directors together for a seminar to strengthen them in their skills and knowledge.

Music can really make a difference in strengthening members and in increasing the spirituality of our meetings. I’m hoping that members of the Church will follow the counsel of our leaders by making better use of music and by taking advantage of the resources the Church has provided.

Suggestions for Learning and Singing Hymns

  • Encourage all members to join in congregational singing.

  • Sing both familiar and lesser-known hymns.

  • Have the choir sing hymns to help the congregation become more familiar with them, especially hymns that are not well known.

  • Encourage vocal and instrumental soloists and small groups to perform hymns as special musical selections.

  • Encourage speakers and instructors to reinforce gospel messages by quoting or referring to the hymns.

  • Reinforce a pattern of singing hymns during all regular Church meetings, including opening exercises in priesthood meeting Relief Society, Young Women, and Mutual, and during Primary.

  • Renew a pattern of singing hymns in leadership, training, and other special Church meetings, whether large or small.

  • Encourage the use of hymns for funeral services.

  • Encourage individuals and families to learn and sing the hymns in their homes. Possibilities include singing on the Sabbath, in family home evening, during scripture study, at prayer time, and at other times. Suggest that they consider using recordings of hymns available through Church distribution centers.

  • Encourage members to read and become familiar with the “First Presidency Preface” and “Using the Hymnbook” sections of the hymnbook (see Hymns, 1985, pp. ix–x, 379–86).

Michael F. Moody