“English Hymnbook Celebrates 20 Years; 21 Languages Have Followed,” Liahona, Aug. 2005, N3–N5
A full 170 years after Emma Smith’s original collection of hymns was published as A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter Day Saints, members of the Church worldwide are now celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1985 English edition of Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The 1985 edition, which includes 341 hymns, was created with the knowledge that it would serve as a prototype for new hymnbooks to be printed in other languages.
The First Presidency Preface to the 1985 hymnbook says, “All [hymns] have been selected to meet the varied needs of today’s worldwide Church membership” (Hymns, ix).
Many of the hymns in the 1985 edition have been translated into 21 languages, and additional translations continue.
When hymns are first translated into a new language, the collection includes 35 hymns and 10 children’s songs. After membership within a language group grows sufficiently, a new hymnbook is translated that includes 107 songs that are standard in every language, a choice of 50 additional hymns that are recommended, and 50 more hymns that are chosen by a committee for each language.
While finding translators with experience in music is difficult at times, Michael Moody, chairman of the general music committee, said the consistency of the hymns included in each language is faith promoting.
“One of the beauties of the Church is that we are united,” Brother Moody said. “It’s marvelous to know that the same messages and music are used worldwide.”
The hymnbook executive committee, the group that chose the hymns for the hymnbook, was called in the early 1980s. The committee was made up of musicians, historians, music editors, and text specialists. There were also several subcommittees and research groups that contributed to the creation of the hymnbook.
The selection committee listened earnestly to feedback and sought to make proper choices, and the Lord’s direct guidance was clearly evident.
Twenty years ago, Brother Moody was invited to attend a meeting in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square for mission presidents. During the meeting, missionaries from the Missionary Training Center marched in singing “Called to Serve” (Hymns, no. 249).
The mood in the building was electric, and although it was late in the selection process, the committee “knew [that hymn] had to go in,” Brother Moody said. The hymn became the last one included in the 1985 edition.
While the 1985 edition of the hymnbook includes 26 hymns that were included in Emma Smith’s original, 92 of the hymns in the 1985 edition were new. Of that total, 44 were new Latter-day Saint compositions.
In addition to the hymns, the 1985 edition also includes a guide titled “Using the Hymnbook” that gives guidance to beginning music directors, instructs how to use hymns for choirs, and offers advice in selecting the right hymn for Church meetings.
Brother Moody said that while the committee was selecting hymns that were memorable, it also strived to choose hymns that would be useful to all members—regardless of musical talent.
The First Presidency Preface in the 1985 edition concludes by saying, “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’” (Hymns, x).
Keeping Time through the Years: A Sampling of English LDS Hymnbooks
1835 A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Emma Smith included 90 hymn texts in this, the Church’s first, hymnbook.
1840 A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Europe. The first of this hymnal’s 25 editions was published in Manchester, England, by Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and John Taylor.
1889 Latter-day Saints’ Psalmody. This was the first large collection of LDS hymns to include musical settings with the text.
1908 Songs of Zion. In contrast to the choir-oriented hymns of the Psalmody, Songs of Zion included about 100 gospel hymns.
1909 Deseret Sunday School Songs. Although this book was intended for use in Sunday School, Deseret Sunday School Songs became the most popular hymnbook in the Church at the time.
1927 Latter-day Saint Hymns. This hymnal combined the best of Latter-day Saints’ Psalmody, Songs of Zion, and other selections and was used alongside Deseret Sunday School Songs.
1948 Hymns, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This book grouped hymns in four general classifications: congregation, choir, men’s voices, and women’s voices.
1985 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This edition includes a diversity of hymns from every generation of Latter-day Saints and has served as the foundation for hymnbooks in 21 languages.