Hymnal Watch: August 2023

It’s been a bit since we last had an update on the new hymnbook and children’s songbook, but it sounds like we’re getting close to an announcement of the project coming to full fruition.

There have been a couple recent pieces of news that indicate the hymnbook and songbook are probably completed at this point. While there has been occasional misplaced excitement when someone noticed the old music competition winners in the music app the Church maintains, there has been a drought of news since late 2020. Last week, however, the Church gave a strong indication that the project is in the endgame by sending out a request for people to audition for singing the new hymns and songs. It seems like a continuation of the music recordings the Church offers of the hymnbook, with both 4-part recording and soloist recordings anticipated. As stated in the announcement:

Singers of all ages needed for the audio version of the new hymnbook, which will be a central component for incorporating the new music of the Church. Though singers will be contracted on a period basis, the scope of this project will span multiple years.

This paid project will produce two final resources for members of the Church:

  • Melody only recordings – solo voices will help members of the Church learn the melodies of the hymns through accurate and appealing recordings.

  • 4-part recordings – vocal quartets will provide sing-along recordings for families and small Church units, as well as support learning the written harmony lines.

The submission deadline is September 17th, so they are moving fast on this, with the caveat that they note: “Dates for this entire project will span up to several months.” Regardless, though, this was an exciting indication that hymns are selected and ready for recording.[1]

An additional bit of news came in conjunction with BYU’s Education Week, where members of the committees overseeing the hymnbook and children’s songbook project spoke. They noted, in respect to the publication date, “committee members say a press release with more information can be expected soon.” They also explained why the project is taking so long. (As an aside, I feel like the project has actually moved along at a decent pace for this type of thing, it just takes time to do good work.) A few things that were noted as being causes of it taking over five years:

  • The committee read all 48,000 responses they received from the survey they sent out
  • A little thing called the COVID-19 pandemic threw meetings and work into chaos for a little while
  • Efforts to make the hymnbook more inclusive meant coordinating with people from all over the world to take part in the process
  • They had over 17,000 new hymns and songs they had to review (in addition to the 500+ hymns included in current Latter-day Saint hymnals, let alone reviewing possibilities from other Christian denominations)

In an article recording the BYU, Anna Molgard, a member of the hymnbook committee, described the process by which the 17,000 new submissions of hymns have been reviewed:

Molgard said the process consists of a blind review by teams across the globe. The reviewers are asked to rate how well the piece achieves the five goals of sacred music and to note any concerns about the music or text.

Of the initial 17,000 submissions, 900 continued on to be reviewed by the hymnbook and children’s songbook committees, according to Molgard. She said people who submitted pieces that make it to the final consideration will be contacted.

So, they had a lot to go through, a worldwide team to coordinate, and a global pandemic with which to contend. In addition, there are considerations around formatting and translating the hymns in preparation for simultaneous release in the many languages spoken by members of the Church (the previous hymnal is currently in 43 languages, for comparison). And of course, there’s the matter of final decision making by the First Presidency. Five or six years is pretty reasonable with all that taken into account, if you ask me.

Latter-day Saint hymnals and songbooks

Indications are good about the hymnbook having an intention of inclusivity. At the education week, Krenicky noted that: “How can you make sure that everyone sees themselves in this hymnbook regardless of race, nationality, socioeconomic status, gender. … We have to represent everything because the Lord’s children are everywhere.” Ryan Eggett added that “the committee analyzes a song’s sensitivity to cultures, gender and social issues.” Even hymns currently in the hymnbook have undergone this analysis and may be subject to some editing. As Stephen Schank said: “Most of the changes are moderate, but some might be more significant, especially if doctrine needs to be clarified or be more inclusive because it’s not unifying members.”[2] I appreciate that there are some ongoing efforts to make the hymnbook and songbook more inclusive.

I’m not sure exactly what that inclusivity might look like, but I have a few guesses. The mention of gender could be an indication of an effort to make the language more gender-neutral. As an example from outside of the hymnal, I noticed that during the Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas concert in recent years there have been efforts to do this type of adjustment in the hymns and carols they perform. For example, in “Sussex Carol”, the lyrics changed from “Then why should men on earth be so sad? / Since our Redeemer made us glad” to something like: “Then why should we on earth be so sad? / Since our Redeemer made us glad.” (As a side note, several members of the committee are associated with the Tabernacle Choir, so it is somewhat relevant to mention the Choir.) Gender-specific (usually masculine) references are common in the current hymnal, but I have heard from many women, for example, that it is a barrier to them seeing themselves in the hymnal and that it isn’t something that is very unifying for them. For one example of this type of gender-neutral adjustment of our hymns, I recommend an article by Ziff (over at Zelophehad’s Daughters) called “Gender-Neutralizing the Hymns: A Proof of Concept.”

The mention of race and nationality being a focus of inclusiveness is probably the one that intrigues me the most. I’m guessing that might mean the inclusion of hymns and tunes from a broader array of cultures. That’s something I would be excited about (particularly if it means the inclusion of some of the African-American hymns). It likely also could mean the exclusion of some of the more elaborate choral-style hymns (like “The Wintry Day Descending to its Close” or “Lean on My Ample Arm”) and the Utah/Deseret focused texts (like “The Wintry Day Descending to its Close” or “Oh Ye Mountains High”). Those are, however, themes I’ve discussed at length before.

In any case, it’s exciting to hear of progress in the work on the new Latter-day Saint hymnal and children’s songbook.


Further Reading

For more past updates on the hymnal that I’ve shared, here are a few links:


And of course, there’s also my series on The Mexican Mission Hymns if you’re interested in more about some information about some previous Hispanic hymnals the Church has used.



[1] “New Hymnbook Audio Recordings,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/serve/casting/new-hymnbook-audio-recordings?lang=eng, accessed August 29, 2023.

[2] Emma Butler, “New Church hymnbook updates announced at Education Week,” The Daily Universe, August 24, 2023, https://universe.byu.edu/2023/08/24/committee-members-give-an-update-on-the-new-hymnbook/. Accessed August 29, 2023.

25 comments for “Hymnal Watch: August 2023

  1. I imagine any future hymnal will be a much smaller volume, pared down to whatever can be sung uniformly in all branches and wards throughout the world by men and women alike. I wonder if there will be any four-part harmony.

    There are a number of nice, gloomy evening hymns that were carried over into the 1985 hynmbook: Abide with Me; Now the Day is Over; As the Shadows Fall; Abide with Me, ‘Tis Eventide. Before 1980, when sacrament meeting was a stand-alone afternoon gathering that might end around 5 PM, those songs fit well a Sunday in November about to leave the chapel and go out into the cold, blustery world with long shadows soon to be replaced with twilight. Then we quit meeting like that: sacrament meeting would end to 10:10 AM or 1:10 PM with Sunday School starting up in then minutes. Those old evening hymns became orphaned, and I suppose they will be omitted from any future hymnal.

    Likewise priesthood hymns. When the Aaronic and Melchizedek quorums in 2019 stopped gathering toghether, they also largely stopped singing weekly. The president of the church decided there is no purpose in holding General Priesthood Meeting anymore. That leaves stake priesthood meeting as the only occasion men of the church sing together, and we will see how much longer that gathering continues to be convened.

    When older hymns were edited for the 1985 hymnbook, a lot of the changes made the phrases more literal, less figurative and exaggerated. I fear any new hymn editing when choosing between poetic artfulness and meticulously documented hyper-reality will throw away art lest any confusion be possible. Blandness is just the price we will have to pay for the sake of universal accessibility.

  2. Given that they are hiring people specifically to record four-part harmony for the hymnbook, there probably will still be four-part harmony.

    Otherwise, though, I suspect you’re right on most accounts.

  3. I wonder what a new hymnbook will be titled in our current age. Hymns (2024) would suit me fine, but that does not fit the current naming pattern. Preach My Gospel. Come Follow Me. Teaching in the Savior’s Way. The Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square. Jesus Christ will have to be explicitly referenced, even if only by pronoun. Some sort of imperative and a scripture allusion are likely.

    Possible titles:
    Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for Families, Individuals, and Units of the Church
    I Will Praise Thee with My Whole Heart
    Sing the Song of the Lamb
    Have We Not Great Reason to Rejoice?

  4. Wow, I hadn’t considered that the new hymnbook might be smaller. My thought was the opposite, that it would need to be much larger with increased options for an increasingly diverse church. I really hope it’s the latter.

  5. Early rumors were that they were aiming to match the standard size of the translated hymnals, which would put it in the 200-250 hymn range. Who knows how things have evolved and what the end product will be, though.

  6. Seems a shame to restrict it to such a small number, especially given the thousands of examples they are soliciting and reviewing. The Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, and Methodist hymnbooks, for example, are all in the 600-700 range, to say nothing of supplements and alternate books.

  7. Personally, I wish we would sing Onward, Christian Soldiers more frequently but I suspect it isn’t PC enough anymore.

    And, I wonder if we will have song practice at the beginning of Sunday school like they did when the current hymnal was released in 1985.

  8. We actually sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” at my dear wife’s recent memorial service. We both loved the hymn. The war begun in heaven is still be waged here on Earth.

  9. Bob Kearns,

    May you be comforted at this time of loss. I’m confident that you already find some degree of comfort in knowing that you’ll be reunited with your sweet wife.

  10. The hymnal is part of the reform messaging President Nelson is spear-heading. So, you can bet your bottom dollar that every hymn included will be Christ-centered. It will feel like a hymnal of all sacrament hymns. And, since everyone in the red seats is geriatric…everything chosen will be as slow as whale song.

    I heard through the grapevine that If You Could Hie to Kolob was axed. As much as we love the tune, Kolob isn’t something easily explained to investigators, neither is it “on message” or correlated.

    I’m 100% sure the new hymnal will be culturally innocuous, but not culturally diverse. Why? Because the few examples of slightly non-western ethically diverse songs we have incorporated have resulted in abysmal results. These are the three examples I came up with off the top of my head- but there probably aren’t many more at all across our hymnody. We don’t receive diverse music in our ears well, neither do we assimilate it (appropriate it?) respectfully.

    1) the much criticized Kletzmer piece“Follow the Prophet” which I’ve argued is the subject of (at best) cultural intolerance and implicit bias and (at worst) anti-semitism.

    2) the Calypso song “we are different”. It’s short and mostly ignored.

    3) Book of Mormon Stories- with its completely inaccurate portrayal of native music through the trope of pounding parallel 5ths, relies on 19th c vaudeville and stage cliches of “Indian” culture brought to you by the same people, place and time that gave us black face.

  11. Hymns sung at the Sabbath are one of the most unifying aspects of all our worship. I have never been able to hold a proper tune, and so I rely heavily on those around me to carry me through our sacrament meetings. The sense of community that arises with collective Christ-centered song is one of the most powerful ministering technologies we have as a Church—something we might take for granted at times. I know of a few good members who have left the Church over historical or doctrinal issues, who return from time to time to partake—perhaps not in the physical bread or water, but certainly in the Body of the congregation and in the Spirit that resonates. My hope is that leadership will approach hymns as the primitive Church likely approached Psalms—that we might be able to accept the hymnbook as a function of poetry and scripture.

    Outside LDS hymns, I love the sound and spirit of Russian Orthodox hymns: I hope a few find a place in our hymnbook. How powerful would it be, if the Tabernacle Choir produced an event or tour, dedicated to Christ-centered peace between Latter-Day Saints of Ukraine and Russia…

  12. I hope Mortimer is wrong, but I fear he is right. I fear some great hymns will be removed, both in the English version but also in other language versions — I don’t like the thought of reducing to 200 or so hymns — I think having the same 200 or so hymns in every language version is unnecessary and will be actually harmful (and seen as Americanizing an already-Americanized church) — I think our downhill slope of pitiful congregational singing will continue downhill.

    I wish the hymnbook committee members every blessing and so forth, and I appreciate the need for some high-brow professional musicology inputs, but the reality is that we need some music for the low-brow types like me — we need some marching hymns, so to speak — we need hymns of praise and rejoicing — we need some of the old hymns.

    A hymnbook of sacrament hymns will be a sad outcome. A hymnbook of hymns selected to prove we are Christian will be a sad outcome. A hymnbook that is overly-correlated will be a sad outcome. A hymnbook of didactic hymns will be a sad outcome.

    Best wishes to the members of the hymnbook committee.

    I wish there was some transparency into their progress — like an updated list of the old hymns already tentatively decided not to include, the new hymns already tentatively decided for inclusion, and so forth.

  13. I also agree that Mortimer is correct in her assessment that it will be part of the Christianizing reforms of our time, but I don’t know that all of they hymns will be slow, choral-style hymns. A lesson learned from the experiences of the music committee in the 1940s–1970s was that they were too high-browed in their approach and that didn’t go over well, including among the general authorities. The 1985 hymnal is reactive to that, which is why those more upbeat hymns are still in there. The inclusion of final approval by the First Presidency is likely just a mechanism to set expectations up front and avoid some of the problems of that early era’s hymnbook creation around ownership and general authority involvement in the process.

  14. I feel like we have enough low-brow hymns in the book already. (“Sunday School song” types…ugh. If I never have to sing “Scatter Sunshine” again, I’ll be happy.) I want to see some of the “greats” that have stood the test of time in other Christian religions. My biggest fear is that in an effort to accommodate the featuring of LDS composers and their 20,000+ submissions, we’ll still be without the many absolutely stellar hymns that form the bedrock of Christian hymnody.

    Musical preference is obviously deeply personal and subjective thing. I think there is a perception that trained musicians run everything and run roughshod over everyone else in the congregation, but the reality is that we don’t get to play what we want to play or sing what we want to sing either. We have to cater to the tastes of bishoprics, others we work with in our callings, and the congregation. Most of my favorite hymns in our current hymnal are rarely sung. If there is to be compromise, surely it should go both ways.

    I too do not like didactic hymns and don’t want more of them. I sing to praise and worship God, not be lectured on how I need to improve.

    I too am dismayed at the thought of too small a hymnal. I’d like to see it expanded significantly, not reduced to 200 or so hymns.

    I want to be excited about the new hymnal, but honestly I’m really nervous and hope it won’t be too much of a disappointment.

  15. There’s a screenshot going around that seems to be a draft of a message that was accidentally published, then removed from the Church’s site. It states:
    “Hymns—for Home and Church”, the title of which has been approved by the First Presidency, will contain between 450 to 500 hymns and children’s songs and will be used worldwide for worship at home and at church. An early digital release of music will be digitally available in May 2024.”

  16. So, if that’s true, does that mean the hymnal and children’s songbook are being combined into one? I actually kind of like that idea.

  17. From the link above: “The consolidated and unified hymnbook means Latter-day Saint congregations throughout the world will in time worship with the same hymnbook, numbered the same in every language.” That will be nice for stake conference. My stake currently announces three hymn numbers each time for the English, Spanish, and Mandarin hymnbooks. Producing a unified hymnbook that has 450+ hymns is very ambitious, and wonderful that effort is being invested in that. I guess the current church is able to think big about other things besides building new temples.

  18. I couldn’t help but notice the detail that the first print editions are scheduled to come out simultaneously in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. As a veteran translator, I can assure you that the translation side of this is a massive effort, especially if there are, say, a hundred to two hundred new hymns. In essence, new poetry must be written that conveys the overall message of the original lyric in language that is not only grammatical but beautiful and natural to the congregants or performers, that scans with the music, and that passes doctrinal muster. Google Translate or ChatGPT? Nope, this is a task that will be beyond the abilities of large language models for quite some time (and I doubt the Church would go for that approach anyway).

  19. Thanks Samuel! I grabbed most of my personal collection of Latter-day Saint hymnals to make the photo.

  20. Thanks, Chad, Ji, and Raymond Winn.

    Just a few extra points:

    * The tempo and melodic lines of general conference music has slowed down and flattened considerably over the past 20 years. Maybe it’s the difference between Otley and Wilberg, but this trend has been oft discussed on the bloggernacle. There’s no way that this new hymnal isn’t exponentially more “reverent” (I.e. a step toward geriatric monastic chanting).

    * Lisa, the new title of the hymnal “hymns for use in the home and church” tells us that they love all things didactic from didactic titles to didactic hymns. I’m surprised it wasn’t titled “Hymns- for dummies”.

    *The most beautiful LDS hymnal is the German Hymnal, followed closely by the French Hymnal. I have long advocated for the music committee in SLC to delegate all hymnody to the German, Austrian and French saints. When other missions produce a volume of inspiring hymns- they can do the next world-wide edition. In lieu of Salt Lake never wanting to delegate anything to anyone, I wish they would have added both German and French hymnals into one great tome.

    *T.M.Overley, I too love Orthodox hymnody. I submitted several hymns from various Orthodox traditions for inclusion in the new hymnal- BEFORE Russia invaded UKR. Sadly, right now, adopting Russian Orthodox hymns would throw a heavily symbolic and a political message of support to Russia and the supporting Russian Orthodox leaders. Likewise- Ukrainian Orthodox hymns would be a not-so-subtle sign of the support that the church tries to avoid in its neutrality. As much as I want to see Russian-Ukranian peace, a MoTab concert of melded music would only go to promote the pan-Slavism Russia currently promotes and is using as a rationale for its position of aggression and occupation of the Donbas and a Crimea. (Similarly, a concert of British-American melodies and a musical celebration of our British roots performed during 1776 or 1812 would have been perceived as pro-Tory, and eschewed by the patriots.) Maybe one day a Slavic MoTab concert could grace our ears, but that day is not today.

    *Thanks for the history regarding high and low brow LDS hymns. Perhaps today the tone that needs to be struck is between traditional sacred music and pop gospel music (Christian rock, evangelical praise music, gospel rock, etc.) I’m a traditionalist, but can see the committee swaying to (blech!) Christian soft rock to pander to the dwindling millennials and younger generations. (Perhaps the song “how beautiful is the body of Christ”, or “Gethsemane” as popularized by little LDS 3 year old Claire Ryan will be the tone for the primary and/or ward hymnal. After all, President Nelson played a duet with little Claire, gospel bands fill BYU tv shows like “grace notes”, FSY stages, Utah-based YA events, LDS-cruise entertainment, Time Our for Women and Deseret Book. I cringe thinking about it, but it’s on-message and “modernized”.) I believe one of the BYU music faculty plays in a Christian rock or worship band as well.

    Following evangelical trends worries me for symbolic, doctrinal, and political reasons. It would be a pity to give up on our vested interest in a uniquely LDS spiritual aesthetic. Who knows- maybe our LDS composers came through for us (we’re all praying for them.)

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