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Hymns And Hymnody

by Karen Lynn Davidson

Hymns have been central to the LDS tradition of worship from the earliest days of the Church. Latter-day Saints revere their hymnbook almost as scripture because of their belief that the first LDS hymnal had its origins in divine commandment. In July of 1830, only three months after the Church was organized, Joseph Smith's wife Emma Smith was instructed to "make a selection of sacred hymns…to be had in my church" (D&C 25:11). The resulting 1835 volume, A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints, included among its ninety hymns a number of original, distinctively LDS texts. For example, two by the book's co-editor William W. Phelps, "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning" (Hymns 1985, No. 2) and "Now Let Us Rejoice" (Hymns 1985, No. 3) celebrate the restoration of the latter-day Church. These and other original hymns were printed alongside well-known Protestant texts by such authors as Isaac Watts and Reginald Heber. A second hymnal, expanded to 304 hymns, was printed in Nauvoo in 1841.

Under the direction of Brigham Young, Parley Pratt, and John Taylor, a volume familiarly known as the Manchester Hymnal was printed in Manchester, England, in 1840. Formally titled A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Europe, this book served as the principal hymnbook of the English-speaking Saints for many decades. Converts from the british isles brought it with them when they traveled to join the main body of the Saints in Utah. New hymns, most of them American in origin, were added to each later edition, but the Manchester Hymnal continued to be published in England until 1890. By 1912 it had gone through twenty-five editions. Like Emma Smith's hymnal and most others of the time, it printed the texts but not the music.

Emma Smith had looked forward to the day when the Saints would be "blessed with a copious variety of the songs of Zion," as she wrote in the preface to the first hymnbook. Her hopes were fulfilled; early LDS hymn writers continued to add important original hymns on such distinctive doctrines as the premortal life (Eliza R. Snow, "O My Father," Hymns 1985, No. 292), the latter-day restoration (Parley P. Pratt, "An Angel from on High," Hymns 1985, No. 13), and the gathering of the Saints to Utah (William G. Mills, "Arise, O Glorious Zion," Hymns 1985, No. 40).

In 1886 President John Taylor called together a committee to provide a musical supplement to the Manchester Hymnal. The result was the Latter-day Saints' Psalmody, which was published in Salt Lake City in 1889 and went through six more editions. The Psalmody emphasized home composition, that is, new music that was written by such LDS composers as George Careless and Ebenezer Beesley to accompany the old texts in the Manchester Hymnal. For some of the longer texts in the Psalmody, only the first few verses were printed.

During the 1870s and 1880s the Sunday school and primary organizations began to print hymns and songs, singly and in collections, for their own use. In 1873 the Sunday School began publishing Sunday School hymns in the juvenile instructor magazine, and in 1880, under the direction of Eliza R. Snow, the Primary published a volume of texts and a companion volume of tunes.

In earlier decades the line between official and unofficial hymnbooks was not clearly drawn, and some of the LDS hymnals were private undertakings. An unofficial hymnbook, Songs of Zion, compiled by German Ellsworth and published in Chicago, became extremely popular. It went through eleven editions between 1908 and 1925.

Deseret Sunday School Songs, published by the Sunday School in 1909, was intended as a Sunday School songbook rather than a general worship hymnal. However, because so many Latter-day Saints loved its gospel-song hymns, with their energetic rhythms and simple exhortative texts, several of its hymns have found a secure place among the Mormons. "Master, the Tempest Is Raging" (Hymns 1985, No. 105) and "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel" (Hymns 1985, No. 252) are two examples. The 1927 Latter-day Saint Hymns, a volume of more dignified and traditional hymns, was intended to supplement Deseret Sunday School Songs as the hymnal for Sacrament meetings.

Hymns: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, printed in 1948, replaced both the 1927 hymnbook and Deseret Sunday School Songs. Many Church members were disappointed, however, to find that the 1948 hymnal omitted some favorites from among those in the Deseret Sunday School Songs and other sources. Responding to popular preference, the Church printed a new edition in 1950, restoring such well-established hymns as "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" (Hymns 1985, No. 29) and "Have I Done Any Good?" (Hymns 1985, No. 223).

The 1950 hymnal retained official status until 1985, when it was replaced by Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This hymnal, published 150 years after Emma Smith's first one, retains almost one-third of the hymns she originally chose—a remarkable tribute to her judgment and to the well-defined and enduring nature of the LDS hymn tradition. There is little that is revolutionary about the new hymnal but much that is significant. Its publication provided an opportunity to omit outdated or little-used hymns in favor of new material of high quality. In all, seventy hymns that were part of the 1950 hymnal were dropped in 1985, and ninety-two new or newly borrowed hymns were added, of which forty-four are LDS contributions wholly or in part. Hymns by present-day LDS contributors continue to reflect Church thinking and concerns: fasting (Nos. 138, 139), home and family (Nos. 298, 300), missionary work (Nos. 253, 263), and so forth. Out of a total of 358 contributors, 168 are Latter-day Saints.

The 1985 hymnal shows that, as in the past, LDS hymnody embraces well-known material from other Christian traditions, for example, Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress" (No. 68) and Charles Wesley's "Rejoice, the Lord Is King!" (No. 66). Many of the hymns pair a Latter-say Saint text with a borrowed hymn tune, or an indigenous tune with a borrowed text. Tunes are again drawn from many sources: opera (Nos. 160, 196), popular songs of an earlier time (Nos. 34, 237), folk songs (Nos. 15, 284), and others. The selections overall, especially among the new hymns, reflect a strong denominational preference for traditional styles in both music and text. Because the custom of four-part congregational singing continues in most areas of the Church today, virtually all the hymns are printed with soprano, alto, tenor, and bass lines. Although a number of older gospel songs remain strong favorites, the ballad-type sacred song, important today in the congregational singing of some other denominations, has not found a place in Mormon hymnody.

A committee appointed by the General Authorities of the Church, and working under their guidance, recommended the hymns for the 1985 hymnbook. The goal was to include as many of superior artistic merit as possible while keeping in mind the preferences and needs of the general Church membership; a well-loved hymn ran little risk of being dropped, even if it did not meet high literary or musical standards. In the process of selecting and editing these hymns, certain issues that have become major points of discussion in other denominations presented far fewer difficulties. For example, male-oriented language with reference to God the Father and Jesus Christ was retained, consistent with the LDS concept of them as male. In addition, Latter-day Saints seem fairly comfortable with military metaphors in their hymn texts, though some language dating from times of actual physical conflict, particularly in "Up, Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion" (No. 284), was edited to make it less bellicose. Certain other texts that originally focused on North America were altered to reflect the Church's overall worldwide mission (Nos. 91, 290).

The present hymnbook is divided into eleven sections: Hymns about the Restoration, Praise and thanksgiving, Prayer and Supplication, Sacrament, Easter, Christmas, Special Topics, Children's Songs, For Women, For Men, and Patriotic. The national anthems of the United States of America and the United Kingdom are included, and anthems for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are available separately.

An eight-page appendix called "Using the Hymnbook" provides instructions for directors and organists. It is followed by seven indexes: Authors and Composers; Titles, Tunes, and Meters; Tune Names; Meters; Scriptures (an index correlating scriptural passages with hymn texts); Topics; and First Lines and Titles. Scripture references also appear with each hymn.

Subsequently, the Church Music Committee identified one hundred hymns from the 1985 hymnbook as the standard core of hymns to be published in other languages, with a list of fifty optional additional hymns. The remaining hymns in non-English hymnbooks reflect the choices and contributions of the members in the particular language areas. In this way the Church strives to preserve in its international hymnbooks a balance between Churchwide tradition and local preference.

The Children's Songbook, published in 1989, follows The Children Sing (1951) and Sing with Me (1969) as the official music resource for the Primary organization. With its straightforward messages and attractive melodies, its simplified accompaniments, and its many color illustrations, the Children's Songbook is intended to appeal directly to children as well as to their parents and teachers.

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Cornwall, J. Spencer. Stories of Our Mormon Hymns. Salt Lake City, 1975.

Davidson, Karen Lynn. Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages. Salt Lake City, 1988.

Macare, Helen Hanks. "The Singing Saints: A Study of the Mormon Hymnal, 1835-1950." Ph.D. diss., UCLA, 1961.

Moody, Michael F. "Contemporary Hymnody in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 1972.

Pyper, George D. Stories of Latter-day Saint Hymns. Salt Lake City, 1939.

Weight, Newell B. "An Historical Study of the Origins and Character of the Indigenous Hymn Tunes of the Latter-day Saints." D.M.A. diss., University of Southern California, 1961.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Hymns and Hymnody

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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