Dear 100 Hour Board,
I've been thinking about hymns lately. I know that we're not set for a new hymnbook in the immediate future, but let's pretend. If we were to embrace Tally M.'s revision of the hymnbook in Board Question #83515, there would be a lot of extra room in the hymnbook. There's a lot of possibilities for what could fill this extra room. In Board Question #58131, Gimgimno said,
It wouldn't surprise me if just about all of The Choirbook made the next cut, as well as other traditional Christian hymns like "It Is Well With My Soul." Heck, even some translated hymns might make it in, like "Thus Saith The Lord" from the Tongan hymnal. I can also see choir pieces making it in, too--"O Divine Redeemer" and "This Is The Christ" are obvious possibilities.
I had never heard of The Choirbook before, to be perfectly frank, but I know that the official Church online library has a veritable plethora of hymns and songs that aren't in the hymnbook and I know (although for the life of me the Archives are not being forgiving today) that a Board member wrote a Sacrament hymn in response to a question once. I also know that there is a wealth of non-LDS hymns (both originally in English and translatable to English) that would enrich our hymnbook.
So my question for each of you writers (and no rush on the 100 hours thing -- take your time) is how would you fill either a second volume of hymns or the space left over after Tally M. mercilessly prunes the hymnbook? Would you look for more songs written by members of the Church, look to other Christian denominations and traditions, look to other languages, sing the current hymns with different tunes, or have us adopt Gregorian or Anglican chant?
-Actually rather musically illiterate
I propose that we a) bring back Gregorian chant and b) start doing our services in Latin. Also, we should bring back Latin. And Greco-Roman art. And class.
Firstly, I am mostly okay with Tally's cuts to the hymnbook, but not 100% okay (I mean she cut "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" which is the song they sing in The Restoration when that one random preacher yells "Hallelujah!" and the comedic opportunities for when you sing it in church are just too good to let go.)
(Also "Nearer, Dear Savior, to Thee" and "Guide Me to Thee?" What the heck, Tally?)
(Okay I need to talk about other things than my issues with Tally's cuts, but really? "Once In Royal David's City?" "Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd?" "Behold, A Royal Army?!?!" Man.)
(SHE CUT "O My Father" HOW ELSE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO SING ABOUT HEAVENLY MOTHER TALLY? HMM? HMMMMMMMM?)
Okay, wow. I was so flustered that I almost forgot my second point, which is this: "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" has been overplayed and is maybe a tad bit overrated. Yes, it sounds beautiful with the MoTab, but I doubt it would sound as pretty when played in the average congregation.
Thirdly: When I first saw this question come in, I was going to suggest a bunch of material from The Lower Lights' discography, but when I got to thinking about it, I actually changed my mind. I love those songs so much, but the reason that I love them is that I can sing along at the top of my lungs when I'm driving around in my car (so, if you ever pull up next to a crazy guy with curly hair that's belting "Old Time Religion" at the top of his lungs, congratulations: you just met a Board writer). Sacrament meeting is a time for reverence, and singing The Lower Lights reverently would suck all the fun out of it.
So, my counter-proposal is that instead of gouging the hymnbook and replacing its songs, we create some new meeting or opportunity where we can all sing spirituals/devotionals/folk hymns at the top of our lungs like we're a bunch of Baptists or something.
The 1985 version of the hymnbook was an important update from the 1955 version. It was about more than what hymns to include—a lot of things were fixed about the arrangements themselves. A lot of voice parts were rewritten to sound better, and some hymns were transposed into keys that are easier to play. Overall, the hymnbook became a lot more polished and ready to use by a worldwide church.
Currently, I don't see a huge need for a new hymnbook. What we have is quite polished, and fairly deeply set into our tradition and culture. Sure, we might be missing a hymn or two, and there's some that have fallen out of use, but I don't think that warrants a complete overhaul.
However, I think we need more resources for choirs. The Choirbook is great, and was used all the time, but it's a bit dated. In my opinion, we're quite short on quality arrangements for choirs. We could do with a bit more that's accessible, and yet better quality than all the free stuff out there.
YES to this question.
Recently I wrote an answer that mentioned that even our exciting songs have gotten boring, maybe because we don't know, or just have forgotten...I don't know, how to sing not for show? I don't know about you, but my soul does not often feel "delighted" when I sing songs in church, and I have friends who don't like to sing because they feel their voice isn't good enough. And that to me just seems to be missing the point of why we have hymns.
I'm not sure if it's the songs' fault or mine that I feel this way. I think more than anything I just like congruence. I mean, when I'm singing for 3 verses about where I may not go, or what I may or may not say, all to be an instrument of the Lord, then I don't mind singing a slow and steady rhythm with a tempered melody. That fits. But...well, I can't think of an example for our hymn book right now. But have you ever seen Sister Act 2? (If you haven't, you should soon/you should ask me a question about my thoughts on it, 'cause I'm trying to stick to the topic on hand and I'm already having a hard time.) In it, two choirs perform the song "Joyful, Joyful," and they both sing it well, but one sounds obligated to sing it, and the other actually sounds full of joy.
I'm sure one day, when my body has been refined enough, I'll really enjoy strict precision in music. But right now, as a very imperfect, not too refined but still soulful, mortal being, I love to sing what I feel matches me. I like dissonance that resolves and then shows up again. I like variety within the verses. I apparently really like rap breaks and battles. I just like...soul in songs.
After I expressed some of these feelings to my roommates, they said, "So...you're Baptist." And you know, Nah, but I apparently like the way they do things. I also really enjoyed the singing at the Black, White, and Mormon conference some time ago, and watching musical numbers in the LDS Swahili branch when I attended with my brother last year. One time the choir started a call-and-response from the congregation and continued it as they walked up to the stand. It was legit.
And to be honest, this all probably goes back to how familiar I am with the hymns I usually sing. It's harder for me to be interested in what's always near.
With all that in mind, here are some songs I like that I feel are songs/prayers of the heart:
- The "chains are gone" version of "Amazing Grace." Noteworthy knocked this one out of the park.
- "Ngahulele": Found this one on the final track of a South African music CD that I got at DI for a dollar. According to this website, this is the translation:
Redeem me Lord
Set me free From the deceiver
Who creeps in like a snake
You are seated On the right hand of God
You are my refuge
Where I find life
You are seated On the right hand of God
Send the light Of God
To light my path
To lead me to heaven
So I can see you Lord
You are seated On the right hand of God
"Eyes on the Sparrow" (found in Sister Act 2, but also elsewhere)
"Eyes on the Prize," especially as done by Julia Easterlin. It's something to note that in the linked version she says "I've got my hands on the freedom plow," but in another version it's "gospel plow."
"Nga Waka": A Maori song that tells the story of the 7 ships their ancestors used in the journey to New Zealand. We're doing a dance to this in my Polynesian Dance class, and it's really fun that we can fill in the harmonies as we feel able.
- "You Will Be Found": Yeah, super un-hym-like in the traditional sense, but super hymn-like in other ways. (Either way, not sure I'm proposing this go in any official hymn book ever.)
Reasons for putting them in a hymn book: They're good and they're important. And it's easier to realize things are important when they're written down and seen.
Reasons for not putting them in a hymn book: They're not everyone's songs and they don't have to be. Some treasures are better appreciated if they're harder to find, and some treasures should be left where they are.
Finally, I think there's a lot to be said for needed reverence in certain circumstances, and an acknowledgement that the gospel is never really boisterous. But there are also times for righteous rejoicing; Rob Gardner illustrates this really well in Lamb of God's "Hosanna." There's an exchange in it (taken from Luke 19) where the Pharisees are like, "Um, whoa, the people are not being very reverent. They need to chill," and Christ is like, "No, you don't get it. This is okay."
I know that still happens today, because it's happened with me. So I've been trying to take a different approach that helps me see the good in the world.
I was trying to pick hymns for Mother's Day recently, and we need more hymns about women. We have hymns about prophets, God, and Christ, and those are all obviously really important topics, but we have hardly anything about women. One of the only ones, "As Sisters In Zion," is specifically designated as a "women's" hymn and is never sung in Sacrament Meeting.
Father's Day hymns can easily be chosen based on songs about Heavenly Father, especially because it's very common to talk about fatherhood at church through the lens of comparing earthly fathers to Heavenly Father. It would be nice if we had more hymns about Heavenly Mother. It would be nice if we had more hymns about motherhood and sisterhood and womanhood, even if they were in the women's section. It would be nice if we could have hymns that talk about Joseph and Emma.
I made the congregation sing "As Sisters In Zion" as the closing hymn, and for what it's worth, it worked fairly well, since most people just sing the melody even in hymns that have a four-part harmony anyways.