The LDS hymnbook as presented in various languages | Courtesy: LDS.org

With what is sure to be welcome news for music enthusiasts and worshipers at large, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced today a new effort to update the church’s hymnbook, which was last revised in 1985.

The effort is truly one of a modern, global church, embracing musical submissions from Church membership via the interwebs, and perhaps more importantly, organizing the hymn order uniformly across the various translations of Hymns.

Elder Enrich W. Kopischke of the Seventy said, “members of the Church, no matter where they live in the world, will have the same hymns and the same songs and the same hymn numbers! We will literally be singing from the same page in every language.”

Lest we be confused, however, this does not mean every hymnbook in every language will be the same from beginning to end. Those who have used the hymnbook in languages other than English will be familiar with the shorter length of those books. The Spanish hymnal, for example, currently contains 209 hymns, whereas the English version has 341.

So will we have more hymns in languages other than English or fewer English-language hymns? The result will likely be somewhere in the middle, with hymnbooks in every language being the same from hymns 1-170 or whatever, and then language-specific works included thereafter. Either way, you and your friends know that we as a people are ignorant to a solid one-third of the English hymnal, anyway. Will those random works be missed by anyone save the most musically wonky among us? Indeed, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stressed the “desire to offer a consistent core collection of hymns and songs in every language that reflects the diverse needs of the global Church in our day” (emphasis added).

Additional hymns specific to a country or region may be added digitally as time goes on, but will not be included in the print edition.

It’s also worth noting that national anthems will no longer be included in the hymn book. Not only was this strange in Commonwealth countries that often had an insert of “God Save the Queen” or “O, Canada!” taped behind the back page, it also suggested fealty to state over God.

That said, the new hymn book will deliberately include works from other countries in an effort to demonstrate the inclusive, global nature of a faith, eschewing decades of exported Americanisms across the faith. This will be truly awesome. Now if they could only bring back native language General Conference talks.

But wait! There’s more! According to LDS.org, the revision process will also:

  • Fill doctrinal gaps
  • Resolve copyright issues from foreign translation restrictions
  • Improve the quality of translations
  • Provide more consistent digital access.

One must wonder which doctrinal gaps need filling in a new hymnbook? Which are currently missing? Two things come to mind, only one of which seems reasonable (the other is just the author being ridiculous): President Nelson’s push for improved temple attendance could mean more hymns about the temple. There are tons of hymns about genealogy and the temple, but not much in the way of modern-day temple love. Secondly, with changes to priesthood and Relief Society lesson structures leaning more heavily on the words of modern-day prophets, it stands to reason that we could use some hymns about General Conference. At the very least, we might get hymns about prophets beyond Joseph Smith (heck, and how about some love for ancient ones. Let’s hear, “Give Me Your Words, Habbakuk” and “Cheer Up, Jeremiah”).

The point about copyright issues from foreign translations has the potential to spell doom for some beloved works. Some tunes, such as “Be Still My Soul” where originally written in a foreign tongue and later translated to English, but are essentially in the public domain. Other hymns, like “Because I Have Been Given Much” can’t even be displayed digitally because of copyright restrictions.

There is a crowdsourcing component. Those interested in providing feedback can visit newmusic.lds.org to give opinions on the current hymnal, desires for change going forward, snooty opinions about chord progressions, lobbying hard for “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” to be restored, etc. In addition, those with an LDS Account can submit their own original works to be included in the new hymnbook. The deadline is July 1, 2019.

“Perhaps the most meaningful hymns and songs of the Restoration have not yet been written,” said Elder LeGrand Curtis of the Seventy. “We encourage our talented members to prayerfully consider what they might add to the body of music already known and loved by the Church.”

This won’t be the first time the Church has accepted submissions for future hymns. Approximately 6,000 original pieces were received for inclusion in the 1985 hymnal, and currently, the Church receives approximately 500 to 700 new submissions every year. Get to work!

What are your guesses on hymns that might be excluded or included? There are many who feel “Praise to the Man” veers too close to idolatry, while others feel it honors an important figure, which is appropriate for a church service. Will “In Our Lovely Deseret,” that sweet homage to the Word of Wisdom, get the ax? Will “Faith in Every Footstep” be formally codified as an actual hymn? You have until July 2019 to voice those opinions.