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.
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.
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.” 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.
For more past updates on the hymnal that I’ve shared, here are a few links:
- “The New LDS Hymnbook: Changes and Possibilities” (June 2018)
- “‘Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ Throughout the Restoration” (March 2019)
- “Spanish Hymns and the Future Hymnbook” (April 2019)
- “Updates on the New Hymnbook” (May 2019)
- “A New Update on the New Hymnbook” (November 2020)
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.
 “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.
 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.