Mormon Hymns

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In worship services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, each meeting begins and ends with a hymn and a prayer. In addition, a hymn is sung during the preparation of the Sacrament (Communion). The Sacrament hymn focuses on the atonement of Jesus Christ, in order to help members begin to focus their own attention on the Savior as they partake of the Sacrament.

The preface to the current Mormon hymnal specifies that the hymnal was meant to be used in the home as well. Families are encouraged to sing them as a family and to use them as lullabies for children.

Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.
Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end (First Presidency Preface to Hymns).

Even many Mormons are surprised by the number of hymns in the hymnal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church) that are not originally Mormon, but are sung throughout Christendom. In July 1830, shortly after The Church of Jesus Christ was organized, God directed Emma Hale Smith, wife of the prophet Joseph Smith, to compile a volume of sacred Christian hymns for the use of the Saints. This revelation is recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of modern revelations.

And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church. For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads (Doctrine and Covenants 25:11-12).

This task took some years for Emma to complete, as the Latter-day Saints suffered almost constant persecution and were forced to move from place to place. From the beginning of the restoration of the gospel, however, talented Mormons were writing their own praises to God in music.

Mormon hymns
The first hymns of the LDS Church were published by William Wines Phelps in June, 1832 in Independence, Missouri. These appeared as text only (no music) in The Evening and the Morning Star, the church’s semimonthly newspaper. Many of these lyrics were written by Phelps, while others were borrowed from various Protestant sources. The first of these hymns published by Phelps was “What Fair One is This.” [1]

In September 1835 Emma was again counseled to compile a hymn book. The volume created also lacked musical notations, was lyrics only, and printed in the cheapest manner possible. Hymns previously published in church periodicals were included. Less than a dozen of these hymnals currently exist, and they are very valuable to collectors. Church members sang the words to familiar tunes and sometimes a single song would be sung to several different tunes at different times and one tune might be applied to several different hymns. It was designed to be carried in a pocket, so it was very small. The hymnal contained just ninety songs, a mixture of newer music written by church members and traditional Protestant hymns.

In 1840, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor published a words-only hymnal for the church in Manchester, England, where they were serving as Mormon missionaries, which they nicknamed the “Manchester Hymnal.” This volume went through many printings over a number of years (25 editions between 1840 and 1912). In this case, too, the Saints knew the tunes from memory, since the editions continued to be words only. The printing of the Manchester Hymnal eventually moved to Salt Lake City.

The next edition of a Mormon hymnal was printed in Nauvoo, in 1841. An expanded version of the Manchester hymnal, the new book contained 304 hymns (340 pages plus an index). The music was composed by five of the Church’s top musicians, all former or future conductors or organists for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Each was given one-fifth of the hymns and assigned to create a formal tune. There were several hundred hymns, so this process required some time to complete. Many of the songs were created for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and so much of the book was choir-oriented. The process, which included meeting weekly to play their hymns to the others for critiquing, took three years.

A small LDS hymnal was published in Vermont in 1844, and this one included music for eighteen hymns. Published in 1889, The Latter-day Saints’ Psalmody finally included music for the hymns. This edition was cross-referenced to the Manchester Hymnal. “Budding composers in the church were encouraged to submit new tunes to fit the new and old lyrics. Most of the old tunes were cast aside without ever having been committed to print, and the memory of them was quickly lost.” [2] Ninety-five of these hymns are still sung in the Church today.

Peripheral hymnbooks were compiled in 1908 and 1909 by LDS mission presidents and the Deseret Sunday School. They contained hymns with simpler music and annotations that were melodic and easier to sing. The latter volume was especially popular. Another short volume was the “Songs of Zion.” Thus for a short time in the early 1900’s, there were four hymnals for the Church. In 1927 the Church Music Committee combined hymns into one volume called “Latter-day Saint Hymns.” The volume contained 421 Hymns, 128 of which still appear in the most current LDS hymnal. The Sunday School hymnal was used separately until 1948.

In 1948 – 1950 a new volume was published which added the best hymns from the Sunday School hymnal, for a total of 391 hymns. The volume was titled “Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” About half of the hymns still came from non-LDS sources.

The latest volume of hymns for the Church was published in 1985, after the Church asked the Saints what hymns were their favorites and invited submissions of newly-written hymns. This currently-used volume is called “Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” In English this volume contains 341 hymns, with various iterations printed in many foreign languages. The volume includes hymns for men’s-only and women’s-only choruses. The hymns are organized generally around themes, with Christmas and Easter hymns clustered, sacrament hymns together, etc. Twenty-six hymns in the book are from the 1835 edition, but the tunes may be different.

One hymn from the Church’s earliest volume that has been left out of the newest hymnal is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” It has become immensely popular in the Church and is often sung by choirs, including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Its spiritual power makes it a shoe-in for any future publication of an updated LDS hymnal.

The children’s auxiliary of the Church (called the “Primary”) has its own songbook, called “The Children’s Songbook,” and new hymns and songs are written all the time for youth conferences and special events.

To encourage people to become better acquainted with music,, the official Mormon website for members, includes a section on Mormon hymns that contains the hymns for both adults and children online. These include the sheet music and audio files wherein one can even change the tempo of a hymn or choose whether to hear a chorus or just the accompaniment. There are free online courses designed to teach people how to conduct hymns and also to learn to play the piano by learning hymns. Mormons believe that music is a powerful teaching tool, allowing members to understand the doctrines at a new level an in a way that is easy to remember. Former Mormon leader J. Reuben Clark said, “We get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps through any other thing except prayer (Conference Report, Oct. 1936, 111.)