The Hymnbook and Children’s Songbook committees have been amazed by the response to the June 2018 global announcement that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be revising the current hymnbook and Children’s Songbook.
Members of the Church from 66 countries shared nearly 50,000 suggestions and more than 16,000 original hymns, songs and texts.
Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and an advisor to the revision committees said the committees never expected such an incredible response from members of the Church. “Their dedication and contributions are humbling!”
But don’t expect to see published books anytime soon, he said. While progress has been made on the revision process, the new music collections are still several years away from being released.
In June 2018, the Church made a worldwide announcement regarding the desire to have a new hymnbook and children’s songbook that are better suited for a worldwide church. As part of the announcement, Church members were invited to submit original sacred music for consideration.
Steve Schank, Church music manager and chairman of both the Hymnbook Committee and Children’s Songbook Committee, said the committees received approximately 16,000 original hymns and songs to consider for the new collections, which surpassed their expectations. “About 55 percent of the submissions were hymn and hymn texts, while the remaining 45 percent were children’s songs and children’s song texts,” Schank said.
“We are grateful for every contribution shared by our members and friends not of our faith, said Elder Jeremy R. Jaggi, General Authority Seventy and an advisor to the committees. “The sheer volume of offerings speaks to the faith and love of each contributor.”
Elder Jaggi said that all participants should feel satisfied and appreciated for their contributions, but “in the end, we will be able to publish only a small portion of them.”
Submission review process
The process for reviewing each of the hymns and songs is the same.
A team of dedicated volunteers worked for months to prepare the hymn and song submissions for review, which included removing contributor names from the documents to ensure each submission would be reviewed without bias.
The submissions were then sent out across the world to be prayerfully considered in multiple rounds by many talented musicians and text experts. Seeking the Spirit’s guidance, each reviewer provides feedback on how well the submissions meet the criteria for inclusions. The top 2 to 3% of the submissions then move on to the Hymnbook and Children’s Songbook committees.
Once the committees have reached a consensus on which pieces best meet the goals for sacred music, their recommendations will be reviewed by the advisors of the committees and other Church leaders, including members of each general presidency.
In the end, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will determine which hymns and songs are included in the new music collections.
“We consider every submission to be a sacred offering that members of the Church have laid on the altar,” added Sister Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency and an advisor to the Children’s Songbook Committee. “And whether that offering is published or not, we know that it is an offering of the heart. For that reason, every hymn and song is reverently and prayerfully considered throughout the evaluation process. In the end, many of them may not make it into the new books, but we pray the Lord will bless everyone equally for their offerings.”
All individuals who submitted a musical selection for consideration will be informed of the status of their songs when the review process is complete.
Additional hymn and song evaluation
While new hymns and songs will be added to the updated music collections, many current selections will also be republished. At the same time the invitation was made to submit original works, members were also invited to take a survey that documented both positive and negative feedback about current hymns and songs as well as suggestions of new hymns and songs. The committees have reviewed the feedback and suggestions, which have helped to inform their recommendations.
Schank reported that the process of sorting through current hymns and songs has largely been completed, but there is still much to do.
“Initial recommendations for the current hymns and songs have already gone to the senior leaders of the Church, and we have received helpful feedback. Our leaders are very interested and involved in this project and, in many instances, have given detailed and meaningful counsel regarding both the content and the process of the revision,” Schank said.
“Meanwhile, the committees have gone on to review hundreds of additional hymns and songs, including music published in the Church magazines over several decades, as well as sacred music currently used in other Christian faith traditions. Administrative review of the new music submissions is complete, but the evaluation process for those selections is ongoing,” he said.
Beloved hymns and songs from several cultures, countries and languages are being considered for the new music collections, as well as songs from different faiths that coincide with the teachings of the Church.
“We cannot overstate the power of sacred music to unify the Saints worldwide,” said Elder Soares. “Singing from the same body of hymns and songs, all children of God — regardless of ethnicity, country, culture or language — will unite their voices in praise of our common Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.”
He continued, “The Lord has said, ‘The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads’ (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12). As we unify our voices as the body of Christ, our Father will bless us by unifying our hearts in unprecedented ways.”
A highly detailed work
Hymnbooks in the Church have typically been revised every 30 to 40 years. Because of this, detailed work is required to ensure that the new music collections can best meet the diverse needs of the Church today, Schank said.
Each of the hymns and songs undergo extensive reviews to determine whether any music or text adjustments are necessary. Additionally, copyright contracts must be negotiated for all uses and languages in which the Church publishes sacred music. A new font for lyrics has also been created and will be used in the new music collections to better align with the Church’s visual identity efforts. Testing and research to better understand member needs continue to inform all stages of the project.
Though much progress has been made since the revision announcement, Elder Adrián Ochoa, another General Authority Seventy advisor to the revision projects, said the committees have had to adapt to unexpected changes that have altered their thinking about what the new music collections are, what they should achieve and when they will be available.
“Some of the things the committees did not anticipate when this effort started were a number of important changes that have happened in the Church, such as the two-hour block and the home-centered, Church-supported model for worship and learning,” Elder Ochoa said. “These inspired directions, as well as adaptations to our work necessitated by the coronavirus situation, will affect both the outcome and the timing of the new collections.”
Schank added that the pandemic “reinforced our desire to provide resources along with the hymnbook to make it easier for member to use at home. These could include new resources to help members learn and teach the hymns and songs as well as training materials for members and for those with music callings.”
Gratitude for member contributions
The deadline has passed for both original song submissions and survey suggestions, and now Schank, on behalf of the committees, expresses appreciation for the time and talents members have so willingly shared to help bless God’s children throughout the world.
“The contributions of members have been overwhelming,” Schank added, “and we are extremely grateful. Now we are diligently working to respond.”