Kirby: New Mormon hymnal should make room for marches, bagpipes and the blues

Robert Kirby

The LDS Church has announced a pending change in its official hymnbook, quaintly known among some Mormons as “the Green Thumper.”

We call it this because it’s green and because of the sound it makes when it’s tossed onto seats before church, or enthusiastically applied to the head of some miscreant child during church.

Never mind. The point here is that the church is about to revamp our hymnal once again. The last time it did so was in 1985, when we swapped the Blue Bonker for the Green Thumper and ended up with some new songs so un-uplifting that it’s more of a “hum-nal than a hymnal.

I miss the Wehrmacht marching songs of my youth, songs like “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” They were pulse raisers and more people actually sang them. They were fight songs. It actually felt like we were kicking Satan’s butt.

Sadly, worship through music isn’t for me, mainly because I can’t sing. I’ve had choristers plead with me to simply mime the lyrics as a favor to Heavenly Father.

Also because the last time I tried to create a hymn that I enjoyed singing was in Primary, when I switched the lyrics of “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” to “Jesus Wants More Chocolate Ice Cream.”


“Some ice cream, some ice cream

Jesus wants lots more ice cream

More ice cream, more ice cream

I’ll bring lots more ice cream for him.”

It reached No. 1 on the 1962 Primary Pop Charts for about 30 seconds before being panned by critics armed with cries of blasphemy.

I told you that as a caution. The LDS Church is encouraging members to participate in creating the new songbook by submitting tunes of their own. Be careful, though.

The rules for submissions are fairly straightforward. The lyrics must be doctrinally correct, reflect a more global nature of Mormonism, and contain no drum solos.

Speaking of drums, not every culture is enamored with the piano and/or organ. Some prefer drums, also pan pipes, zithers, banjos, even nose flutes.

If you want to reflect the true cross-culture nature of Mormonism, simply changing the beat or the lyrics isn’t going to cut it. Culturally speaking, it should be possible to create a perfectly acceptable sacrament song on the bagpipes.

Yeah, it would sound a little bit like someone wringing the life out of a bag of geese, but reverence should still be possible.

My personal musical culture is the blues. I can’t see a single reason why we can’t have the blues in the new hymnal, something like “When Love Comes to Town” by B.B. King.

“I was there when they crucified my Lord. I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword. I threw the dice when they pierced his side. But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…”

Sin. Love. Depravity. Forgiveness. Hope. It’s all right there, people. Best of all, it’s catchy, memorable, and more doctrinally correct than ice cream.