LDS Church creating new hymnbooks for Mormon adults children around the world, so national anthems won’t be included

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The combined Relief Society Choir from Brigham Young University sings the opening hymn, at the women's session of LDS General Conference at the LDS Conference center, Saturday, March 25, 2017.

You can almost hear the hallelujahs.

Mormons who for decades have been thirsting for new songs to sing at Sunday services are getting their wish: a new hymnbook.

It will take a couple of years to come out, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Monday that a new hymnbook for use across the globe will replace the 33-year-old edition.

There also will be a new children’s songbook.

“Along with prayer and the scriptures, hymns invite the Spirit into our hearts and strengthen our testimonies of Jesus Christ and his gospel,” LDS apostle Ronald A. Rasband said in a news release. “We recognize the power that sacred music has to unify the members of the church throughout the world. We 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.”

The faith’s governing First Presidency — President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring — already has assembled committees “to recommend revisions to the current music collections.”

The new hymnbook and children’s songbook will offer “the same hymns and songs in all languages,” the release said. “National anthems will not be included in the printed hymnbooks.”

The fate of the current volume’s other patriotic songs — such as “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful” — is unclear.

The church pointed out, however, that additional hymns and songs applicable to specific languages and areas will be available through digital channels.

Debra Bonner, the black Mormon convert who directs the Unity Gospel Choir International, was delighted by the news.

“It’s wonderful,” said the energetic musician whose extended family of singers dazzled attendees at the faith’s recent “Be One” celebration.

Bonner would like to see the church add some favorites from other Christian faiths, including “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

As to longtime Mormon hymns, she said, “maybe the words, which are all beautiful and inspired, can be used with different melodies — and sung with more heart and feeling.”

There’s a need for new hymns to be written “that apply to our lives today,” Bonner said. “There should be more songs written about the savior, his teachings, his love for us and our gratitude for him.”

She added: “That’s what gospel music is all about.”

Mormonism’s first song collection came courtesy of Emma Smith, wife of church founder Joseph Smith, in 1835.

The current “green hymnbook” — which replaced the long-running 1948 “blue hymnbook” for English speakers — appeared in 1985.

The latter volume — officially titled “Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” — became a landmark in the LDS Church’s history of hymnody, Marvin Gardner, a member of the committee that compiled that book, told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2015.

“We were told to create a template” on which subsequent editions in different languages could be based, Gardner said. “It helps unify the church throughout the world in a way no hymnbook had done before. ... It also unifies us among generations and within congregations.”

Of course, scores of popular LDS songs have been published since then but have not been included in the hymnal, prompting repeated calls from Mormons around the world for an updated version.

“Perhaps the most meaningful hymns and songs of the [LDS Church’s gospel] restoration have not yet been written,” general authority LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. of the Seventy said in Monday’s release. “We encourage our talented members to prayerfully consider what they might add to the body of music already known and loved by the church.”

To that end, the faith is seeking suggestions and submissions for the new books.

“Original hymns, children’s songs, song texts without music or music without text can be submitted for consideration at newmusic.lds.org,” the release stated. “Up to five hymns and five children’s songs may be submitted by an individual for consideration. Feedback can also be provided about the current music through an online survey. New submissions must be received by July 1, 2019.”

The church also is soliciting hymns and songs from multiple cultural styles.

Mormons already are lighting up social media with songs — including some old standards like “Amazing Grace” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” — that they’d like to see make the new hymnal.

“I still remember singing songs in Primary as a young child growing up in Argentina,” Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the general presidency of the church’s Primary organization for kids, said in the release. “Those songs still ring in my ears, along with the gospel principles that they taught me while I was very young.”

Though he’s delighted that the church will be launching a new hymnbook, Jason Kerr, a member of the Western Hymn Writers Workshop in Salt Lake City, wonders how it will reflect a 21st-century global faith.

“The real question is how they’re going to define the shared core of the hymnal,” Kerr wrote in an email. “Given the American setting of the restoration and the obvious need to include hymns of the restoration (like ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints’), some American content is inevitable.”

So how will the new collection end up being more musically and culturally diverse?

That will depend on the creativity of Latter-day Saints, Kerr said. “I want to think that a lot of good stuff will come out of the woodwork.”

The other question for the project will be the makeup of the committee: Will the core committee be American, with international participation “contracted out,” Kerr wondered, “or will the committee composition reflect the diversity of the church?”

Many Wasatch Front Mormons might be uncomfortable “learning to sing hymns outside of the Anglo-American musical tradition,” Kerr said. “But I believe that this discomfort will help nudge us toward being one as we are called to be, and that we ought to embrace it.”

Monday’s announcement also triggered a flood of memories to musician-scholar Kristine Haglund.

“I remember sitting down to play through the ‘green hymnbook’ when it came out in 1985.” Haglund said. “The sense of renewal and looking forward was exciting to me even as a teenager.” Now that she knows a little more about how committees work, the Boston-based writer said, “I’m excited for the process and also a little more nervous.”

Creating a common book of Mormon hymns “is such a monumental task and change is hard,” Haglund said. “Hymns and songs have a way of working themselves deep into people’s hearts and minds, so feelings and opinions are strong and consensus is rare.”

She loves the focus on including the whole church, Haglund said. “That desire to draw people in can be the key to success, both for the committee choosing the hymns and for all of us, as church members, giving up a few favorites and learning new things.”

Singing together, she said, is the “purest expression of Zion we can enjoy on earth.” It’s no surprise, then, that “getting there forces us to stretch and grow.”