During the opening hymn at sacrament meeting in our new ward my husband whispered to me, “They don’t sing any hymns I know.”
Because he had spent many weekends traveling on business before we were settled in our new community, I understood his reluctance to adjust to new church music along with everything else that was unfamiliar. This had also been a concern when the Church published the new hymnbook in 1985—that members would feel uncomfortable singing unfamiliar hymns in sacrament meetings.
When I joined the Church at age fifteen, most of the hymns in the old hymnbook were new to me. However, the Sunday School gave music instruction to the congregation at that time. We practiced a hymn every Sunday for a month, learning the challenges and charms of the songs bit by bit. In the same way that I had discovered the gospel, “line upon line,” these Sunday School practice hymns had helped me learn LDS hymns verse by verse.
When the new hymnbook was published in 1985, I was serving as the ward music chairman in the Littleton (Massachusetts) First Ward. I wanted to find a way for our congregation to learn the new hymns as easily as I had learned the old ones in Sunday School. Our ward choir accepted the challenge to assist.
Twice each month, they performed a new hymn in sacrament meeting. On fast Sunday they set an especially reverent tone for testimony meeting as they introduced an unfamiliar sacrament hymn, singing it as the last part of the prelude music before taking their seats in the congregation. This hymn was sung again as that meeting’s sacrament song. For any still unfamiliar with the music, they could take confidence from having choir members nearby. The congregation would sing that same new hymn for the next two Sundays.
On the third Sunday of each month, the choir would introduce a new hymn midway through the meeting; the congregation would join in singing the final verse. That hymn would then be scheduled as either the opening or closing selection the following Sunday.
When I moved away about nine months later, I felt that the choir had achieved its objective: to make the new hymns easy to learn, through systematic repetition. I could hear the congregation accepting the music. By the second or third time they sang a new hymn, they did it with a familiarity that allowed the meaning of the words to come through.
As for me, now that my husband’s weekend traveling is behind us, I listen for him to become comfortable with the notes so that the words can carry gospel messages. I do it with an abiding appreciation for the inspiration of the ward choir whose example taught me to love singing a new song.
Judy Jewkes DalPonte serves as a counselor in the Rockford Illinois Stake Relief Society presidency. She and her family are members of the Rockford First Ward.