The Church was only a few months old in July of 1830 when the Lord instructed Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet, to compile the first Latter-day Saint hymnal. That alone should be evidence of the importance of hymns in the Church. But the Lord went on to emphasize that importance: “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.” (D&C 25:12.)
With the able assistance of William W. Phelps, Emma compiled the hymnbook and published it in August 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio. The introduction to that book states: “It is sincerely hoped that the following collection, selected with an eye single to his glory, may answer every purpose till more are composed, or till we are blessed with a wide variety of the songs of Zion.”
In the 150 years since that first Latter-day Saint hymnbook was published, a “wide variety of the songs of Zion” have been written and have become part of the musical literature of the Saints. Many have become cherished standards and are sung and loved by Saints of every nationality.
“Historically, many of the beloved hymns were written by nonprofessionals, who drew from their everyday experiences to create hymns that people could relate to,” says Michael F. Moody, chairman of the General Church Music Committee.
Because revelation is a continuing process in the Lord’s living Church, the fruit of revelation—testimony—is borne in each succeeding generation. Each generation finds it must live gospel principles in its own particular set of circumstances. And in each generation there are those who are inspired to express their testimonies and spiritual insights in music and verse.
“Hymns are functional by nature, and serve the immediate needs of people. Over the years, some of those needs change. A good hymn communicates to the people of its generation—and great hymns last through generations of time,” says Brother Moody.
In recent years, an estimated six thousand hymns have been submitted by members of the Church. “A great love of the gospel is expressed in the hymns that were submitted,” continues Brother Moody. “Behind each hymn is an individual who felt inspiration in creating it.”
Of those new hymns that have been submitted, a number have been approved for inclusion in a new English edition of the hymnbook. Of particular interest are a number of new hymns with texts written by General Authorities. President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency wrote the text to “My Redeemer Lives.” It was set to music by Elder G. Homer Durham, late member of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy. The late Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote “I Believe in Christ.” Both of these hymns will be published in the Tambuli during 1986.
Because our congregations are made up of children as well as adults, songs written especially for children—“I Am a Child of God,” for example—are also included in the new hymnbook. Marvin Gardner of the Music Committee says that “as a father of young children, I think singing songs and hymns that the children know will help them feel more a part of the congregation. And the children’s favorites are usually loved by adults too.”
The new collection also reflects the international nature of the Church with the inclusion of melodies from Germany, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, England, and Ireland. In addition some of the better-known Latter-day Saint hymns have been given a simplified musical arrangement so that they can be more easily adapted for use in many language areas.
We are grateful to be able to make these new hymns available in the Tambuli. In the words of the First Presidency: “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 work, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end. …
“Brothers and sisters, let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord into our congregations, our homes, and our personal lives. Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment. Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, ‘and it shall be answered with a blessing upon [your] heads.’”