A Modest Proposal: Making More Hymns “Familiar”

A few weeks ago, I was asked to lead music for the dedication of our new Stake Center. As usual, I was asked to select only “familiar” hymns for the congregational singing. As usual, I selected two hymns from among the ten or so that never get rejected or changed by the Stake Presidency at the last minute. It made me sad. Sad because we have so many beautiful hymns that are becoming lost to us, sad because we are too afraid to sing joyfully together even if we make mistakes, sad because I am convinced that God knows more than 10 hymns and would like us to learn to sing with him.

There are good logistical reasons for picking hymns everyone can easily sing in Stake meetings, and I’m not questioning my Stake Presidency’s judgment in this matter (so please don’t feel compelled to defend them in the comments or call me to repentance–at least not about this one thing!). But I think there are simple things we can do to learn more hymns together. I suppose this post is a plea to choristers and Ward Music Chairs everywhere to consciously teach the “unfamiliar” hymns in their wards. This is how I do it when I get to be in charge in my ward:

Choose 4-5 hymns to learn during the year. Create a schedule so that each “new” hymn appears in the rotation 4-5 times. (If your ward doesn’t have a solid core of confident singers, it makes sense to do 3 hymns 5 or 6 times). Introduce each hymn about two months before you intend to have the congregation sing it. It should be in the organ prelude several times during those 2 months. Then feature it as a special musical number (or instrumental prelude, if that’s enough to get your ward to listen), preferably an instrumental one so that it’s just the tune people are concentrating on. Then have the ward choir or a soloist sing it 5 or 6 weeks later. (Don’t worry–only two people will notice that they’ve heard it recently). Then have the congregation sing it 4-6 weeks after that. And then again 8-10 weeks after that. People may notice that it’s coming up often, but it’s not often enough for them to get irritated. Then review it once more during the year, a few months after it was on the intensive learning schedule.

I’ve done this for years, and I believe it can be done with inspiration and sensitivity so that it is spiritually as well as intellectually and musically uplifting to a congregation. I think (although I have no experience with this) that a deliberate program of doing hymns this way could also be helpful in congregations where there are lots of new members, to help build a common musical vocabulary.


  1. StillConfused says:

    What is interesting to me is that the hymns that I grew up with in Virginia are never played in my Provo ward unless I specially request. The ones that they play are not ones that I grew up with.

  2. We hardly ever sing the standard/familiar hymns in our ward, and I hate it, because it means no one ever sings.

  3. What is interesting to me is that the hymns that I grew up with in Virginia are never played in my Provo ward unless I specially request. The ones that they play are not ones that I grew up with.

    Thats because the church isn’t true in Virginia.

  4. Kristine says:

    Yeah, Susan, I think that’s a problem. If you do things this way, it’s still fewer than half of the meetings that have “new” songs. I think it’s far more important for the congregation to develop the habit of _really_ singing than to learn new hymns. If I were in a ward where people didn’t sing, I’d spend at least a year just finding out what their favorites were and doing those.

  5. That is a wonderful way to teach the hymns. I remember hymn practice before Sunday School when I was a kid and I don’t think that worked particularly well.

  6. BTW good post Kristine

  7. Kristine says:

    J.–it worked in the wards where I was doing it :) We had a lot of fun. But I think most people didn’t really know what to do with the time, and there wasn’t enough direction given.

    (Um, yeah, I think I did just wish for more direction from SLC. yikes)

  8. I think the methods of introducing a new hymn you express are very good. However I think in most wards I have been in there is what I would consider a decent number of hymns that the congregation are familiar with (perhaps 50-60 out of the 300 or so in the hymn book). However considering we sing perhaps 5 hymns during our church services there is little chance of sounding repetitive.

    I dislike it when some music directors (or leaders) place a hymn in the programme because we should learn and then it is sang so badly that we don’t go there again. Why sing an obscure hymn as a one off and it sounds terrible when you can all belt out “Spirit of God” or something similar?

  9. You know, I’d really support this proposal under better circumstances, but at the moment I’d just be satisfied if our hymns weren’t all s o s l o o w w w w w !

  10. Fletcher says:

    Growing up, we had “Worship through Music” time. It lasted about 5-10 minutes right after sacrament, when SS teachers were dismissed to set up for class. The chorister would select a hymn (preferably something new) for the congregation to practice, and lead us through singing the hymn. For some reason, that practice was discontinued. My guess was that it might have cut too far into SS time. I see nothing wrong with shortening 5-10 minutes off of sacrament meeting to allow something like this.

  11. Kristine says:

    Fresh, you’re right. There are some hymns (only a few, but they’re doosies) that we just shouldn’t tackle congregationally. And especially, as you point out, if we’re just going to suffer through them once.

  12. It's a series of tubes says:

    If this proposal results in more rousing congregational renditions of “The Wintry Day, Descending to its Close”, then I’m all for it!

    But seriously, a good third of the hymns in the current hymnal should be junked, and a lot of new ones added.

  13. Here’s another voice in support of hymn practice time. I saw it done very well, and have a real impact on the quality of the singing in the congregation. Obviously, a truly committed chorister–and one with good communication skills, so they can introduce the hymn and get some enthusiasm going–is a must, and I suppose most units didn’t have that. But I was sad to see it go.

  14. Kristine says:

    series, I think “The Wintry Day…” might be one that congregations shouldn’t tackle, at least not until the ward choir and RS have done them several times so that somebody can sustain the melody.

  15. series, I think “The Wintry Day…” might be one that congregations shouldn’t tackle, at least not until the ward choir and RS have done them several times so that somebody can sustain the melody.

    I remember when I was a child, there was a period of time in which, following the the benediction, the entire ward was to remained seated while we “practiced” a hymn by singing it 2-3 times through.

    This continued on for about 3-4 months iirc, but was ultimately sentenced to death after the chorister chose “The Wintry Day…” for the practice hymn.

  16. By The Rules says:

    Bring back the Classics! All in favor, vote Aye!
    (There will be no vote taken in opposition.)

  17. I see now that Stapley (#5) and Fletcher (#10) had largely the same practice, so it was possibly a broader program than I realized. Still, the selection of Wintry Day as the death knell is epic.

  18. I’m the ward music director. What is great about my calling is that the first 9 months that I had the calling we didn’t have an organist. A few people would pitch in and since some were not very experienced I would let them choose the hymns they felt comfortable with. The result was we sang only two sacrament hymns 50% of the time. I heard NO complaints since I’m sure they realized that unless they were willing to step up and play we were stuck with the limitations of the volunteers.
    We have a regular organist now. SOmetimes when we sing an unfamiliar hymn, I make sure to put it in again. I figured the organist has taken the time to learn it, why not use it again? Also, it means the congregation can sing it again and get to know it. I’ve done this with a couple of hymns.
    I am still enjoying looking through the hymnbook and finding hymns that once I sit down and play them I realize I know them, even though I didn’t recognize them from the title and the words.
    I think a good balance between old favorites, new favorites, and obscure is good, as well as a balance of the tempo, the length, the style and the subject matter of hymns.

  19. Kristine says:

    It was a churchwide program (or at least US-wide). I think it lasted about a year, and was discontinued everywhere.

  20. I think your way of introducing hymns sounds great, Kristine. I’m not involved in church music any more but served as a ward organist for several years, and I was a big fan of the old SS song practice. I think your idea sounds like a good replacement. The ward I am currently attending is the absolute worst for (not) singing. I’ve looked around and a lot of people just don’t sing at all and others must be whispering. We have a good choristor and organist. The music isn’t too slow, and the hymns are mostly familiar. We sang “The Spirit of God” last week and it was a little better than usual, but no enthusiasm. How do you deal with lack of enthusiasm?

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was a boy, my father was in charge of SS song practice. We would start singing, and he would stop us and say “No no no!” and explain what we were doing wrong and then try again. I of course was mortified by embarrassment at the time, although now I would think that was pretty cool.

    (Kristine, I like your suggested regimen and hope it catches on.)

  22. Good ideas – another suggestion is to teach people to read music. (This really shouldn’t be controversial for people who are always trotting out the “teach a man to fish…” maxim). Because I can read music, I can easily be familiar with all hymns, past, present, and future.

  23. Antihero says:

    @21 –
    My dad is the ward chorister, more due to his exuberance than singing ability, but he will stop the entire congregation in the middle of a song if they are singing too slow, off key, or if they just aren’t singing it right. Every time I go back to visit, my wife and I comment on how much better the congregation sounds. He also makes an effort to get new songs in the rotation. I really enjoy it.

  24. I like this suggested scheduling of sneaking new hymns into congregational consciousness. We have several good music people in our ward, but they overestimate the abilities of some — many — of us who need at least some familiarity to latch onto. (Of course it would help if so many of the 1985 hymns didn’t sound exactly like so many of the other 1985 hymns. In that case familiarity is a disadvantage because they can be so hard to tell apart.)

  25. harpchil says:

    Kristine, this is brilliant! Now I just need to figure out how to get called as Ward Music Leader. Any suggestions? Sitting back and hoping didn’t work – now I’m Ward Executive Secretary. Of course, I bring up music as much as I can during bishopric meetings. Maybe it’ll take this time.

  26. Brian-A says:

    There are, of course, different levels of familiarity. There’s the opening hymn in Sacrament meeting where most will sing level, the sounds decent in stake conference despite lyrics-only program inserts level, and the priesthood opening exercises with neither hymn books nor accompaniment level. Depending on the congregation, advancing hymns from the second group to the third may be more pressing than expanding the first group.

  27. Kristine, I really enjoyed reading your post. I like the idea of learning a few new hymns during the year, especially when they are not hard to learn. In the branch where my husband and I served, the music leader tried new hymns fairly often and the branch members learned to sing them and loved them.

    In our current ward, we seem to sing hymns primarily about the restoration with few hymns about the Savior (except Sacrament hymns, of course.) I would love to sing hymns that create a more worshipful atmosphere in Church. “Nearer My God to Thee,” “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” and “Be Still My Soul” help me feel of the Savior’s love. I wish we sang hymns like those more often.

  28. Kristine says:

    Bill–there’s precedent for that: Brigham Young called missionaries to go out and teach note-reading and singing. And it really doesn’t take long to teach people enough to sight-read hymns, mostly some basic interval singing.

  29. You say familiar hymns as if that was well understood, but Like StillConfused noted, familiar hymns doesn’t mean the same songs in the same places.

    The Chileans in the mid 70s sang Caros les son al Maestro (Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd) regularly, I’m not sure I’ve sung it again since I left.

    When I was growing up Come Come Ye Saints was the quintessential LDS hymn and we sang it regularly but I can’t recall singing it in a sacrament meeting for several years now and for many years before that it was sung only once a year on the Sunday nearest pioneer day.

    Since the MTC began using Called to Serve as its unofficial anthem it has become a staple in wards I’ve lived in, probably because all the RMs know the words.

    I think it would be interesting to compare the hymns most often sung in different places and compare that list as it changed through time.

  30. Kristine says:

    “I think it would be interesting to compare the hymns most often sung in different places and compare that list as it changed through time.”

    Indeed. We need somebody to start collecting ward bulletins for this project!

  31. Kristine, great suggestions.

    I remember having a bishop once in the last 80’s (when the “new” hymnbook was still new-ish) who directed me (I was his counselor for music) that we should sing no more than one unfamiliar hymn per meeting. He was not a singer, but did love the old standards. It seemed a reasonable request. And we had a choir director who liked doing the newer hymns in choir, so it worked pretty well.

    I’m all for “standards” at stake meetings since hymnbooks are often in such short supply.

    One ward I visited in once in a while had a “gathering” hymn before the meeting started (to get people into the chapel for a last-in-the-lineup Sacrament Meeting) — another place to try something new once in a while.

  32. I would love to sing hymns that create a more worshipful atmosphere in Church. “Nearer My God to Thee,”

    I usually have to sing without a hymnbook because of the poor lighting in our building — which means I often can do little more than hum, except on the standard hymns I grew up with. I had to hum “Nearer My God to Thee” at a funeral Saturday, but the woman next to me, who joined the church maybe 20 years ago, knew every word to every verse. I’m guessing “Nearer My God to Thee” was a standard in her Protestant church.

  33. Jared L. says:

    I was asked to organize a “devotional” (opening song, prayer, scripture/thought) during the first week of Seminary my freshman year. We were studying the book of Abraham to begin the Old Testament study year. I wanted to pick a song that related, so I found a song that had a corresponding scriptural reference… “If You Could Hie To Kolob.” I had arranged for someone to play and lead the music, but nobody sang (less than 14 year olds sing anyway). I had never heard the song before and I’m sure just about nobody else in the class did either. Pretty song though.

    I learned my freshman lesson. For the rest of my Seminary years, I just picked a song everybody knew.

  34. It’s really sad that there are so many ‘unfamiliar’ hymns in a hymnbook that’s 25 years old and has fewer than 300 hymns in it.

    Things that help in our ward:
    – playing the hymns at the upper end of the tempo suggestions
    – having the organist play through the whole thing once, not just the first and last phrase
    – having a full-sounded organ (people sing louder when they’re not worried about being louder than the accompaniment/their neighbors

  35. Antonio Parr says:

    I am still mourning the loss of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” . . . How come the MTC gets to sing this and the rest of us don’t?

  36. Great suggestions, Kristine.

    My wife was recently called as Ward Music chair and requested specifically to pick “well known hymns.” In scanning the hymnbook, we determined somewhere between 70-80 hymns we considered to meet this criteria which surprised us for two reasons: (This didn’t count sacrament or seasonal hymns).

    1) Didn’t expect about 1/3 of the hymns to make the cut and 2) didn’t think we’d get 8 an 8-month cycle with no repeating hymns as a result. Of course, as lifelong musicians and experienced choral singers, our concept of “well known” is probably be a bit less stringent than some, but still, no complaints yet!

  37. A great idea

    Also a great idea: choristers and organists deciding to actually play the songs at a reasonable tempo. People would be much more excited about singing if every song didn’t sound like a death march.

  38. I’m mad at anyone who makes Kristine sad.

  39. This is difficult stuff. We’re talking about educating a congregation — that body of souls that changes substantially from week to week. And we’re not talking about teaching an individual to do some simple function like tie a shoe. Hymn-training involves an emotional issue — slightly altering ones notion of worship. Like I said, it’s tough stuff and should be approached with love and patience. A congregation is a slow-moving amoeba.

    Having said that, something should be done to address the problem. And Kristine’s suggestion is excellent, I think. And JamesM makes a great point: perhaps there are more hymns in our collective consciousness than is apparent at first blush. By planning hymns out well in advance, this redundant repeating of the same 10-15 hymns will be partially cured.

    Still, Bill’s suggestion (to learn how to read music) takes the cake.

  40. StillConfused says:

    #3 cracked me up! Also, in Virginia hymns were sung at the suggested tempo instead of the 1/2 time that appears so popular in Utah.

  41. By The Rules says:

    “well known hymns.” In scanning the hymnbook, we determined somewhere between 70-80 hymns we considered to meet this criteria

    I would be interested in seeing the list. I started through the hymn book recently and was surprized that the number was so high. The problem is in the last decade of regular church attendance, we rarely sing any of them.

  42. THANK YOU!

    I had a stint as the song leader in my student ward and with the power vested in me specifically chose neglected hymns I wanted to hear sung. It’s not that I enjoyed hearing the congregation struggle through the harmony; I just truly wanted to give these hymns a chance so their melodies could be heard and their messages expressed.

    After I realized I was being selfish, I began to integrate more popular hymns into our service. Of course to keep my calling interesting I started to group the hymns in themes that bore little significance to anyone but me. One time we sang war hymns. Another week we sang hymns with music by famous classical composers; hymns that sound like showtunes. Man, that was a fun calling.

    My dream though, is to introduce Ward Choir as a Sunday School class and have it as a 4 week course every other month. The ward choir would sing the second Sunday of the month and then have 3 – 4 weeks of break and then start again. I think it would be a great opportunity to get rehearsal in without making people stay late or come early and give everyone time to truly discuss the lyrics and their application to the gospel. Anyone have a connection to help me make this happen?? :)

  43. Adam Greenwood says:

    A+ idea, KHH.

  44. Kristine says:

    Laura–I don’t know if ward choir would work as a Sunday School class, but I did teach a Ward Choir Prep/Music History/Appreciation Sunday School class once. I keep meaning to post my notes…

  45. Laura, I think your SS idea is brilliant but I’d expand it beyond ward choir. Talented and/or trained musicians forget how intimidating music can be for rest of us. A SS class that incorporated choir along with some real musical instruction might boost the choir and the congregational singing as well.

  46. One thing consolidated meetings did was get rid of the practice hymns in Sunday School.

    I’d love to see that come back.

  47. Great ideas, Kristine. Congregations hate to have a hymn just thrust upon them, but easing them into it by creating familiarity before they have to sing it is a great way to introduce more hymns into rotation.

  48. Kevin Barney says:

    You know how on Turner Classic Movies someone will say a few words of historical background/explanation/context about the film before playing it? I love those little snippets.

    We should do the same thing for the hymns we introduce using Kristine’s method. That would pique people’s interest and make them more willing to give it the ol’ college try.

  49. Do other wards have practice hymns in Relief Society or priesthood? Our RS practices hymns regularly, but I suspect the priesthood sings “Redeemer of Israel” every week!

    My favorite Relief Society lesson ever occurred when, instead of a lesson, the RS president asked for the sisters to choose a favorite hymn, briefly (oh so briefly!) tell why this hymn was a favorite, then allowing the sisters to sing the hymn. Most of the hymns chosen were off-the-beaten path. It was a great (and memorable) meeting.

  50. David R. says:

    Hey Antonio at #35!!
    Any hymn that appeared in the previous hymnbook is still OK to use!! We recently photocopied “Come, thou fount of every blessing” and sang it in sacrament meeting with lovely organ interludes between each verse. It was a combined intermediate hymn/organ solo.

  51. Jonathan Mahoney says:

    Everybody needs to listen to the interview w/ Michael F. Moody on the Mormon Channel @ http://radio.lds.org/eng/programs/conversations-episode-5

    It completely changed the way I look at the hymn book we have today. For each hymn that made it, hundreds didn’t. Every one was carefully selected.

    I think this is an interesting idea. I’m the Branch Music Director and I actually often do one unfamiliar hymn every week. Hehe. They’re all so great. I’ve found some new personal favorites this way.

  52. Great ideas, Kristine. Our music coordinator insists on giving each hymn equal time, presumably from a misguided effort to familiarize the ward with the full hymnal, but from our sound it’s clear that singing a hymn once every third year doesn’t work. Your approach is much better.

  53. Katie B. says:

    great suggestions, Kristine. I sent the post on to our bishopric member over music. We had song practice pre-SS in the Bay Area–one of my only childhood memories of church is learning Praise To The Lord during that time. It is still my favorite hymn.

  54. #51 Thanks for your comment! I listened to that too, and it helps me appreciate selecting hymns in Relief Society. Doing so really is a way for me to express my testimony.

    I’ve always looked at the hymn book as scripture–in the sense that it bears the Spirit, not in the sense that we’ll be judged from it. Because of the sacred experiences I’ve had with the hymns, I think it’s important to study them on our own just as we would scripture. We need more than 25 chapters of scripture. I think the same thing can be said of repeatedly singing the same 25 hymns–no matter which they are where we live.

  55. Kristine says:

    Katie, you have great taste :)

  56. I like this idea so much that I find myself wishing that it would be institutionalized churchwide, so everyone was expanding the number of familiar hymns, and that the work wouldn’t get undone after a few years when people have moved on from a specific ward.

    Of course, that would remove a fair amount of autonomy and wouldn’t be very sensitive to those in wards with less experienced singers and organists.

    I do think that pretty much every ward music director can find a few hymns to learn that will work given the capacities of the ward members. If every ward started doing this, the number of “standard hymns” would inevitably increase.

  57. Dave P. says:

    The next step would be teaching people to sing the words of one hymn to the tune of another. A good number of the hymns can be interchanged with each other and switching them out every once in a while can be very uplifting. The earliest example being hymns 2 and 3.

  58. Kevin Barney says:

    Dave P., a long time ago our choir used to do that, sing the words of one hymn to the tune of another. I thought it made for a fun change-up.

  59. Mark B. says:

    Great ideas, Kristine.

    And others have said it already, but if you want enthusiam from the congregation, play the music louder and faster.

    With the organ (or worse, piano) played pianissimo and the tempo slowed to a crawl, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to sing. Or able to.

  60. It's a series of tubes says:

    Kristine (14), I think you may have missed the intended joke in my post :) I was trying to say that hymns like Wintry Day, which I have never heard sung in any congregation, ever, anywhere (and I have lived for extended periods of time in various places in the US and several foreign countries) seem like a waste of space in the current hymnal at best.

    Just for fun, I played it myself last night and man, what a snoozer. Pretty sure, based on the melody, tempo, and lyrics, that there could never, ever be a “rousing congregational rendition” of this one.

  61. I don’t expect it to happen in my lifetime, but …

    There are some positive things to be said (and negative things too, but I’ll focus on the positive here) about the use of music in contemporary evangelical Protestant worship services. It is very common for the words to be projected on a screen (or blank wall) at the front of the sanctuary, which at the very least encourages people to lift their heads up instead of staring down into a hymnbook. And the use of instruments such as bass guitar and drums makes it easier for the congregation to follow the rhythm of the music. I’ve seen/heard this done quite effectively even with traditional hymns. There are just so many ways to for a congregation to sing music other than with piano and organ, and I think we miss out by limiting ourselves to the music approach that was in vogue during the 19th century.

    Finally, for what it’s worth, it seems like half the time I’ve attended church in Latin America they’ve sung “In Our Lovely Deseret,” but I’ve never heard the song sung in the U.S.

  62. It's a series of tubes says:

    61: Next time you hear “In Our Lovely Deseret”, picture the congregation as a bunch of seals barking out the “Hark! Hark! Hark!” line. You may never be able to sit through that hymn with a straight face again.

  63. Coming in late, but I think this is a great idea, Kristine, and I am passing it along to my wife, who is the ward music chair.

  64. The MOTAB (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) has tremendous power in being able to teach new songs to the entire world-wide membership. Any choir that sings at a general broadcast can do this. Be creative!

    The thing that is so very difficult to replicate at the ward setting is the MoTab’s dirge-like and slow-moving momentum. Any musician will tell you that playing a song extremely slowly (with energy) is as difficult (or more so) than playing a very fast piece. The Motab has been focusing on the ‘molto largo’ for about a decade now. (Granted, it has always been difficult to move a 300+ person choir at a clip . . . but Ottley pushed them more often in this direction.) Perhaps its Wilberg (I don’t know), but the group has taken on one particular style which seems much like background music to a sentimental movie. It seems that the MoTab’s new style and movie sountrack “B-roll” music is meant to be epic, but quiet enough and low enough to overlay dialogue or scenery and not outbalance anything. Everything is consistently quiet and slow. *Sigh*

    Then again, has anyone listened to the hymn CDs and default settings for the hymns on the music web site? The small flute-clarinet- and small vocal groups just slay me. The homogeneity of each song to the next and laboriously slow tempos are meant to . . . do what? Perhaps be a very remedial primer for an aural music learner?

  65. Kristine says:

    Eric, a good organ and a competent organist can support congregational singing better than a praise band. (Also, yuck! I am a stodgy traditionalist on this one, and hope not to live to see the day there’s a bass guitar in Sacrament Meeting). Part of the problem is that most organists are scared pianists, hoping that if they don’t play too loudly, no one will notice any mistakes. (I know; I am sometimes one of these). We’d need to spend more money to put in organs with serious bass stops and pay for a lot of organ lessons, though, and I don’t think we’re willing to do that.

  66. Kristine says:

    “61: Next time you hear “In Our Lovely Deseret”, picture the congregation as a bunch of seals barking out the “Hark! Hark! Hark!” line. You may never be able to sit through that hymn with a straight face again.”

    Assuming that you ever could… ;)

  67. I’ve recently (about a month and a half ago) been called as the Ward Music Chair, and I figured that I would have two goals for my time in the position:

    1 – To get more people to sing, and with more focus and energy, and

    2 – To help us become familiar with the unfamiliar hymns.

    I decided this unilaterally, without any encouragement, discouragement, or even communication with the bishopric. I think they’re just glad to have music in the program each week.

    I’m still thinking and praying about ways to bring about point 1, but point two has been pretty easy so far. I worked out a plan, on a spreadsheet so that I could make sure that those unfamiliar hymns were included in the rotation, frequently enough that they could learn it. I also wrote a short paragraph about each month’s “featured hymn”, to be included in the printed program.

    So far, so good.

  68. Mark B. says:

    Another idea–use RS and Priesthood meetings for learning hymns. They’re not “worship services” so there’s a lot more flexibility. Sing it twice, if the first time wasn’t good enough. Stop the music and fix the problems. Tell people to get their noses out of the hymnbook and look at the director–and then make the director do something worth watching. Sing that one priesthood song (320) as a round–we did it in a combined RS/Priesthood meeting last month and it was a terrific. (There’s a note in the printed editions of the hymnbook that the song can be sung that way, but it’s not in the online version. Has it been removed from the later printings?)

  69. Kristine says:

    Yeah, RS, at least, has time built into the prototype schedule for hymn practice. It’s only 5 minutes, I think, but that’s plenty of time to do some good stuff.

  70. We know the lesson numbers for RS/PH/SS ahead of time. It would help some folks (me) if we knew next week’s SM hymn numbers ahead, too. At least as often as I remembered to do it, I could review the words during the week and be able to sing along.

  71. Antonio Parr says:

    To those in charge of music:

    I have a friend who is an orthodox Jew, and have attended his synagogue for various special family events. There is a point during the service when the Rabbi brings out the Torah, and the congregation breaks into song that has all of the energy of a U2 or Springsteen concert. It is electrifying. How can Latter-Day Saints capture such passion in their music?

  72. Kristine, good ideas. I hear from multiple sources that the music at the dedication was a highlight of the day. What if the praise band had only trumpets? ;)

  73. Kristine says:

    Hey, I wouldn’t even object to a brass quintet.

    And the singing was spectacular, though we were short a tenor :(

  74. I for one will not be satisfied until hymn choosing is correlated Church-wide, so I can know that I can go into any LDS chapel in the world and hear the same set of hymns on a particular Sunday.

    Sorry. I was overcome by the spirit of Prudence McPrude.

  75. Since this was titled “A Modest Proposal,” I was expecting it would involve making church organs out of Irish babies or something appropriately outrageous. Instead, it’s merely a very sensible plan for getting people to know more hymns. How disappointing.

  76. Kristine says:

    Sorry to disappoint, Eric. I’ll try to be more radical next time–maybe I’ll post something about my Marxist analysis of the YW program and a manifesto about not exploiting Irish babies in the name of Personal Progress. Or something :)

  77. maybe I’ll post something about my Marxist analysis of the YW program

    Always threatening, never doing.

  78. When I was a child (some 20 years ago) the retired assistant director of the Utah Symphony under Maurice Abravanel, Ardean Watts, was in my ward. At some level of leadership (I haven’t a clue how general or local), it was decided that immediately following sacrament meeting, Ardean would rehearse the congregation for 10 minutes (note the word rehearse) for “music time.” If I remember correctly, he occasionally brought in friends/family to play/accompany us on what would be considered “unconventional” instruments (brass?! heaven forbid!). We would frequently stop and repeat things, he would give us specific directions (often shouting over the congregation as we sang), and by the end of the 10 minute period the entire congregation would be belting out a spontaneously made Ardean Watts arrangement of a selected hymn at full throttle.

    Even though I must have only been 6-7 years old at the time, I still remember the experience vividly and it no doubt contributed to my personal appreciation of the hymns and of music in general. I have never heard an LDS congregation sing like that since, with such vigor, unity, and enthusiasm—and that’s a shame.

  79. Kristine says:

    Hear, hear, Sam–Ardean is a treasure. If we could clone him, most of the problems with congregational hymnsinging would disappear immediately!

  80. Kevin Barney says:

    Ziff no. 74, don’t even whisper such a thing! You just know there are people who would think that was just a dandy idea, that the Priesthood should take their rightful control of hymn selection throughout the entire Church.

    One of the joys of Sunstone is when Ardean leads us in the singing.

  81. Thomas Parkin says:

    “How can Latter-Day Saints capture such passion in their music?”

    Well, after this latest generation dies out. We might get some leadership that is less concerned with what is ‘appropriate’ and more concerned with what expresses human spiritual yearning and experience artfully. We have had some leadership that have, however beneficial for us the way their God given gifts have been configured, mistrusted artistic sensibility, and that has been too bad for us. Words like President Uchtdorf’s recent comments in the RS Conference on creativity are really hopeful to me. The increasingly artful and beautiful arrangements being used by the Mormon TC are also hopeful. ~

  82. The trend in our area for the last 10ish years has been the fewer the better so that familiarity “for them” increases. A heart-breaking disaster in my not so humble opinion. I’ve been a thorn in the side as a result and of a list of 50 formerly familiar hymns, I’ve managed to get approval for half in the last year+. It’s exhausting and makes me worry about feeling apostatical, as local direction “should” override. Per Michael Moody (51), Come Thou Fount and This Is the Christ will be in the next hymnbook.

  83. D. Fletcher says:

    Kristine, maybe you could recommend some unknown hymns that are worth trying out. There are many hymns I don’t choose because I don’t think they’re good, both new and old. Of the new hymns, the best ones seem to known by the congregation, primarily because they like them.

    Some hymns I will never program: The Star-Spangled Banner, O Say What Is Truth?, Called To Serve, Glorious Words of Thee Are Spoken

  84. It’s clear to me that what Kristine really needs is inception, but barring that, this is a really great plan of action too!

  85. Researcher says:

    I like your method. I’m about to plan the music for my ward for another quarter, so I will have to keep this post in mind and make some suggestions for choir numbers.

    I try to remind myself to use the most familiar (which often but not always equates with the most beloved) hymns and supplement with no more than one “second-tier” hymn per sacrament meeting. When the congregation is not familiar with a song, I usually crank up the volume and play a bit faster, and the members tend to catch on by about the second verse. Some songs are not easily singable, so I avoid them. And some songs really aren’t that appropriate. Who honestly wants to attend sacrament meeting and sing about having your bones picked clean by vultures? (Hymn 121.)

    So, can I ask the same question as D. Fletcher? What are some lesser-known hymns that are worth easing into the rotation?

  86. StillConfused says:

    In Church today the hymns were played at about 40 – 50 time; bad part is that the suggested time was 90-110. Yeah, thought I was going to die

  87. Kristine says:

    Oh, dear. Did someone make the mistake of asking me to list less familiar hymns I like? Get in a comfy chair, dear readers… (these have generally not been well-known in congregations I’ve been in, but, as many have pointed out, there’s significant regional variation in such things)

    Awake and Arise (8)
    I Saw a Mighty Angel Fly (15) (not my favorite text, really, but the tune is so great–I usually do it with the choir in January or February with the text “All Beautiful the March of Days”)
    Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake! (17)
    God of Power, God of Might (20) (I have fantasies of an Aaronic Priesthood choir singing this in Stake Conference someday. Sigh)
    Saints, Behold How Great Jehovah (28)
    Let Earth’s Inhabitants Rejoice (53)
    Behold the Mountain of the Lord (54)
    God of our Fathers, Known of Old (80) (a useful counterweight for patriotic hymns, and really good for Memorial Day)
    Savior, Redeemer of My Soul (112)
    Come, We That Love the Lord (119) (excellent for wards with weeny singing. One verse begins “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.” The singing is often a bit more vigorous after that, at least for a little while.)
    Come, Let Us Sing an Evening Hymn (167)
    O Thou, Before the World Began (189)
    O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown (197)
    Father, Cheer our Souls Tonight (231–the text by awesome pioneer midwife Ellis Shipp; that’s enough reason for me)
    Jesus, Mighty King in Zion (234)
    Arise, O God, and Shine (265)
    How Wondrous and Great (267)
    Jehovah, Lord of Heaven and Earth (268)
    Our Father, By Whose Name (296–should be required for Father’s Day)

  88. Kevin Barney says:

    A very useful list, Kristine, thanks for taking the time to put it together.

  89. Mark Brown says:

    I love — LOVE — Awake and Arise, O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown, and Our Father, By Whose Name. I am not familiar with the others.

    I also like Each Life That Touches Ours For Good. I’ve only heard it sung at funerals, but I think it would be good in other settings, too.

  90. Matt A. says:

    I know I am late to the party here, but here are some of my favorites:

    #57 – We’re Not Ashamed to Own Our Lord
    #97 – Lead, Kindly Light
    #124 – Be Still, My Soul
    #126 – How Long, O Lord Most Holy and True (in a minor key, which is a real treat)
    #132 – God Is in His Holy Temple (great chord changes)
    #162 – Lord, We Come before Thee Now (also in a minor key)
    #284 – If You Could Hie to Kolob
    #157 – Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls (beautiful harmonies, especially acappella)
    #240 – Know This, That Every Soul Is Free
    #272 – Oh Say, What Is Truth?
    #197 – O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown (I know it’s been mentioned already)

    Also, there are some hymns that I love the text of, but don’t like the music of – #116 Come Follow Me is one example.

  91. Our Father By Whose Name got x’d as too unfamiliar for Fathers Day. Told to use Families Can Be instead. I’ll try again next year (if they don’t move me out before then). LOVE O Savior Thou. If You Could Hie slipped through scrutiny but one of the ward upper crusteds complained so it probably won’t make it through again. Thanks for the suggestions and ideas!

  92. Adam Greenwood says:

    I like 121, but then I would.

  93. Kristine says:

    It’s one of my favorites, too, Adam. So by the Haglund-Greenwood Axiom, I think we can declare it true.

  94. Adam,

    That is one of the best hymns.

  95. Nice list of hymns, Kristine. It’s always surprising to “discover” what hymns are considered less familiar.

    We sang “Hie to Kolob” yesterday–it was as fast as our organist could play, but, sadly, not as quick as the hymn begs to be sung. (And it ought to be written in 2/2 time, or at least the director should beat it in two.)

    265 is a terrific old missionary anthem. It too, though, can inflict death by degrees if not sung at tempo. But sung at the top of the suggested range (126), it is a good rousing number that really should supplant that other thing that D. Fletcher has declared he will not play–what’s wrong, D., don’t they have a calliope in your building? : ) –as the missionary anthem of the church.

    About 167 and 231, it’s hard to sing “evening” hymns when sacrament meeting ends at 11:10 a.m. But those two are sufficient justification for having Evensong one Sunday a month. Or maybe once every two months. (In the only meetings we have in the evenings–the Saturdays of stake conferences–those would be nixed for “unfamiliarity.”)

    Finally, did you make that comment about #20 just for D.’s sake? Isn’t he related to the author? :)

  96. And, the priesthood meeting corollary to your list, Kristine, should include:

    320 The Priesthood of our Lord (sung as a round)
    324 Rise Up O Men of God

    The latter was sung by a choir in a general priesthood meeting a few years ago, and President Hinckley commented on how wonderful it was, but said that he had never heard it before. What a shame! in the nearly 20 years since that hymn showed up in our books, he had never heard it once!

  97. Kristine says:

    Well, of course he hadn’t, since he mostly only goes to Stake Conference. The GAs must get really sick of “High on a Mountaintop”.

  98. Can you imagine how sick they get of “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet”?

    Actually, I was just trying to track down that comment by Pres. Hinckley–no telling yet if I’ll succeed–but I found a note in the November 1987 Ensign that says the men’s choir version (#323) was sung in the October 1987 priesthood session. So, his memory wasn’t perfect after all.

  99. D. Fletcher says:

    I don’t know who Fletcher is; when I find out, I’ll tell you if we’re related.

    P.S. I love the music to Come Follow Me, with that minor bridge.

  100. D. Fletcher says:

    My grandfather, Wallace Bennett (former U.S. Senator) wrote the words to God of Power.

  101. Kristine says:

    Well, I like them anyway :)

  102. D. Fletcher says:

    Called to Serve is football music. I think it’s just plain awful.

  103. Great advice. Wish my ward was reading this. And, like you mentioned in #87, I also love singing hymns of the same meter to different tunes. If you like I Saw a Mighty Angel Fly, try singing it at Christmas with the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem–that’s how it is in the Oxford Book of Carols for Choir.