The Song of the Righteous

by DeAnne Walker

Editorial Assistant

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    A change in the hymnbook has been made! It has been almost 35 years since the last revision of the LDS hymnbook. Since 1950, that well-used book has become a familiar sight in LDS chapels and homes throughout the world. But there will be a different look soon. The old hymnbook will be replaced by a new edition—one that will have some important changes and one that is certainly different from the little pocket-size edition that the Saints first used many years ago.

    In July 1830, a revelation was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning his wife, Emma. Among other counsel and promises, she was instructed:

    “And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.

    “For 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 25:11–12).

    For the next five years Emma worked on the collection of hymns with the help of W. W. Phelps. Finally, in 1835, the first LDS hymnal was published. It was a vest-pocket edition measuring 3 by 4 1/2 inches and contained 90 hymn texts. This first collection did not include music, and all of the hymn texts were sung to borrowed familiar tunes. It was not until 1857 that original hymn tunes were published.

    Now, on the 150th anniversary of Emma Smith’s first hymnal, the Church is releasing the newest edition of the hymnbook. This project was authorized by the First Presidency on September 1, 1983, and many people have spent many long hours in its preparation.

    Twenty-five of the original 90 hymns that appeared in Emma Smith’s hymnal will be included in the new book. These, plus many old favorites and about 75 new hymns, will make a total of about 350. Many of the new hymns have been written by contemporary LDS composers. Some of the texts were written by General Authorities and subsequently set to music. Some hymns which have become favorites over the years, such as “In Our Lovely Deseret” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” will be found in the new edition. Also, there will be a group of children’s songs which have become familiar to old and young alike. This will include favorites such as “I Am a Child of God,” “I Know My Father Lives,” “Teach Me to Walk in the Light,” and “Love One Another.”

    During the months of preparation, much planning and thought went into making the new hymnal more helpful and easier to use. Each hymn will have brackets placed around appropriate parts of the music to aid the accompanist in playing the introduction. One or more scripture references will be listed with each hymn to indicate the scripture to which the text refers. There is a more thorough topical index and a section of helps for using the book. Hymns that were seldom used have been left out, as were duplications of the same song, i.e., men’s and women’s arrangements. Many of the selections in the new book have been transposed to a lower key.

    When asked about the purpose of the new hymnbook, Michael F. Moody, chairman of the General Music Committee, responded, “A hymnbook revision is periodically needed to add to our great heritage of hymns—additional hymns that will serve the needs of a new generation of Latter-day Saints.”

    The new edition of the hymnbook is six by nine inches, and the cover is green. It is quite different in size and content from Emma Smith’s 1835 original. But however different the old and the new may look, the purpose has not changed—to provide a collection of beautiful and sacred hymns that we may worship the Lord through song.