Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: Alexander Schreiner Explains the Hymn

Guest Post: Alexander Schreiner Explains the Hymn

By: Amy Tanner Thiriot - August 06, 2014

In anticipation of Daniel Berghout’s upcoming lecture at the Church History Library on August 14, 2014, Keepapitchinin will be featuring a selection or two from long-time Tabernacle organist, hymn writer, and German immigrant Alexander Schreiner (1901-1987).


Twelve years before the Church published the most recent edition of the LDS Hymnbook, Alexander Schreiner put out a call in the Ensign for new hymns. “The task and challenge before us now and during the next few years is to produce a body of one or two hundred new hymns that will reflect the talents of our finest and most spiritual poets and our best musicians.”

He continued, “Because our environment becomes ever more modern, complex, and interesting, we should encourage the writing of new hymns that are more than just a rehash of former tunes and poetic sentiments. In our new hymns we should strive for new subjects, stronger subjects, timely subjects, faith-promoting subjects, and heartwarming subjects.”

He went on to explain what “hymn” means and explained that there are different types of hymns.

A hymn is a special kind of poetry addressed to Deity as a prayer. The ancient Greeks sang hymns to their pagan deities. We sing to the everlasting God, our Heavenly Father, and we should address most of our hymns as prayers to heaven….

The apostle Paul also gave instructions on hymns: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3:16.)

This indicates that Paul understood something of the several types of hymns used in his day. He also reiterated what several prophets of the Old Testament often recommended, that we should sing “with grace in our hearts to the Lord.”

Our hymnbook of 1840 is titled L.D.S. Hymns. But the title page goes into more detail: Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and John Taylor, who published this book in Liverpool, correctly understood that there are different kinds of hymns….

When using the hymnbook, we should refer to all of its contents by the overall term hymns. This is the proper ecclesiastical designation, because the hymnbook contains something far more important and significant than just songs. Hymns are classified technically under at least five types: true hymns, psalms, spiritual songs, chorales, and the so-called gospel hymns.

The True Hymn: The ideal hymn is a sacred song addressed to Deity. Such hymns are the most important ones in our hymnbook. They may not always be spirited in rhythm, but they are always spiritual in quality. And spiritual values are the highest of all values.

Psalms: Paul mentioned the singing of psalms. These are hymns taken from the Old Testament. The psalms are the Western world’s best-loved poems, and the noblest. The Pilgrims sang psalms, and the Puritans, in 1640, had the complete book of Psalms in rhyme and meter. The Calvinists preferred singing psalms to any other kind of hymn. Coming from the Old Testament, the psalms are addressed to Jehovah and do not mention the name Jesus Christ, although several of the psalms carry references to the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Several psalms are included in our hymnbook, such as “The Lord Is My Shepherd” and “Praise Ye the Lord.”

Spiritual Songs: These are so designated because they exhort and uplift the worshipers and are addressed to them rather than to Deity. They are sung, as it were, before the Lord. Songs such as “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” “Come, Let Us Anew,” and “Ere You Left Your Room This Morning” come under this classification.

Chorales: These are characterized chiefly by their even rhythm, which lends great stateliness to their performance. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “The Voice of God Again Is Heard” are both classified as chorales.

Gospel Hymns: The term gospel hymn is really a misnomer because these hymns rarely refer to the gospel. They were developed in the past century by enthusiastic gospel revivalist preachers. Examples of such hymns are “We Are All Enlisted,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Today While the Sun Shines.”

Songs with refrains usually belong to the gospel hymn style, which is characterized by frank cheerfulness, with dotted, dancing rhythms, spirited rather than spiritual in quality, and with practical, homely messages. The value of the gospel hymn lies chiefly in its optimism, in the fun of singing it, and in its ability to stir the singers to action. In general, these hymns are not considered to be very high in either poetic or musical quality, though their message may be strong.

To be successful, a hymn must begin with a strong opening statement that can be used as its title. A poem usually has a title, but a poem is seldom usable as a hymn. Examples of good titles are illustrated in most of the hymns in our hymnbook. However, there are exceptions. … We once had a hymn that began with “Father, lead me out of darkness.” This has now been changed to “Lead me into life eternal,” which is both the title and the opening statement. A strong title should begin the first stanza and also serve as a central subject for each of the other stanzas.

Traditionally, a hymn does not have a chorus. A song with a chorus stems from a ballad, in which a solo singer teaches the group (the chorus) to sing the chorus. Then he will sing alone, with perhaps guitar accompaniment, a verse that is then answered by the group singing the chorus. Following a second solo stanza, the chorus again sings, and so on.

Writers should avoid using choruses for hymns, although one that is very brief might on occasion be effective. The meter of succeeding stanzas must be precisely the same, with all the accents in the same places.1


What are your favorite hymns, and in which of these categories do they belong? Do you have a favorite hymn writer?

Have you ever written a hymn, or attempted to do so? What was your experience? Is there any advice you would share with someone considering writing a hymn?

What changes have you seen in hymn singing or hymn writing over your lifetime? Do our congregations sing different hymns now than when you were a child? Has the style of hymn-singing changed?



  1. Alexander Schreiner, “Guidelines for Writing Latter-day Hymns,” Ensign,, April 1973, link. []


  1. It is proposed that all hymns be sung at the tempo in which they were intended. All in favor may manifest .. .

    Comment by Carol — August 6, 2014 @ 7:02 am


    I remember reading this article, as well as the one at this link. Over the years, the principles come to mind often when I’m singing hymns.

    It did encourage me to write some things. On my mission I wrote or translated some for special occasions. And I have written songs about stories from our family history. Those would be more like the gospel hymns.

    I’ve enjoyed the hymns that Keepa readers have written. Now I’m thinking about writing a true hymn.

    I had a Swedish professor at BYU who was a Lutheran and a brilliant musician. He collected hymnbooks from all over the world and always had our class sing hymns. He loved teaching at BYU (he would spend just a few years at each university) because the students could and would sing hymns in class in parts. And there was a piano and choice of piano players in the classrooms. He started a Scandinavian language choir, but instead of the folk songs that the other language choirs did, we sang mostly hymns and church music including Gregorian chants and mass in Latin. (We sang mass several times in Catholic and Lutheran churches in Provo and Salt Lake and performed concerts on Temple Square.) It was one measly credit but we learned centuries of religious music history.

    Comment by Carol — August 6, 2014 @ 7:24 am

  3. No doubt the biggest change in hymn-ing in my lifetime has been the cessation of Sunday School opening exercises, with its weekly song practice. We used to spend a full month of practices on a hymn, with, if I recall correctly, ten minutes of practice a week. That was enough for the director (we called them choristers in those days) to read something about the hymn from one of those compilations of hymn stories, and sing the hymn repeatedly over the month, sometimes focusing on parts, sometimes drilling on tricky words or timing, sometimes looking at the words to decide which lines should be emphasized by a change in volume or whatever. I fell in love with “Down by the River’s Verdant Side” (no longer in the hymnbook) during one of those month-long emphases.

    With the complete lack of any opportunity to practice hymns as a congregation, we kind of stumble along sight reading new hymns — and, at least in my case, rather reluctantly joining in because the unfamiliarity of the hymn interferes with the worship that the hymns should enhance.

    Also, in recent years I’ve noticed (and documented via metronome app on iPad) a serious slowing down in the tempos of virtually all hymns, regardless of the markings on the printed page. Some people have suggested that it’s because current and recent directors of the Tabernacle Choir prefer slower, statelier performances that exhibit the beauty and control of the Choir’s voices. I have a different theory, though: When even the sprightliest gospel hymns are directed and sung as though they are stately chorales, I am reminded of the way many people read scripture aloud: stately and seriously, with no expression that indicates they are aware they’re reading stories, but only a ponderous seriousness wbere every “that” or “wherefore” is given the same vocal reverence as the most profound statement by Deity. Also, people seem unable to recognize the humor or sarcasm in quotable statements of leaders of the past — every word is treated as if it were scientific fact.

    In other words, I think there is a trend wider than hymns for us to be sober and long-faced and not recognize the joy and spontaneity and human traits and treat everything church-related with the most awful and inappropriate solemnity.

    And maybe I should have written a post instead of dumping all that into a comment on your thread, Amy. I very much enjoyed this post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2014 @ 8:03 am

  4. Ah, tempo. I’ll have to pull out a little story about Alexander Schreiner and tempo. You may enjoy it, Ardis.

    Thanks, Carol. What great experiences, and what a useful article. Your notes remind me of reading a book years ago about American folk music. The author dismissively said that the Mormons didn’t have any folk music; they just had hymns. That wasn’t true in any regard (“Valley Tan,” anyone?) and in any case, what’s wrong with hymns? When well-done they are one of the great art forms.

    Comment by Amy T — August 6, 2014 @ 8:14 am

  5. @1 Carol,

    You’ll appreciate this from an email I got from a dear relative.

    “Today was the usual. I went to choir, although the turnout has been less than stellar this summer. I will admit to being very irreverent about our song for September: “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd.” I have made fun of it for years, stemming from my childhood memories of faithful old women singing it in the Paris, Idaho 1st Ward, earnestly scooping up and down with wobbly voices: Hark! He is earnestly caaaaaaalling! . . . and “. . hungry and helpless and cooooold,” and “bringing them back TOOOOOOOO the fold!” My children invariably look at me whenever we sing it in church, confident that I will start to giggle.

    It’s like Pavlov’s dogs: every time I hear the music it makes me titter. They are not disappointed.

    So as we sing it in choir I grin and grin, valiantly trying not to think too very much about it…”

    Comment by Kent G. Budge — August 6, 2014 @ 8:27 am

  6. @3 Ardis,

    One hymn I miss from the new hymnbook is “Though In the Outward Church Below”, which is a nice musical setting of the parable of the wheat and the tares. The tune was written by Mozart and includes a wonderful running base line in the chorus. Alas, this may have been a bit too much for many congregations — this seems to be one of the hymns that was dropped because it was difficult to sing and not quite well-beloved enough for anyone to champion it.

    Comment by Kent G. Budge — August 6, 2014 @ 8:36 am

  7. “Hymns should not have choruses.” There are an awful lot of hymns with choruses in our current hymnal.

    I’m fortunate to live in a ward where tempo is understood both by the organist and by the conductor, so we don’t seem to share the pain of the ponderous dragging on of some of the songs.

    As to favorites, I love “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing,” which is no longer in the hymnal, and “Be Still My Soul,” to the Sibelius tune from Finlandia. A year ago, I participated in a male quartet that sang “O My Father” to an arrangement of the tune from “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing.” It worked remarkably well, and I have a hard time singing that without thinking of the alternate tune.

    I too am old enough to remember Sunday School singing practice, which has certainly impacted our music in our worship services. I try to participate in our ward choir, but it is in summer hiatus, and our new choir director is moving, so not sure when it will start up again.

    Comment by kevinf — August 6, 2014 @ 10:11 am

  8. Also, a pet peeve. I am no fan of “How Great Thou Art,” not because of the music or words, but because I have mostly heard it sung by commercial artists like Elvis Presley, or other country artists in my younger years. I suspect that their motives were less devotional than marketing driven, and I can only remember one time that I actually felt moved by that particular hymn, a unique instrumental and vocal arrangement in our sacrament meeting a few years back.

    Comment by kevinf — August 6, 2014 @ 10:16 am

  9. Thanks for sharing this article, Amy. I greatly admire Schreiner and his life’s work. The main thing that I liked about this article is the distinction he makes between the types of hymns out there. Which naturally leads to this discussion on our uniformly slow tempi in hymn singing . . .

    If organists and conductors were aware that there is a difference between types of hymns, there might be more license to play the hymns with more variety. Each genre should be played in the manner in which it was conceived. I think musical styles are like cars: some are meant to go fast, some are meant for smooth, long rides. Each should be respected for the kind of music it is. Not everything needs to be fast, but obviously, not everything should be slow. With our hymns, if the Gospel and folk hymns were to be played with more vitality, then the truly sober ones would have room to be, well, sober.

    Speaking more generally, I think the slow tempi problem is a combination of what Ardis said (an overall tendency to be “sober and long-faced”) and a Church culture that specifically discourages music that is fast or loud. We musicians have all heard the slightly disparaging remarks about musicians who didn’t seem to know their place. Plus, church music is often understood to be a means to an end, not something “worth it” in its own right (i.e., strong counsel to play only quiet preludes–and based only on hymns–to help us gather our thoughts for worship). In the end, many musicians are scared to play confidently!

    Then, throw in the many organists and pianists who legitimately struggle to get the notes right–let alone lead out–and voila! A recipe for turning hymns into something to endure, rather than spiritual uplift.

    All of this is to say that I have sympathy in my heart for the conductors and organists who lead the hymns so timidly and so, so slowly. (OK, I admit to the occasional inner rage, but mostly I view them with sympathy). The vast majority are doing what they can, and are doing exactly what they feel is the right thing. I believe the solution is in direction from Salt Lake on how to accompany congregations well, as well as encouragement from the pulpit for musicians to step up and not be ashamed, and stop being the proverbial church mice!

    Sorry this comment turned out to be so long. (And, yes, I do see the irony of calling for more vitality in a comment that is so long-winded!)

    Comment by David Y. — August 6, 2014 @ 10:29 am

  10. There are several songs that used to be good as closing hymns for sacrament meeting that don’t work now. The sun has already set or soon will, this hour of communion is ending, and out we will go into a cold world clinging to the hope of the gospel to get us by. It doesn’t work in the morning or mid-day, and it doesn’t work when Sunday School starts up in ten minutes.

    One casualty of the 3-hour block is that several good, gloomy closing songs have no use anymore. “Now the Day Is Over,” “Abide With Me,” “Abide With Me; ‘Tis Eventide.” I suppose most people who’ve never left a sacrament meeting at dusk don’t even know those songs. Our breadth of religious feeling is poorer without them.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 6, 2014 @ 10:37 am

  11. My husband has spent many years as a ward organist (self-taught, but endured as there is often no one else available). During his last stint, he and the music director would meet before church to go over each hymn and check tempi against metronome markings, etc. He was encouraged to play quiet contemplative hymns as a prelude, and to play vigorous, louder, faster music as a postlude to move people out of the chapel and into Sunday School.

    Comment by LauraN — August 6, 2014 @ 10:43 am

  12. Thanks for posting the article. As an organist I typically fight a battle with the congregation over song tempo. I try to play fast and the congregation usually sings slowly, so we skirmish. I’ll often slow down to their pace and then work at them. If there is a conductor who is strong and willing to lead briskly, that helps, otherwise, I have to be subtle as I slowly play faster and faster until we are at the proper tempo. It also helps to play louder than maybe you should in order to encourage people to sing louder. As people sing louder they tend to sing faster.

    I think some of the slowness comes from organists/pianists who really are not comfortable playing the hymns – many of them are more difficult than they appear to be – as well as congregations who are maybe not as musically inclined as they could be.

    Comment by Jared — August 6, 2014 @ 10:54 am

  13. As for favorite hymns, here’s my non-exhaustive list: Redeemer of Israel, High on the Mountain Top, Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise, Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Praise to the Lord the Almighty, Lead Kindly Light, Be Still My Soul, Lord We Ask Thee Ere We Part, Abide with Me ‘Tis Eventide, Abide with Me, As Now We Take the Sacrament, In Humility Our Savior, Hope of Israel, Oh Say What is Truth, Turn Your Hearts, Love One Another, Ye Elders of Israel, As Sisters in Zion, Rise Up O Men of God.

    There are a couple songs that are approaching tedious if they are played and sung at the speed of a lame sloth – The Spirit of God and Master the Tempest is Raging. Both are lovely songs (although I’ve never really liked Master the Tempest is Raging) but both are long and can become mind-numbing if too slow.

    Comment by Jared — August 6, 2014 @ 11:07 am

  14. Regarding tempo, one of the sacrament music conductors in my ward’s rotation was not only a good musician, but also a vigorous lad who placed third in the state track meet, running the two-mile in under 10 minutes, and that was somewhat how he conducted. Singing took full concentration; no gazing about the room musing on the past or the future. The leader was up there setting the pace, and I had to keep up. Occasionally my attention faltered, my tongue slipped gear, and I had to look for a spot a couple lines further on to jump back in.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 6, 2014 @ 11:17 am

  15. @10 John,

    All those songs are excellent for funerals. Granted we don’t have those as often as Sacrament meeting, or I hope not anyway.

    Comment by Kent G. Budge — August 6, 2014 @ 11:31 am

  16. Ha! Fun comment, John.

    Comment by David Y. — August 6, 2014 @ 11:33 am

  17. My first thought when reading this was that hymns should be faster. Then I read the comments and found I was not alone. The comments put me in mind of a ward chorister in my mom’s ward after my mission. Every. Single. Hymn. was 60 beats a minute. No more. No less.

    My favorite organist was a woman, professionally trained with perfect pitch, who would improvise during the postlude. Those who were able and smart enough to listen heard old standbys go places they never imagined, hear them return to the tried and true, and then venture out again. I once told her that Bach improvised eight part fugues but she didn’t take up the challenge.

    Comment by STW — August 6, 2014 @ 11:39 am

  18. “Abide With Me” is sung relatively often in these parts, although that may be a cultural thing (I suspect Anne UK will bear me up on that if she has a minute!).

    A poem usually has a title, but a poem is seldom usable as a hymn.

    I do wish the compilers of the current hymnbook had paid attention to that counsel! (One of them was my mission president but he had sneaked off home from these shores by the time the new book was published)

    A few of my favourites are: High On the (not “a”) Mountain Top; Come, O Thou King of Kings (memorably sung at a regional conference just after I was baptised); Redeemer of Israel; and Come, Ye Disconsolate. Like some of the previous commenters, I miss some of the old hymns, Hushed Was The Evening Hymn in particular.
    Great article, Amy, thanks.

    Comment by Alison — August 6, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

  19. Great Post, Amy.

    I think music callings are my favorite callings, and ones that I have had many times in my life starting as summer substitute Primary pianist on Wednesday afternoons when I turned 12. I have been fortunate to live in wards where accompanists generally match or exceed suggested metronome speed, so I don’t have the same gripe many of you have. The latest organ installed in our building this spring auto-plays hymns (at proper pace) in case we should ever not have an organist, but our organ cadre is 7 players deep with me as a last resort. I’ve spent several years at choir accompanist, years upon years as Primary song leader, but I haven’t been a sacrament meeting accompanist since my teen years. A calling that stretched me was Choir director, and I almost wish I could have that one back. There are so many songs in the hymnbook and the children’s songbook that I adore (and count me as an opposing vote to a post above… I really like “How Great Thou Art,” but probably because it reminds me of my Methodist grandparents and singing with them at church).

    To answer your question, have I tried to write a hymn? Yes, if you’re talking about the category spiritual songs.

    I once tried to write a setting for a poem by my ancestor, but gave up because it had to be translated from German as well as set to music; it also expressed a thought that was very similar to “Oh What Songs of the Heart” which I also adore. But it was fun to try.

    I have written a couple of things for stake leadership meetings, including this one which references Solomon’s desire for an Understanding Heart. It has a chorus, so maybe its more of a gospel song.

    While choir director, I gave Sweet Is the Peace a new setting, which was really satisfying to capture a melody.

    My fondest accomplishment was an Award of Merit in the Children Song category 2005 Church Music Submission contest (even though my proof-reading somehow managed to omit the time signature before submitting! eek).

    Advice about hymnwriting? Music and words need to go together well. The message needs to be relevant to the audience. Simple is good, too. Singable. Consonant with the restored gospel. But most importantly, just do it. Just write. As Fred Rogers pointed out, if you write a barrelful of songs, a few will come out pretty good. I’ve tried to follow that counsel, to the extent that I can.

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 6, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

  20. I’m really enjoying all these thoughts and experiences.

    Jared, I can’t remember where I learned the technique, but someone explained that if the congregation is not singing to tempo, the organist can start playing staccato. Every time I’ve tried it it’s worked.

    I’ve recently been called as a ward organist after a several years’ break, and will be playing every third month starting in September, so I’ve started to think again about techniques and details.

    Along with playing at appropriate tempo and volume, one of the major things I learned in prior years was instead of focusing on the performance, to pray before the meeting that my performance would not distract anyone in the congregation from the worship experience but would help them feel the spirit. I am at a long distance from the meetinghouse — last week on the way home from church my children figured out that it would take the pioneers two days on the road to get from our house to our meetinghouse — so I can rarely spend much time practicing the organ, but I’ve had that prayer answered more times than I can remember. It’s been an important reminder to me how vital music, and especially appropriate music, is to our worship services.

    Comment by Amy T — August 6, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

  21. Technical note: More comments than usual are being caught by the filter. I release them as quickly as possible, but that might affect comments that refer to other comments by number, or it might delay Amy’s response to a few comments. Sorry about all that — I’m keeping an eye on the filter.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

  22. Very nice, Coffinberry. It’s great to read about your experiences. I’ll have to play through those when I can get to my piano.

    Comment by Amy T — August 6, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

  23. One of the biggest difficulties in directing a congregation is, almost ironically, the speed of sound. For every one watching for the tempo, at least twenty are staying with what they hear. The farther away from the sound source they are, the further behind the beat they will be. If the director or organist is trying to keep pace with the congregation, the feedback will gradually make the tempo slower and slower.

    You have to learn to keep the tempo up on your own. This is why large choirs are reminded to watch the conductor, since they’re hearing the other side of the choir slightly late.

    Can’t imagine how bad it must be in the conference center. At least the words on the screen make them watch a little.

    Comment by Frank Pellett — August 6, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

  24. I pin the blame on slow hymns on a lack of good accompanist/organists. It’s just not emphasized the way it used to be, in the Church or the culture at large. The latest version of the Handbook attempts to address this by allowing for-profit music lessons (piano and organ) in the meetinghouses, but I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Teens these days don’t gather around a piano and sing. If they sing at all, it’s karaoke.

    If I had to pick just one hymn, it would be “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” It’s quinessentially Mormon, and has a verse to match whatever mood I’m in.

    Other favorites not yet mentioned: “Oh Say What is Truth” and “I Stand All Amazed”

    Comment by The Other Clark — August 6, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

  25. I actually kind of love “Man Is That He Might Have Joy.” It took a while, but it grew on me.

    When I was thirteen and my older sister was fifteen, I was called as the Sunday School chorister and she as the pianist. I would pick the hymns on the way to church. For some reason, she felt that this gave her inadequate time to practice. For years, she would rib me for it– but finally, after many deep apologies on my part, she admitted that she was a much better sight-reader for the experience.

    I love all three Ralph Vaughn Williams hymns (“I Saw a Mighty Angel Fly,” “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” and “For All the Saints”); and the old, 15th-and-16th-century ones (“A Mighty Fortress,” “Praise to the Lord,” and a couple of others that don’t come to mind at the moment), and all the thanksgiving hymns, and “The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare,” and “Cast Thy Burden Upon The Lord”– and, to get off-topic, “If With All Your Hearts,” which is in the Primary Children’s Songbook, and “He, Watching Over Israel,” which isn’t in any of the church’s published songbooks but which I sang in a choir once. After I discovered that these last three were all from Mendelssohn’s Oratorio Elijah, I went up to the HBLL and listened to a record of it. The experience made me wish we could have more Mendelssohn in the hymnbook, or maybe just in choirs.

    One day I got home from church and ended up in a conversation with my Jehovah’s witness neighbor in which I described a lovely lesson about Cornelius’ conversion which I had just given in Primary. Somehow the conversation turned to Christmas, and she was very tough on me for celebrating it, because in the Bible it never says that we are allowed to celebrate pagan holidays. She didn’t allow the Cornelius story to affect her view; but suddenly I asked, “Would you sing a hymn which had once been a drinking song?” and she wasn’t as sure of herself. I described how Hans Leo Hassler had used a drinking tune for a religious song, and then my own beloved J.S. Bach used it for his St. Matthew’s Passion, which we now have in the hymnbook as “Oh Savior, Thou Who Wearest,” which is one of my all-time favorites. (Though the harmonies are too close for my oldest nephew to appreciate, the close harmonies are what I enjoy the most about them.)

    I also have to love “Ye Simple Souls Who Stray,” both for the wonderfully 19th-century title and for the music. *sigh*.

    I wish I knew remotely enough about either poetry or music theory to attempt hymn-composition, but alas, I am restricted to appreciation at this point.

    (Unless, of course, I move to Idaho. I just got back from visiting a friend who moved there about five years ago.

    “It’s poor here,” she said.

    “I know,” I answered. “I lived here until I was nine.”

    “People make their own stuff. Like, entertainment. Like, I had a friend who was composing music for this thing, and she asked me, ‘do you compose?’ and I said, ‘not really,’ and she said, ‘why not try anyway?’ and I did.”

    “Do you appreciate Napoleon Dynamite more now?”


    Comment by S — August 6, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

  26. Very funny, S. And three cheers for Mendelssohn. One of my favorites.

    Comment by Amy T — August 6, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

  27. Like Coffinberry I have had every music calling in the church, some of them multiple times. My favorite music calling is as an accompanist. I was accompanying my class in the fifth grade in elementary school and started accompanying my father on his violin when I was twelve. As a piano major, one of the things I found I could do well is sightread, which made accompanying easy.When playing the organ for sacrament meeting I was taught to anticipate the chorister’s beat and come in just slightly ahead of that. If not, by the time she/he leads a beat and I play at the same time, there is a slight lag before the congregation hears the sound and sings, then the chorister starts following the congregation and the song gradually gets slower. I just noticed that Frank Pellett says this better than I did.

    Every time I get to substitute as chorister in our ward Sacrament Meeting, my organist says she has to keep on her toes to keep up with me. There are always several people who tell us that they loved to sing the hymns that day.

    Some of my favorite hymns are How Great Thou Art, Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy, Oh May my Soul Commune With Thee, Where Can I Turn for Peace, Be Still My Soul. My son’s favorite song since he was young is Praise to the Man. That is one of my favorites, also.

    Comment by Maurine — August 6, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

  28. Oh, Amy, you only have to play every three months? Lucky you.

    I am the O N L Y piano player in the ward (with the exception of a young RM who can manage both hands, if not both staves), and look to be so for the next long while.

    Our ward isn’t terribly musically inclined (alas). Takes them about a verse and a half to really get going. Also, they don’t know how to follow a conductor. They do know to follow me, and I make sure the tempo remains up where it needs to be.

    I wish my ward was more musical. The members would find a whole lot more joy in the Gospel because of it.

    Comment by Heidi — August 7, 2014 @ 8:38 am

  29. Reading the comments I realize, once again, how lucky our ward is. There are half a dozen people who can play the organ including several teens who rotate through, playing once a month. Three organists, who play regularly for stake meetings, aren’t even part of the Sunday rotation. You always know what the opening hymn is when the teens play because it is also the prelude music. Two or three other teens take care of the music in priesthood meeting.

    My younger brother when he was a teen had a bishop that assigned each priest who had even a passing acquaintance with the piano to learn a hymn. I understand each week featured a different boy and a different hymn but the same four rotated through month after month. I don’t know how they handled fifth Sundays. Maybe they had a joint meeting with the Relief Society.

    Comment by STW — August 7, 2014 @ 11:44 am

  30. Maurine@27: Praise to the Man would be far more rousing if the bishop would allow it as a special musical number played by the local fife and drum corps.

    S@25: if your ward choir can sing “he watching over Israel,” I’m impressed.

    Comment by The Other Clark — August 7, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

  31. OK, The Other Clark:

    I didn’t want to do this, but my brother-in-law says that every time he hears “Praise to the Man,” he is reminded of the bagpipe scene from “So I Married an Ax-Murderer.”

    “We have a piper down!”

    And, Kevinf, he also refuses to sing any song in church that was recorded by Elvis.

    Comment by Grant — August 7, 2014 @ 12:54 pm

  32. TOC and Grant: I’ll see you a Hollywood movie and raise you a national anthem (

    Comment by Alison — August 7, 2014 @ 3:29 pm

  33. This is John’s wife Elizabeth writing– I teach piano (and violin) lessons. I am one of our ward organists. I’ll answer the post’s questions later, but I wanted to offer some assistance to people in wards with few pianists:

    To help LDS piano students and their teachers, I conferred with several resources, including some other LDS piano teachers, and came up with a list of the most commonly used hymns. (These are the ones that every LDS pianist needs to be able to play– the 20% that is used 80% of the time.) I also made a list of the 20 or so hymns that are the easiest and ranked them in order of difficulty. This list is intended to help a student and their non-LDS teacher to know which hymns to start on first. I also included a list of the most difficult hymns for advanced players. If you or someone you know would like a copy of these 3 hymn lists, please email me at and I will send you a pdf copy.
    Every ward in the church needs several pianists and a few organists, and they come from the kids who are learning piano now. So parents, please help your kids stick it out. In the future, they will be glad you didn’t let them quit.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 7, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

  34. Thanks, Elizabeth, that sounds very useful. I’ll drop you a note.

    Comment by Amy T — August 8, 2014 @ 7:40 am