The hymns and arrangements on this website provide alternate tunes for familiar hymn texts. These new settings are particularly appropriate for church choirs and for those singing vocal solos in church. My hope is that these settings will help you to express sacred ideas in new and enlightening ways, sharing familiar messages while "singing a new song to the Lord."
If you are interested in learning more about how hymn texts and tunes are combined, be sure to read the additional information given below. If you want to find out more about me, see the Contact Page.
About Hymn Texts and Tunes
You have probably noticed as you have paged through a hymnbook that most hymns have at least two separate authors: the writer of the text and the composer of the music (the tune). You may also have noticed that these authors sometimes have very different backgrounds. The poet and the composer may be centuries removed from each other or come from different parts of the world.
A good example of this is the hymn “All Creatures of our God and King” (hymn number 62 in the 1985 LDS hymnbook).
This type of complex hymn genealogy is not at all uncommon, and it illustrates an important point: hymns are made up of two separate elements—a text and a tune. The text is generally written by a poet and the tune by a composer. In some cases these two people will be collaborators, and in a few cases they are one and the same person.
Combining Texts and Tunes
Often, when we speak of a “hymn,” we mean both a text and a tune joined together, but when a hymnologist speaks of a hymn, they are referring to the hymn text alone—that is, to the poetry. The hymn tune is a separate element that has its own unique tune name. It is important to keep hymn texts and tunes separate, since they are often combined in different ways.
For example, you are probably aware of several different musical settings of the Christmas carol “Away in a Manger.” Thus, this well-known text is associated with multiple tunes. Another example of this in the LDS hymnbook is the text “While of These Emblems We Partake,” which is given two separate tunes, each with its own tune name. Hymn number 173 is set to the tune SAUL and number 174 to the tune AEOLIAN. (Note that tune names may have nothing to do with the texts they are associated with.)
The opposite is also true: the same tune might have multiple texts. For example, it was quite common in the eighteenth and nineteenth century for congregations to sing all of their hymn texts to the same four or five tunes. Since their hymnbooks only had words in them (no notes), they had to sing the tunes from memory.
Many of the tunes in the LDS hymnbook have at one time or another used different texts, and can be found in hymnbooks of other faiths. As just one example of this, consider the hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob” (hymn number 284 in the LDS hymnbook). The text was written by William W. Phelps, and contains doctrine that is specific to LDS beliefs. But other churches also sing this well-known English folk tune, using texts such as “All Ye Who Seek a Comfort Sure” and “Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine.”
There is also an example in the LDS hymnbook of two hymns sharing the same tune: “Should You Feel Inclined to Censure” (hymn 235) and “Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy” (hymn 335).
Making the Perfect Match
The interchangeability of text and tune may seem surprising to those of us who have received our modern hymnbook “as is.” But this interchangeability is clearly a historical fact and also a very useful characteristic of hymns. It allows us to join the best music and the best texts to express spiritual ideas in the best possible settings. It allows those of different faiths to adapt spiritually uplifting music to new texts that better express their own beliefs. And it can allow us to combine variety with familiarity in an effective manner.
In my own experiences as a church choir director, I have found that it is not wise to abandon the familiar. Members of the congregation can identify with familiar hymn texts or tunes better than newly composed music. They may associate these familiar hymns with a spiritual feeling or a testimony-building experience that they have had. This longing for familiarity should be balanced with the desire for variety that is inherent to music.
One way to maintain this balance is to keep one of the elements intact. That is, to set the text of a hymn to an interesting new tune, or to use a familiar tune with a new text. The words and music can be combined in a way that enhances the original message of the hymn text, and can even put the meaning of that text in a whole new light by altering the music’s character.
The hymns on this website focus on the first approach: providing alternate tunes for familiar hymn texts. Rather than composing new tunes, I have drawn some of the best tunes from the rather large body of existing hymn settings. My sources are varied, including American folk tunes, Lutheran chorales, British hymns, gospel songs, plainchant, classical music, and contemporary modern hymn settings.
In providing these new tunes, I wish to make no comment on the suitability or effectiveness of the existing tunes. In many cases I find them both equally satisfying. However, I find that multiple settings can express sacred ideas in new and enlightening ways. My hope is that these alternate settings will help you to sing hymns that are both musically satisfying and spiritually uplifting, allowing you to share a familiar message while "singing a new song" to the Lord.