Hymnstogram 2009

Among the duties of my calling as the Ward Music Director, I have the responsibility to recommend and conduct “the congregational hymns for sacrament meetings.” Until now, as per an understanding between myself and the Ward Music Chairman, I have not recommended any particular hymns for her consideration. That is about to change. After an extensive data-gathering period and a bit of analysis, I am now prepared to make some recommendations.

Actual Data

  • Period under consideration: calendar year 2009
  • Number of Sundays: 52
  • Number of sacrament meetings held by my ward: 48 [N.B. this should not be interpreted as a failure of my ward to meet some weeks, but rather it accounts for two Stake Conferences and two General Conferences]
  • All 48 sacrament meetings featured an opening hymn, a sacramental hymn, and a closing hymn.  Additionally, all 48 sacrament meetings were followed immediately by a transitional hymn allowing teachers a few moments to prepare their classrooms.
  • Number of sacrament meetings with performed musical selections or programs: 14
  • Number of sacrament meetings with at least one additional (“rest”) hymn sung by the congregation: 19
  • Average hymn numbers of particular hymn events with standard deviation (rounded to the nearest integer):
    • Opening: 153±92 (Lord, We Ask Thee Ere We Part)
    • Sacramental: 184±9 (Upon the Cross of Calvary)
    • Rest: 161±98 (The Lord Be with Us)
    • Closing: 161±94 (The Lord Be with Us)
    • Transition: 125±96 (How Gentle God’s Commands)
  • So statistically, we sang the same hymn five times every single week.

Of course what I really wanted to see was whether we missed some hymns in 2009 that I would really like to sing and conduct.  Thus was born the hymnstogram:

I admit to having been rather shocked that our entire 2009 repertoire consisted of only 139 of the 341 hymns in Hymns. Even more striking is the near-perfect exponential decay of the Count of Hymns with increasing Number of Times Hymn Sung. So of course I did what anyone would do. I attempted to simulate the selection of hymns for a year.


First of all, 48 sacramental hymns were chosen randomly from the 29 hymns in the designated section of Hymns. Next, I made a list of the hymn numbers that are not from the sections of Hymns labeled Sacrament, Easter, Christmas, For Women, For Men, and Patriotic, leaving 264 all-purpose hymns. Most of the opening, rest, closing, and transitional hymns were randomly chosen from the hymn numbers in this list. However, for four weeks these hymn events were chosen from the Christmas section, and for two weeks the opening hymn was chosen from the USA-themed hymns in the Patriotic section.

The rest hymns were a little different, because (as the astute reader will recall) we only sang a rest hymn in 19 of the 48 possible weeks. Thus, attempting to get approximately that number of rest hymns, each rest hymn in my array of hymns would only select a hymn if a random number was less than 19/48. Otherwise it would return a null value, which was then ignored in my analysis.

I ran the simulation 10 times, each time recording how many hymns were sung zero times, one time, and so on up to seven times. I averaged these counts and made a graph of the results.

Here are my observations from the results of the simulation.

  • The simulated hymnstogram appears very much like the actual one, and is quite well fitted by an exponential decay, though I’m not exactly sure why that is. I’m not convinced my simulation can be accurately described by a Poisson process, so I don’t know why it should have (something like) a Poisson distribution.
  • The data points actually do have vertical error bars (representing the standard deviation), but only those on the data point labeled 100.2 are visible, because the others are smaller than the points themselves.
  • I didn’t simulate Easter hymns. Sorry. There are only four of them, and the standard deviations for hymns sung zero, one, two, and three times exceeded four, so I’m not too worried that it would make much difference.
  • There was one simulation in which a hymn was sung six times, and another in which a hymn was sung seven times (though I didn’t note which hymn it was either time). As a trained scientist, I suspected this might happen, so I was watching for it. I can tell that none of the simulations had a hymn being sung more than seven times, simply because the sum of each of the counts in a given simulation always equals exactly 341.
  • You can’t tell from this graph, but we sang none of the hymns from the For Women and For Men sections, which is no surprise since those hymns are not necessarily intended for general mixed-gender congregations. My simulation similarly excluded them.

What does this mean? Does it imply that my Ward Music Chairman is selecting hymns in the same pseudo-random way my simulation works? Not at all. On the other hand, she has several things to consider as she selects the hymns, including the following:

  • We have five Ward Organists who rotate through, though two of them haven’t played for a few months due to the goings-on of their individual lives. The facility with which they play varies a little bit between them, but these five talented people do a great service whenever they play, and I’m glad to work with each of them. Their varying skill levels may play a role in the selection of hymns, but I doubt it.
  • We also have four youth organists. One of the adult organists got them all started early last year, and one of them usually plays for the closing and transitional hymns. It is an absolute delight to conduct them. As they are all fairly new to the organ, their repertoire is limited to a certain set of hymns, so I am fairly confident that this plays a role in the selection of hymns (or at least it did for a while). I haven’t made an attempt to have these two hymn events (closing and transitional) selected from a subset of hymns that are easier to play on the organ, for that is beyond the scope of this report, and also beyond the depth of my interest in this simulation.

Please note that I expect that a hymnstogram for the typical ward in the US (and perhaps beyond) would look about like mine. My Ward Music Chairman has done a wonderful job in selecting all the hymns, especially considering that I made no recommendations to her. No recommendation I make should be interpreted as criticism of the valuable work she has done.


Without further ado, here are the hymns that we didn’t sing in 2009 that I would really like to sing and conduct in 2010 (note that two of them are already checked off!). I’ve also given some explanations for why I love these hymns. An appendix with all 202 hymns we missed in 2009 follows.

Let me know in the comments if there is a hymn that I haven’t listed here that appears in the appendix and that you would recommend, as well as why you like it.

  • 1 The Morning Breaks [Parley P. Pratt!]
  • 2 The Spirit of God
  • 6 Redeemer of Israel
  • 13 An Angel from on High [Parley P. Pratt!]
  • 15 I Saw a Mighty Angel Fly [Ralph Vaughn Williams!]
  • 29 A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief
  • 35 For the Strength of the Hills [a soaring MoTab-worthy anthem]
  • 40 Arise, O Glorious Zion [another anthem]
  • 41 Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise [yet another anthem]
  • 59 Come, O Thou King of Kings [Parley P. Pratt!]
  • 68 A Mighty Fortress is Our God [Martin Luther! and what musical majesty]
  • 72 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty [that great 17th-century syncopation]
  • 82 For All the Saints [Ralph Vaughn Williams! and a terrific anthem]
  • 102 Jesus, Lover of My Soul [for me, this one and the several that follow strongly invite the Spirit via their supplications]
  • 108 The Lord is My Shepherd
  • 113 Our Savior’s Love
  • 114 Come unto Him
  • 115 Come, Ye Disconsolate
  • 117 Come unto Jesus
  • 122 Though Deepening Trials
  • 124 Be Still, My Soul
  • 130 Be Thou Humble
  • 133 Father in Heaven
  • 135 My Redeemer Lives [Gordon B. Hinckley!]
  • 141 Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee [the tried-and-true text is almost 900 years old, and it just keeps getting better]
  • 146 Gently Raise the Sacred Strain
  • 149 As the Dew from Heaven Distilling [such a tender melody]
  • 165 Abide with Me; ‘Tis Eventide
  • 166 Abide with Me
  • 179 Again, Our Dear Redeeming Lord [unexpected twists in the harmony]
  • 184 Upon the Cross of Calvary [powerful imagery]
  • 194 There is a Green Hill Far Away [beautiful in its simplicity]
  • 198 That Easter Morn [more great imagery, and can you tell the music was composed by an organist? Awesome]
  • 215 Ring Out, Wild Bells [already done in 2010!]
  • 217 Come, Let Us Anew [a great call to action]
  • 221 Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd [another great motivator with more lovely imagery]
  • 240 Know This, That Every Soul is Free
  • 242 Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow
  • 246 Onward, Christian Soldiers
  • 253 Like Ten Thousand Legions Marching
  • 273 Truth Reflects Upon Our Senses [already done in 2010! It makes way more sense if you sing all the verses, which we did last week]
  • 284 If You Could Hie to Kolob [Ralph Vaughn Williams!]
  • 286 Oh, What Songs of the Heart [this is a precious song among the extended Pratt family, especially with my grandpa and three of his nine sisters already gone ahead]
  • 293 Each Life That Touches Ours for Good
  • 301 I Am a Child of God [they don’t get any better, or more Mormon, than this]
  • 337 O Home Beloved [I’m pretty sure all the passengers in the airplane could hear this song when I caught sight of some familiar Arizona mountains on the last leg of my journey home from my mission. I certainly could, of which the tears streaming down my face testified]

That’s 46 hymns. If we sing one each week we’re golden!


Here is the complete list of the 202 hymn numbers that were not sung in 2009.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 6
  • 8
  • 9
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
  • 28
  • 29
  • 32
  • 33
  • 34
  • 35
  • 36
  • 37
  • 38
  • 39
  • 40
  • 41
  • 42
  • 43
  • 44
  • 45
  • 46
  • 47
  • 48
  • 49
  • 50
  • 51
  • 53
  • 54
  • 55
  • 56
  • 57
  • 59
  • 61
  • 65
  • 68
  • 69
  • 70
  • 71
  • 72
  • 74
  • 75
  • 77
  • 79
  • 80
  • 82
  • 84
  • 88
  • 90
  • 99
  • 101
  • 102
  • 107
  • 108
  • 110
  • 111
  • 112
  • 113
  • 114
  • 115
  • 117
  • 118
  • 119
  • 120
  • 121
  • 122
  • 123
  • 124
  • 126
  • 127
  • 130
  • 132
  • 133
  • 135
  • 141
  • 145
  • 146
  • 149
  • 150
  • 153
  • 154
  • 155
  • 159
  • 160
  • 161
  • 162
  • 164
  • 165
  • 166
  • 167
  • 168
  • 170
  • 175
  • 178
  • 179
  • 184
  • 189
  • 194
  • 197
  • 198
  • 203
  • 211
  • 215
  • 217
  • 221
  • 224
  • 225
  • 228
  • 229
  • 230
  • 231
  • 232
  • 233
  • 234
  • 236
  • 238
  • 240
  • 242
  • 244
  • 245
  • 246
  • 247
  • 248
  • 251
  • 252
  • 253
  • 255
  • 256
  • 257
  • 260
  • 261
  • 262
  • 264
  • 265
  • 266
  • 267
  • 268
  • 269
  • 272
  • 273
  • 275
  • 276
  • 278
  • 279
  • 281
  • 282
  • 283
  • 284
  • 285
  • 286
  • 287
  • 289
  • 290
  • 291
  • 293
  • 296
  • 297
  • 299
  • 301
  • 302
  • 306
  • 307
  • 309
  • 310
  • 311
  • 312
  • 313
  • 314
  • 315
  • 316
  • 317
  • 318
  • 319
  • 320
  • 321
  • 322
  • 323
  • 324
  • 325
  • 326
  • 327
  • 328
  • 329
  • 330
  • 331
  • 332
  • 333
  • 334
  • 335
  • 336
  • 337
  • 341
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About Ben Pratt

I am married to a brilliant and lovely woman. Remarkably, our union has produced three brilliant and lovely daughters! We enjoy reading, going for walks and bike rides, and Friday night pizza picnics in the family room. Descended from Parley P. Pratt (founding editor of this blog's namesake), Charles Henry Wilcken, Zachariah Bruyn Decker, Jesse N. Smith, Frederick G. Williams, and a host of farmers, missionaries, colonizers, businessmen, and pilots, I was raised in Chandler, AZ. I have degrees in physics from both Brigham Young University (BS) and the University of Washington (MS). I earn my filthy lucre teaching physics, mathematics, and fine arts at a public charter school in Mesa, AZ.

56 thoughts on “Hymnstogram 2009

  1. My only comment is: *five* ward organists?!? Wow – we have a hard time finding *one* ! 🙂

    Good analysis. I use a spreadsheet to track what hymns we sing, so we don’t get too many obvious (and closely-spaced) repeats.

  2. Ben, great analysis. I also edited your post so only the first paragraph appears on the M* main page.

    I think it’s important to have congregations sing new hymns. We tend to just sing the old standbys, and that can get old.

  3. I love O Home Beloved! I didn’t know anyone sang it. We had it sung at my father’s funeral last month and it was the first time many people heard it. We used Bro. Nelson/Mack Wilberg’s arrangement so it was “singable” for all voices.

  4. Did you know that if you start the Sunday after Thanksgiving and end the Sunday after Christmas you can sing every Christmas song in the hymnbook once if you count for an opening, closing and rest hymn every Sunday. (I believe this included Ring out Wild Bells.)

    I can’t believe you never sang Our Saviour’s Love, that is one of my favorites and when I was ward chorister I made sure we sang it at least once a year. 🙂

  5. Because Tigersue mentioned Christmas songs, I need to say, that NOT ONCE in any Christmas season in my ward (that’s 6 years now) have we sung #205 Once in Royal David’s City. We seem to be fixated on the Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night and Away in a Manger — great songs, but please let’s sing 205!!

    Now to the heart of the matter…Ben, you have a lot of time on your hands to have figured this out. However, I do apprecaite the list of songs not sung. Some of those are the best songs in the book and need to be sung.

    Finally, lets also sing the songs at tempo. Serioulsy the funeral durge speed is killing those of us in the back!

  6. “Finally, lets also sing the songs at tempo. Seriously the funeral durge speed is killing those of us in the back!” Amen and Amen SIster Joyce!
    Our ward must be on the same schedule as yours Ben, we sing the lesser known hymns regularly. So much that I wish we would sing the old favorites more often. You can’t please everyone 🙂 .

  7. I was reminded why I never enjoyed statistics!

    And why the music chosen for our worship services so often leaves me wishing for something better.

    You went a whole year without singing “The Spirit of God” or “Come, O, Thou King of Kings” or “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”? Aren’t those “old favorites”?

    There are only 29 sacrament hymns, but you still managed to miss eight of them? (And did you in fact sing both “While of these Emblems” and “Tis Sweet to Sing” to both musical settings while never singing “There is a Green Hill” or “Upon the Cross of Calvary”?)

    You have “rest” hymns? We’ll start having “rest hymns” about the time we start having “rest prayers” in the middle of our services.

  8. Ok, so I have to share a funny story from the mish:

    I always led the music and Elder Hill always played the “piano” (which was really a Casio eletric keyboard that was not a fully keyboard. We met for church in a bar — yes a real spiritual place )…

    One day the brother who normally chose the hymns for church was gone so we decided to sing different songs and at tempo. For some reason this branch liked to sing only: I Need Thee Every Hour, Joseph Smith’s First Prayer and In Humility Our Saviour and God Be With You Till We Meet Again.

    Anyway…we caught it furiously after church from the members. We were told that if we had the nerve to change the songs at least we should play them right. We were told right was slow.

    Confused looks exchanged and hearty belly laughs ensued!

  9. Lynne (#1), the very same. He often went by Bill.

    Geoff (#3), thanks. That was a good idea.

    Tigersue (#6), you have an intimidating moniker. But I can tell that you were an excellent Ward Music Director.

    Joyce (#7), Ben, you have a lot of time on your hands to have figured this out. Lynne’s (#1) explanation was probably better. It’s not that I have a lot of extra time, it’s that I can focus on one thing to the exclusion of all others.

    Also, I like to conduct the hymns at the suggested tempos. My cadre of organists has really risen to the challenge, and it sounds and feels great.

    Mark (#10), hymnstograms don’t lie. We sang what we sang. Like you, I was surprised at some of the omissions, which is why I have prepared this report. Again, it is not intended as criticism of the diligent service of the Ward Music Chairman, but rather as a fun exercise and a vehicle for me to better fulfill my own responsibility.

    Joyce (#11), that’s a great story. Note that the top seven hymns sung in my ward were:
    3 Now Let Us Rejoice (5 times)
    182 We’ll Sing All Hail to Jesus’ Name (5 times)
    4 We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet (4 times)
    85 How Firm a Foundation (4 times)
    171 With Humble Heart (4 times)
    172 In Humility, Our Savior (4 times)

    Ardis (#12), I’m so glad you’re here.

  10. As the only organist in my ward, I would love for a chorister who is more willing to branch out and sing something else. We sing “I Believe in Christ” and “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” at least once a quarter–last year we sang them both on consecutive months. I have to play them at my tempo, not hers–mostly because she couldn’t find a downbeat if one hit her on the head. She loves music, and I appreciate that she is willing to help out, but I cannot look at her waving her arms around randomly while I am playing or I will lose my place completely. And usually for choristers who cannot lead, I just follow their tempo while they sing–but she isn’t able to do that very consistently, either.

  11. * Tosses Yellow Flag *

    “Improper use of continuous data analysis tools on categorical data. Ben Pratt, M*. Must repeat elementary statistics class. Replay the down.”

    Sorry, but the analysis of the hymn number means nothing because the hymn number has no cardinal interpretation to the characteristics of the hymn. I think what would be a good study is the following:

    Purely randomize the hymns.

    mark each hymn as “well known or not”

    Have a decibel meter at your podium. Measure the decibels of each hymn sung as a function of congregation size, its “well known” categorization, and which hymn it is (opening, sac, closing, other).

    Now you have a quantitative measure of congregational responsiveness to familiarity of the hymns.

  12. I love it! I wish I was choosing the music in our ward. That’s a job I really, really like.

    I’ve mentioned elsewhere that #1 The Morning Breaks only works if you have a large, fairly skilled congregation. We’ve done it in our ward (a small ward with limited musical experience) and it was a sorry experience. But if you have five (!!) organists with four in training, you probably have a bunch of singers as well. I’m jealous.

    And, how can you not sing Redeemer of Israel in the course of a year!? Hopefully they did it in Stake Conference.

  13. I *knew* I’d get into trouble if a real statistician showed up. Unfortunately, I can’t repeat elementary statistics class, because you can’t repeat what you’ve never taken.

    Fletcher, if I perform this good study you propose will you be a co-author on the ensuing paper?

  14. Researcher (#16), I think you’re right about there being some skill level threshold for The Morning Breaks, but I won’t know how it sounds until I try it.

  15. Ben, I admire your ability to do one thing to the exclusion of all others. Being genetically predisposed to ADD (not ADHD, no hyper here) I find multitasking too easy. Hence, many are commenced, few are completed.

    I was surprised at many of the songs that were not sung, and could point to a good 30% to 50% that we sang in our ward this last year. That may include PH Meeting opening songs, so it may not be a valid comparison.

    #124, Be Still My Soul, is a particular favorite.

  16. Just a few thoughts . . .

    I love the tabulations! Thanks for crunching them and sharing!

    Here’s a reflection. I noticed how MANY of the songs on the ‘unsung’ list were sacred millenial songs core to our heritage and doctrine. I think this reflects our mainstreaming trends. It is sad to me that millennialism as a topic in general (in talks, prayers, and hymn singing) has sharply fallen. Do we look forward to the millennium less during times of prosperity than of hardship? Methinks so. We’re quite comfortable on the whole right now. (My hypothesis).

    Also, as to the tempo of hymns, as an organist of many many (good grief too many) years I can tell you that after nearly every service, people would feel it important to criticize my tempos. You can’t please all the people all the time. On the whole, I think we play hymns much too slow. Brigham’s favorite hymn ‘On the Resurrection Day’ (also a millennium hymn BTW) was a quick step song the saints used to square dance to. Come on people, we’re a joyful bunch, remember?

    I think we need to focus less on tempos per se and more on musicality in general- so we’ll sing every emotion from jubulance to sorrow as a communication to God and from every tempo from grave/largo to molto vivice. That beautiful diverity for different occasions and prayers is what we desire, not a uniform ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ approach.

    I’ve pinpointed a few culprits in the ‘deathly slow’ tempo trend. 1) Marc Wilberg. (Sorry buddy. I love your music, really I do. Stupenduous.) However, a great deal of his music extends into a style similar to that expected in the background of a John Williams movie. It’s Wagnerian in a slowly-dramatic sort of way. The tab has grealy slowed down since Ottley, partly due to Wilberg’s unique style. Playing something slowly is tremendously difficult. The slower one goes, the more difficult it is to maintain intensity. Imagine slow music to be a very long and muscle-aching round of thai-chi where every move is incredibly slow, overly large, coordinated to perfection, and 100% perfect. Kudos to the Tab for doing great things at 40bpm in 8/4 time. Your basic ward congregation CAN’T do that.

    2) Other culprits are the hymns on lds.org and the hymns in the official CD recordings. Go online and play one of those mp3s or plug in the CDs and watch the clock start melting as clocks do in a Salvador Dali painting. Each hymn is at the BOTTOM of the tempo range listed (if even that), and far too slow for musical interpretation. They were made for the lowerst common denomintor- the non-musical or beginners amongst us. I applaud the fact that they exist and are available, but hope that we realize they are NOT the gold standard. (The online hymnal allows you to adjust the tempo, if you know to reset it.)

    3)Pharasee-type pride. Long pauses and false reverence aren’t acceptable when praying in sacrament and they shouldn’t be allowed in hymn-prayers either!

    Whew. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

  17. Kevin (#20), sometimes I get myself into trouble when the wrong “other things” are ignored for too long…

    I agree about 124 Be Still My Soul. When I saw that on the list I gasped audibly.

    J.A.T. (#21) I like your style and your demonstrable experience and prowess with music, and you may be on to something with your 3 points. Come back anytime.

  18. Ben, I know you know I’m not savvy enough to really understand all your science here. But I can definitely empathize with the hyper-focused state and really appreciate that you saw all this through! I think it’s cool. 🙂 Good work. ^_^

    Also, I felt the same pang for Be Still, My Soul. So beautiful a song.

    J.A.T. (#21) My dad and I really liked your “Kudos to the Tab” comment. It made us laugh when we realized that’s only five measures a minute!

  19. And now for 2010, perhaps a Study of music attempted to be sung in Priesthood? Great analysis!

  20. BEN!!! I am giggling with glee and happiness at your amazing project! Love it! I want to sing all those forgotten hymns, too! And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, dear music leader in my ward, up the tempo. Yes, the funeral dirge is putting us all to sleep.

  21. Like Andrea, I have NO IDEA what all these numbers mean (you don’t need much math to get a choral conducting degree!), but I found this post extremely entertaining nevertheless! And I enjoyed looking through the list of hymns that were not sung. Some shocking omissions!

    I must say it is so refreshing to hear from a chorister who recognizes the importance of conducting the hymns at tempo! Sadly, our ward is plagued with a few slow choristers…or conductors who insist on conducting upbeat 6/8 hymns using six very large, laborious motions instead of simply directing in 2, etc. As one of the 3 organists, I rejoice when I am paired with a conductor who isn’t afraid to let the hymn clip along at its intended tempo. Since I am an accompanist, I am so trained to follow a conductor that I am absolutely POWERLESS to play at any tempo other than what the chorister is directing. It’s as if their arms have some mysterious grip on my hands as I am playing. Sometimes I try to duck down behind the organ so that I can’t see the chorister over the hymn book, and thus free myself to follow my own tempo. I will more than likely have to do that this Sunday, as I am scheduled to play “I Believe in Christ” and am paired with one of the slower choristers. If we don’t keep that hymn moving it might take the whole meeting.

    Ward members are so quick to blame the organist when hymns are too slow, but believe me, it’s the chorister who is in charge!

  22. Seriously–we are gonna ex your whole ward for not sining “The Spirit of God” once in a year. What are you? Episcopalian?

  23. No wonder you have a headache–it’s 4:24 a.m.!

    I think the problem with tempos is relatively easy to solve–get the music director a cheap electronic metronome, and have the organist and director rehearse for a few minutes before going on stage. Here’s one for $8.50 (if you buy more than one), the “beep” can be silenced–the director can clip it to the music stand and can easily see if the tempo he or she is beating is in the range suggested in the hymnbook.

    Besides, shouldn’t the music director want more people to sing? The two easiest steps to take to increase congregational singing are to speed it up and play it louder.

  24. Thanks, Andrea (#23). Note that any science that appears in this post is wildly abused, as Fletcher can attest. So you’re not missing much.

    Alex (#24), if only I had a record of what was sung in priesthood! The selection there seems much more ad hoc, as for example this week in priesthood we sang one of the very same hymns we had sung in sacrament meeting.

    Nikki (#25) and Genny (#26), I think Mark’s (#29) idea of a metronome for the Ward Music Director is a good one. Perhaps a little bit of anonymous Martin Luther King Jr. day gifting is in order? Also, for ward conference last year, the organist for the day called me up and we did, in fact, practice together, which was really great.

    I can also vouch for Mark’s other suggestion, to play louder. There is an organist in my old ward in Seattle who could probably play professionally if he wanted. When combined with the 50-year-old building’s huge organ (it goes up to eleven), he got that congregation to really fill that chapel. It was marvelous.

    ESO (#28), we’re taking the appropriate steps to repent!

  25. Pingback: Mormon Mentality - Thoughts and Asides by Peculiar People » LDS Hood

  26. No matter how slow you all think we sing our hymns here in the states, it pales in comparison to the level of dirgishness the wards in Latin America (my experience is in southern Brazil) approach. I could easily have fallen asleep to any one of the hymns if I hadn’t been sooooo antsy in wishing they would speed up to a recognizable tempo.

  27. Ben, thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed reading it!

    I think Fletcher has a point about the ordinal numbers assigned to the hymns not being meaningful, but they do have some meaning, considering as you noted that they’re at least loosely organized into groups by type. So maybe it might at least be of interest to see which groups were sung from most.

    Also, your simulation is a great idea. I think you’re right that it doesn’t suggest that the hymns are actually being chosen in a random way. Perhaps it does mean, though, that they become popular in a random way, and are then chosen based on their popularity. Or maybe that exponential distribution just describes how many hymns can actually be popular or well known at one time. If one were to suddenly arise as newly popular, it would push the others down. So perhaps the distribution is actually describing the limits on most members’ (mine, certainly) memory for hymns, and how many we can remember well enough to sing passably for any length of time.

    Finally, an extension of the metronome idea, courtesy of Benjamin Orchard over at Mormon Matters:

    “I am also certain that EVERY chorister needs an electronic metronome bolted to their stand that shocks them when they conduct too slowly. It should be aware of the slowest recommended tempo for a song, and if they reach as slow as 10% faster than that, they get a jolt. Organists/pianists as well.”

  28. Just curious about the ‘transitional hymn?’ Where did this come from? This sounds very similar to the practice hymn that was part of Sunday School opening exercises. And SS opening exercises was discontinued in the early 1990’s. Sounds like your ward can’t let go of that practice hymn.

  29. I am not surprised that you didn’t sing “Angels We Have Heard on High”. I don’t know why that hymn is sung so infrequently though. When I am in a meeting and the person chairing it asks for a hymn suggestion, and I say #203, we rarely sing it.

  30. That was quite entertainting! I am an organist and conductor and OH, how I wish we would use ALL the hymns in the hymnbook! They are inspired and like the scriptures to me…imagine only using 20% or 30% of the scriptures in our lives and excluding all others…There are some absolute treasures inside that were chosen for a reason and need to be shared.

    If a nice fairy could grant me my wishes –regarding hymns and special musical numbers in our ward– this is what I would LOVE to see implemented:

    1. Affording the congregation the opportunity to sing EVERY hymn in the book before repeating one in the same year (this would include using all sacrament hymns before repeating any.)

    2. Ward choirs (or other ensembles) that would prepare a less familiar hymn to be sung every other month (as a special musical number) to introduce (or re-introduce) it to the congregation. Then a follow-up by the ward chorister, using that same hymn for congregational singing within the month of having heard it. (This would ensure that #1 could happen for the congregation.) Also, ward choirs could work on other repertoire to present on alternating months.

    3. Hymns sung at tempo with congregations actually watching the conductor to keep with the tempo and organists playing strongly enough to support timid congregations.

    4. Pretty much a retirement of “rest” hymns except for longer meetings, like stake or regional conferences. (see #5) Also, I think whenever “rest” hymns are used, they should be referred to as “congregational” hymns. If we can sit through two hour movies without all standing to rest in the middle, certainly we can sit through a 70 minute meeting without having to rest.

    5. Replace “rest” hymns (in sacrament meeting) with special musical numbers that invite the Spirit and allow individuals and groups in the ward to bear testimony through music. The auxiliaries (Primary, YW, YM, Priesthood, RS, etc) could all arrange to have a musical number presented each quarter. They could be solos, duets, or ensembles. Other ward members (as individuals or families) could also present musical numbers.

    6. Although it would be nice to have special musical numbers twice a month and a selection (or two) from the ward choir once a month, in the event that one of these does not come together, I suppose a “rest” hymn could be substituted…but hopefully not more than a time or two per quarter.

    Finally, I must chime in about one of my ABSOLUTE MOST FAVORITE hymns that never gets used: Hymn #15, I Saw A Mighty Angel Fly. It is delightful! But it MUST be sung at a good clip.

  31. Y’all need to move to my ward in Atlanta 🙂

    I get a few complaints that we don’t sing their “favorites” enough and sing too many “unfamiliar” songs. I keep a chart of what we sing each year and I keep the repeat on the top 20 to twice in a year (sometimes less.) I make sure we sing a wider variety and AT TEMPO. Coming from the Mountain West, I was used to a much slower pace and was pleasantly surprised when I moved South where they keep it up a lot better on the pace.

    I’d say my graph would be a lot different than yours. We sang 95% of the songs you didn’t sing but wanted to last year (because I keep the repetition down a lot!)

  32. iguaçufalls (#31), you’ll find there are a few of us around here who spent time in Brazil. I was in Porto Alegre South, and sadly, my observations match your own.

    Ziff (#32), I was hoping you’d stop by! I started looking at which sections were most represented, but hadn’t found quite the right presentation. Maybe in a part II?

    The possibility of there being some corollary to Dunbar’s number in the hymnic memory of the average Latter-day Saint (i.e. non-musician) is very intriguing. Of course we would need the cooperation of very many Ward Music Directors to conduct an experiment checking this out. Between you and Fletcher so far, this is turning out to be a very fruitful post for new research project ideas!

  33. StevenT (#33), I don’t know the local history that far back, so I don’t know the origin, but your suggestion that it originates with the Sunday School opening exercises practice hymn is certainly plausible.

    Kim (#34), there was one December Sunday that had about 7 congregational Christmas hymns spread throughout the program (it was quite nice). I didn’t have the actual bulletin from that week, just the planned regular hymns in my email, so it’s possible we sang some of the Christmas hymns that appear on my huge list.

  34. Ben,

    Great post…thanks for the laughs!

    You convinced me that you really are interested in the statistics, so at the risk of sounding like the nerd I am, I wanted to point out that you are simulating something very close to a binomial distribution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binomial_distribution). It would truly be a simple binomial distribution if each hymn was selected at random instead of treating the various categories (rest, congregational, etc.) differently. I’m sure you also are interested in knowing that in the limit (there’s that nerdy terminology) the binomial distribution becomes a Poisson distribution. 🙂

  35. Oh, yeah… one more thing… Amen to the comments above about hymn tempo. I sometimes have to stifle a laugh when the hymn gets really slow in my ward.

  36. Tammy (#35), thanks for your ideas. A couple of comments on some items:

    1. My wife pointed out that you’d need to sing about seven hymns every week just to sing all 341 in a year. That’s actually good, because it means in practice you can never run out of unsung hymns in a given year.

    2. I think this would be really cool as long as it doesn’t distract from what I think is the primary purpose of singing hymns in sacrament meeting, inviting the Spirit (like you said in your point 5).

    4. I personally prefer the term “congregational,” but I don’t prepare the bulletin. Maybe I could make a recommendation there, too.

    By the way, like most English-speaking seminary graduates my age, I’ve heard your voice quite a bit. “Strength Beyond My Own” is a favorite of mine, as it (or rather the version with the Portuguese vocal track) was a part of the video we showed to visitors to the Porto Alegre Temple Open House near the end of my mission. Listening to it takes me right back there.

    Oh, and 15 I Saw a Mighty Angel Fly is a seriously awesome hymn.

    Allison (#36), start taking notes and I’ll post your hymnstogram here next year!

    JDP (#39), nerds are certainly welcome here. My own statistical incompetence belies the fact that I’m about 18 months away from a PhD in physics.

    The problem I had when trying to look at it as a binomial distribution was that I wasn’t sure how to couch this process in terms of Bernoulli trials, which are only pass/fail. I don’t get a simple success when a hymn is selected, because I have 341 different ways to succeed. Similarly, I’m not sure how to restate the hymn selection process as a Poisson process.

  37. If all of the songs in the hymnbook are in fact inspired, I suppose we shouldn’t inquire too carefully into the source of the inspiration for some of them!

    And, to reprise part of my comment 10–if you want some support for changing the name from “rest” to “congregational”, suggest that those responsible read D&C 25:12 and then ask when you’re going to start having “rest prayers”.

  38. Great post–I am a mathematician so I am not put off by the analysis. I think every ward should do something similar. I agree with a previous comment that it is astounding that a ward could go a year without singing #2, The Spirit of God.

    A hymn that I would love to see become popular is #11, What Was Witnessed. I sang it in a ward choir a few years ago and thought it was great (of course I am prejudiced toward hymns that emphasize the male voices). It’s too bad we do not have hymn practice anymore to learn some of the good hymns that are little used. Without it, I am afraid the list of “popular” and thus sung hymns will only get narrower.

  39. Minor threadjack: does this site automatically convert scripture references to hyperlinks? I konw that I didn’t insert a link in my previous comment–it just showed up after the comment was submitted.

  40. That verse could prove useful, Mark. And yes, we have a pile of widgets, and undoubtedly one of them automatically links scripture references.

  41. I’ve enjoyed the post and comments so I could understand better how others select their hymns. In my case, I tried to select opening, congregational, and closing hymns based on the theme of the meeting as defined by the Bishopric. In selecting specific hymns, I tried to follow the Spirit, but I’m sure there is some degree of my personality involved. I realize this leads to some hymns being repeated and other hymns being skipped, but that’s OK with me. In selecting Sacramental hymns, I cycled through the Sacrament songs so I got them all. Those songs are in that category because they focus on the Savior and the Atonement, so choosing those songs is actually a continuation of my choosing songs that correlate with the theme of the meeting.

    I’m glad that church policy allows for variations in how hymns are selected and how well the chorister follows the recommended tempo or not. I would hate to have us “forced” into doing it one way.

  42. Warning: Please ignore this post if you aren’t *REALLY* interested in the statistics.

    Here is why I believe your problem produces a binomial distribution, Ben (assuming you pick each hymn completely at random even allowing the same hymn to be sung more than once on a given Sunday if the dice roll that way):

    Forget for a moment that there are 341 hymns. Instead consider just your favorite (or mine — The Spirit of God). Every time we select a hymn we have a 1/341 chance of selecting hymn #2. Let’s call this success since this is my favorite hymn and I like to sing it! At the end of the year we are going to count up the total number of “successes”. What is the probability that this will be 0? What about 1? or 2?, etc. The answer to this question is that these probabilities are defined by the binomial distribution. Now let’s say we simulated this situation for 341 years and plotted a “hymnstogram” of the number of successes we had each year. Since each of these 341 simulations was drawn from the same binomial distribution, the hymnstogram would show a binomial type curve.

    Our only remaining observation is that to a cold, hard-hearted stiff-spined statistics textbook there is really nothing special about hymn #2. So simulating 341 years of hymn #2 is effectively the same as simulating 1 year of 341 hymns.

    As for the Poisson distribution, consider that instead of singing say 4 hymns a week, we instead selected a random number from 1 to 60 every minute for an hour each week. When the selected number was 1, 2, 3, or 4, we sang a hymn during that minute (at a faster tempo than even we like so that we could be ready the next minute in case another hymn needed to be sung). This would mean that we have 15 times more opportunities to sing, but the probability of singing any given hymn at a given opportunity would be reduced by 15. You might expect that the hymnstogram distribution would remain unchanged. In fact, this is very close to being true. However, there are some *very* slight changes to the distribution. For example, it is possible (though astronomically unlikely) that you could sing hymn #2 more that 300 times in a given year in this new scenario (at which point I would find another favorite). In the previous scenario this was absolutely impossible since you could never even sing that many hymns total. You could, of course, take this to the limit by increasing the number of sides on you die to infinity and increasing (at the same rate) the frequency with which you roll the die. Naturally, the frequency of the notes we sung and the tempo would get a little out of hand in this case. The interesting thing though is that at this point, the probability succeeding at any given instant is the same for all instants. This is the definition of a Poisson process! Incidentally, the distribution for a Poisson process is not just an exponentially decaying function although this is one component of the distribution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisson_distribution).

  43. Agreed, Allen (#46). Autonomy in execution of callings is a wonderful and challenging part of being a member of the church.

    NOW we’re talking, JDP!! (#47)

    Seriously, thanks a lot. That makes perfect sense now. Also, thanks for pointing out that the exponential is not the only factor in the Poisson distribution probability function.

    To invent a scenario and then take it to a limit that makes no practical sense as part of making a point proves that you are a man (I assume, based on your email address) after my own heart.

  44. Has anyone had their organist just stop playing in the middle of the song? My organist did and then afterwards apologized and told me she sometimes spaces out on the “boring” sacrament hymns…..meaning the slower tempo ones. I panicked when I realized “someone” could describe them all like that!

  45. This posting makes me want to sneeze, Ben! Can you please post some anti-hymnstograms? Seriously, though–very nice. I’m proud of you, though I can’t understand lots of what you say here.

  46. Penny (#49), that’s too bad! Last Sunday I got to the end of the chorus of a hymn and for a moment couldn’t remember if it was the end of the 3rd or 4th verse. I went ahead and started conducting another verse, and fortunately I was correct!

    Mom (#50), thanks for the 50th comment. You win a prize! I remember one time as a child you told me that you thought your kids were smarter than you, or knew more, or something, and for some reason the mental image I had was the space shuttle launching.

  47. Wow. I don’t even know what to say here. Other than 1. They chose the right guy for the job and, 2. there must be some way you can make money of this thing. Maybe turn it into a board game? Let’s get working on that.

  48. L.

    I thought I was hardcore when for 4 years as chorister, I marked the date we sang each him at the bottom of my personal hymnbook to keep track. Our most common was “As Now We Take the Sacrament.”

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