Zelophehad’s Daughters

Changing the Words to Hymns

Posted by Ziff

When I put my boys to bed at night, I often sing them hymns. One of their favorites is “There Is a Green Hill Far Away,” probably because it’s one of the few that I know all the verses to and can sing in the dark. But part of this hymn has always struck me as odd. In the first verse, it says that the green hill is “where the dear Lord was crucified.” The dear Lord? That sounds so impersonal. So taking a page from “Upon the Cross of Calvary,” I always sing this line as “where our dear Lord was crucified.”

So are there any hymns that you sing nonstandard words to, or any for which you would like to see the wording changed?

40 Responses to “Changing the Words to Hymns”

  1. 1.

    I have been experimenting with changing the “all that I must do” line to “All that I must be” as I think is fits in just a little better with the gospel as I understand it. It seems like it should be the next advance as SWK first made the change to “do” from “know”. My daughter keeps telling me I’m singing it wrong, but she’s starting to wear down.

  2. 2.

    “He lives, my ever-living head!” from I Know that My Redeemer Lives always brings up a mental image of a severed head that is still alive. I don’t know what I’d change it to, but I just can’t sing that song without thinking of severed zombie heads, which is definitely not what the author intended, I’m sure.

  3. 3.

    I intentionally sing the wrong words to “High on a Mountain Top” from a fireside I heard as a child.
    “High on a mountain top, a badger chased a squirrel. The badger ate him up and then there was no squirrel.”
    It’s not as funny now as when I was a kid and my mom would die with embarrassment, but maybe I’ll teach it to my kids.
    (sorry, I don’t think this was exactly what you were asking when it comes to changing words. . .)

  4. 4.

    Jessawhy,

    Not at all. I’d love to hear about the silly as well as the serious revisions of hymns.

  5. 5.

    “and carried bread and goat cheese for a little pizza snack”

    “with parents kind and weird”

  6. 6.

    When my kids were younger they often looked forward to some rough-housing on the living room floor when I got home at night. They vandalized the popular Primary song by changing the words:

    I’m so BAD when daddy comes home,
    BAD as I can be,

    It just kept going downhill until it ended with:

    SLAP his cheek and give him what?
    A great, big KICK.

    (Upper case indicates words given special oomph when sung aloud.)

    They all claim to this day that dad is a dirty fighter, and they are right.

  7. 7.

    Hehehe. This thread is making me chuckle.

    My favorite is my father’s tendency to change the words in “Praise to the Man” back to the original:

    “…long shall his blood which was shed by assassins stain Illinois…”

    He especially thought this was fun when we lived in Illinois.

    And the words to “As Sisters in Zion” definitely need to be changed. Actually, I don’t much like the music either. Can we just rewrite the entire hymn?

  8. 8.

    One of my favorites has always been “Onward Christian Bedbugs”

    Onward Christian bedbugs
    Marching up the sheet
    Tickle, tickle, tickle
    On poor Grandma’s feet
    Grandpa got excited
    Went to get his gun
    Bang bang bang bang
    Bang bang bang bang
    See those bedbugs run
    Onward Christian bedbugs
    Marching down the sheets
    Carrying all their wounded
    And poor Grandma’s feet

    My mom didn’t think it was very funny when my sister and I would sing it in Sacrament Meeting, although I am fairly certain that she was the one who taught it to us.

  9. 9.

    Seraphine,
    …long shall his blood which was shed by assassins stain Illinois…

    Those are the original words to the hymn.

  10. 10.

    I don’t like the revised version of “Joy to the World” in which “saints and angels” sing (I always wonder–what about those of us who aren’t very saint-like or angelic, but would nonetheless like to sing Christmas songs?), so I stick with “heaven and nature.”

    The line in “We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet” about the wicked finally getting smitten makes me crazy–I just don’t sing it, but it would be fun to come up with an alternative.

  11. 11.

    Yep, Capt. Obsidian. When I said my dad changed them back to “the original,” I meant “original words.” :)

  12. 12.

    Here’s one: “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “The Mickey Mouse Club”.

    enjoy!

  13. 13.

    “You who unto Jesus” from the original How Firm a foundation.

  14. 14.

    Seraphine,
    Somehow I missed the phrase “back to the original” in your post when I first read it. My aunt used to live in Illinois and she mentioned that they never sang Praise to the Man in her ward because of that line.

  15. 15.

    I still sing “the world has no use for the drone”.

  16. 16.

    Curse you, Phouchg!!! You have taken a lovely song down to the level of the mouseketeers. What’s next, I stand All Amazed sung by the chipmunks? I want to shake the dust from off my hymnal in your direction! :-)

  17. 17.

    Floyd the Wonderdog,

    Sorry I’m slow. What’s the context for “the world has no use for the drone”?

  18. 18.

    And the words to “As Sisters in Zion” definitely need to be changed. Actually, I don’t much like the music either. Can we just rewrite the entire hymn?

    Seraphine,

    I can’t do anything with the music, but how about this for the second verse?

    The errand of angels is given to women;
    The errand of demons is given to men.
    So while we do that which is gentle and human,
    We also must follow where demons have been.

  19. 19.

    Thanks for that image, Starfoxy. Now I won’t be able to get it out of my head either. But then, I guess I asked for it. :)

    Thanks for all the funny versions that have been mentioned. I particularly enjoy your kids’ creativity, Mark IV.

    And Lynnette, I agree with you about “Joy to the World.” “Heaven and nature” sounds like it might include me, but “saints and angels” probably doesn’t.

    I also agree that “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” seems to stray a bit from thanking God for a prophet into celebrating that God is going to smite those who didn’t listen to him. In fact, doesn’t it sound a little Zoramite-esque in its smugness and self-congratulation?

    On that note, this is what I imagine the Zoramites sang from their Rameumptom:

    We thank thee, O God, that we’re holy
    And our ignorant brethren are not
    They cannot even see their own folly
    And they fail to pray as they ought.
    We know there shall not be a Christ.
    We doubt not that we are elect.
    And those who persist in believing
    Will surely be thrust down to heck.

  20. 20.

    I have always thought of the words to the Home of the Range whenever I sing How Great the Wisdom and the Love.

  21. 21.

    I always accidentally sing “heav’n and nature” because we had a Disney’s Sing Along Songs Christmas movie where they definitely didn’t sing “Saints and Angels” so I didn’t learn it that way.

    My dad always sings weird words to the hymns in sacrament meeting. The words don’t make sense, and it’s more to make me laugh and, I’m sure, entertain himself. Sometimes I try this but I’m not so on-the-spot creative, and my husband just thinks it’s weird.

    Can someone please suggest a substitute for “when Jesus shows his smiling face”? That lines creeps me out. I just picture a very Monty Pythonian God’s face shining in the clouds.

  22. 22.

    Hehehe, Ziff. I like those words (to both of the hymns you altered). :)

  23. 23.

    I like to change “By this shall men know” in Love One Another to “By this shall all know” because it sounds sexist to me the other way. :) I’m a convert and didn’t grow up with the song, though it’s one of my favorite LDS hymns. But it strikes me as odd that we retain so many gender-specific forms. I suppose if I had heard them my whole life, they wouldn’t seem so sexist to me.

  24. 24.

    Good point, Tatiana. Probably the largest set of revisions I would like to see in hymns would remove their sexist language. I grew up in the Church, and I still find it jarring. I think this is because our hymns are so unabashed in their sexism, while in other contexts, like General Conference even, speakers make an effort to be clear when they’re talking to or about men and women.

    Perhaps my favorite phrase along these lines is from “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today“:

    Christ the Lord is ris’n today,
    Alleluia!
    Sons of men and angels say,
    Alleluia!

    Sons of men? It sounds like an awfully restricted group, if only males whose fathers reproduced them asexually are the ones who get to sing “Alleluia!”

  25. 25.

    “He lives, my ever-living head!” from I Know that My Redeemer Lives always brings up a mental image of a severed head that is still alive.

    Okay, Starfoxy, I have a stopgap solution for you. You can sing this line as “He lives, my ever-living bread!” It may sound a little odd, but on the plus side, it rhymes, so nobody will even notice that you’re doing it, and it even has a scriptural basis in John 6:35.

  26. 26.

    Ziff, Floyd the Wonderdog was referring to the original lyrics of “Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?” In the second verse, where it now says:

    Only he who does something helps others to live.
    To God each good work will be known

    it used to say:

    Only he who does something is worthy to live,
    The world has no use for the drone.

    I really can’t imagine why they changed it.

  27. 27.

    Hello ZD Bloggers!
    Thanks for this hilarious post.
    Here’s our family’s line to ‘They the builder’s of the Nation’ . . . “forging onward ever onward, rusty trusty pioneers.”

    Also, one presbyterian church I worked for as a musician had changed their entire hymnal to be gender neutral, even removing any male pronouns or titles for each of the members of the Trinity, so they had things like, “Joy to the World, the Savior is Born” and “Oh You my God, when I in awesome wonder”. Lover-ly, eh? The congregation was upset at the changes to the christmas carols most of all, but many of the other references slipped by unnoticed. Original words prevailed notheless. It’s kinda like that optical illusion “I love Paris in the the spring”.

  28. 28.

    Anna,

    Thanks for the explanation. When writing this post, it didn’t even occur to me how much our hymns have already been changed. I agree with you (and Floyd) that the old words are more fun.

    Thanks for your alternate lyrics, j.a.t. And thanks for helping me think through the issue of gender-neutral language in hymns. While I would like to see it, I guess I would find the changes jarring if they resulted in hymns that wouldn’t call God “he.” I know Lynnette has mentioned to me that this kind of approach is sometimes taken by theologians, who, if I recall correctly, say things like “God keeps God’s secrets to God’s self,” to avoid having to assign God a gender.

  29. 29.

    Anna,
    Sounds like true academics– never saying in 5 words what can be said in 15! : )

  30. 30.

    My dad would sing:

    The golden plates lay hidden
    Deep in the jungles of ‘Nam
    And Rambo must retrieve them
    To prove he is a man.

  31. 31.

    This one is to accompany Eve’s “No Man Knows My Pastries” comment on Mark’s excellent post on Cafeteria Mormons at BCC:

    Praise to the man who was a chef for Jehovah!
    He made the pastries the Lord called “divine.”
    He kept his recipes a secret from others,
    But with one bite Jesus guessed them every time.

    Hail to the pastry chef, ascended to heaven,
    Carping food critics review him in vain.
    Mingling with gods he attempts new concoctions
    He’ll bring new delights when he comes to earth again!

  32. 32.

    Ziff, that is awesome. I think I’ll sing your version next time we have the song in Sacrament Meeting.

  33. 33.

    Thanks, Jessawhy, I’m glad you like it. I guess you can tell Eve and I share the family silliness gene.

  34. 34.

    It looks like this thread has been dead for a while, but I just stumbled upon it. On my mission, we did ones that ranged from the silly to the serious.

    My favorite was “Welcome, Welcome P-day Morning”.
    Welcome, welcome, P-day morning,
    Now we rest from ev’ry care.
    Welcome, welcome is the sleeping,
    Done right after morning prayer.

    (The background of this one is that it was common in the mission to take what we called “p-day morning naps”. Since we weren’t allowed to actually sleep in, we would get up at 6:30, say our companionship prayer, and then take a nap.)

    Another one that one of the elders made up was “We Thank Thee for Sending Top Ramen” (to the tune of “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet”). My personal favorite was “In Our Lovely Bible Belt”. (I served in North Carolina. The song was to the tune of “In Our Lovely Deseret”.)
    In our lovely Bible Belt,
    Where few saints of God have dwelt,
    There’s a multitude of Baptists all around.
    They are generous and brave
    When they ask if we’ve been saved.
    They won’t listen to the Gospel’s joyful sound.
    Grace, grace, grace, it is sufficient
    Are the words that they repeat…

    Unfortunately, I can’t remember the rest.

    On a more serious note, one of my companions and I decided to update “In the Hollow of Thy Hand” to work for sisters serving a mission, too. We weren’t able to get a good gender neutral version, so we just made up an alternative one for sisters.
    Instead of “As this thy son accepts a call from Thee,” we said “As this thy child accepts a call from Thee.”
    We changed all male pronouns (except the ones referring to God) to female pronouns. We changed “As he grows from boy to man” to “As she serves Thee in this land.”

  35. 35.

    Keri, I love your revised versions, particularly the Bible Belt one, since I served there too. In fact, now that you mention it, I remember singing a revised version of “Praise to the Man” about an elder on his way home one district meeting that included the line “Methodists and Baptists, now bash with him in vain!”

  36. 36.

    I just re-read my comment and realized that I said I have two favorites. That’s what I get for not proofreading. Oops. My favorite of the ones I didn’t write was “In Our Lovely Bible Belt”. I have a special place in my heart for “Welcome, Welcome P-day Morning” because I came up with it.

  37. 37.

    I had a district leader on my mission who used to sing the following “Primary song”:

    I have nine little toes on my three little feet
    Some people think I’m weird but I think it’s neat
    During all the long hours till daylight is through
    There’s nothing at all for my third foot to do.

  38. 38.

    As a music director at a Catholic church, I usually instruct the congregation to sing “Faith for all ages” instead of “Faith of our fathers. Just announcing it that way gets the point across without explanation. I’m a traditionalist for the most part, but this makes the hymn inclusive without vanadalizing the poetry of the text.

  39. 39.

    How about this one … I recall singing “Gladly the cross I’d bear” and as a kid in grade school thinking “Gladly the cross-eyed bear.”

  40. 40.

    [...] all kinds of different hymns. The real beauty of using them is that they don’t even require changing the words of the hymns. I find I can use them in my head to add a sarcastic tone to what I’m singing [...]

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