Hymn Humor

Not very good humor, mind you. Remember that I have a talent for dumbness. Consider yourself warned.

A few years ago in a comment at fMh, Shelah explained the “between the sheets” game she has used to keep the hymns interesting:

It’s pretty simple, just add “between the sheets” to the end of the hymn title/first line of the hymn (my DH grew up adding “in bed” but I think “between the sheets” fits the poetic quality of the hymns better). Anyway, so you get things like:

Awake and arise between the sheets (tame)
Abide with me between the sheets (somewhat suggestive)
Lean on my ample arm between the sheets (PG)
The world has need of willing men between the sheets (PG-13)
I stand all amazed between the sheets (for the honeymoon)
The iron rod between the sheets (XXX!)

I was thinking of other humorous ways to keep the hymns interesting, considering that in many wards, we sing the same few dozen over and over, and often at a very slow pace.

One approach is similar to Shelah’s in that it can be done in sacrament meeting. It was inspired by the hymn “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today.” Here is the fourth verse:

There is gladness in my soul today,
And hope and praise and love,
For blessings which he gives me now,
For joys “laid up” above.

Specifically it’s the phrase “laid up” that makes me laugh a little. Now I know it’s a perfectly respectable reference, I assume to the idea that we should not be laying up for ourselves treasures on earth, but rather treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20). It’s not the content, though, that I find funny. It’s the quotation marks. Once you put quotation marks around that phrase, why not put them around other words in the verse?

There is “gladness” in my soul today,
And hope and praise and love,
For “blessings” which he gives me now,
For “joys” “laid up” above.

The quotation marks then become sarcastic air quotes. Is there “gladness” in your soul today? Oh yeah! I am filled with “gladness” at getting to sing this overly chipper song!

Sarcastic air quotes can be used in 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 without even having to change how I sing.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well with a lot of hymns. Even I have limits. I think it’s too mean to sing air quotes in my head in most hymns about Jesus, for example. But I really enjoy applying them to a lot of the upbeat hymns in the 200s in our hymnal. Here’s one more example, from “Love at Home”:

There is beauty all around
When there’s “love” at home;
There is joy in every sound
When there’s “love” at home.
Peace and plenty here abide,
Smiling “sweet” on every side.
Time doth softly, sweetly glide
When there’s “love” at home.

My second approach is difficult to do in sacrament meeting, at least without causing disruption. It is this: Use the Church’s interactive music player to listen to the hymns at different tempos. This may not sound like much, but I find it quite therapeutic to hear hymns that are so often played too slowly being played very quickly. This works best, of course, with those hymns that are supposed to be played slowly, because then the contrast is the greatest. For example, try “Love One Another” at the maximum pace the player allows (170 quarter notes per minute). It sounds like it is being played by a pianist who is in a tremendous hurry.

Another charming characteristic of the music player is that it does not honor fermatas (notes that are to be held longer than they are written). This isn’t that big a deal until you listen to a hymn that uses a lot of them. For example, try “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which uses a fermata at the end of every line, at a fast tempo, and it sounds really funny. Like the pianist is saying, “Yes, yes, our God sure is a mighty fortress. Now can we get on to more important things?”

One final tangential note is that the music player may even be helpful if you want to make the case to someone that hymns should be played faster. As far as I can tell, the player is always set to play hymns at the fastest suggested tempo. For example, the recommended range for “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go” is 48-58, and when you load it in the music player, the tempo is set to 58. Surely this was a conscious decision by someone at the general level of the Church who was concerned that hymns are being played too slowly.

If you’re so inclined, please share silly things you do to keep singing the hymns interesting.


  1. Sorry — no ideas for “Silly Songs with Ziff” but I do have a note about the Interactive Music Player.

    I was using it recently for something, and thought that the tempo sounded a bit off, so I got out my metronome and tapped in the beat from the IMP and lo and behold, it was running slow. I just brought it up and chose a random hymn. 216, We Are Sowing. (Oh my. Don’t give that one the Shelah treatment!) The recommended tempo is 69-80 and the IMP has it playing at “80” but when I tap the tempo into the metronome, it’s actually averaging about 72. I wondered if it was my metronome, but my metronome matches the leading online metronome, beat for beat.

    Furthermore, I recently pulled out our old tapes of the Church Hymns and tried to listen to those. Oh my! The tempo in any of the songs I tapped in ranged from the lowest recommended tempo to well below that (within in the same song). Now, that one could be a problem with the age of the tapes (about 16 years), so I just pulled up some MP3s of the hymns. “Now Let Us Rejoice” notes a tempo of 100-120, but in the performance, it ranges from 100 down to 90 in the first verse and 90 down to 70 in the last verse. How can we “rejoice” at 70 bpm?

  2. Oh, I am definitely going to use “between the sheets” and air quotes to liven up the hymns next Sunday. The trick will be to keep from laughing out loud and having my daughter and her husband shush me.
    I don’t have a suggestion for adding humor to the hymns, but the hymn we sang yesterday as the opening for Sacrament meeting had me laughing. I sit with my daughter and her family in church. One of her sons is just learning to read, so I sit next to him and point to the words in the hymn as we sing. The opening song yesterday was “In Our Lovely Deseret.” Before we even began to sing, the poor boy was confused (what does “Deseret” mean, and why is it lovely?). He smiled at me in the first verse because it talked about children, but when we got to the verse about what children eat, he got really concerned–very little meat? This is Montana, where hunting is the state sport. All I could do was laugh. I hadn’t heard that hymn for many years, and I’m guessing I won’t hear it again in that congregation.

  3. Every time I hear the hymn “Now Let us Rejoice” I laugh when we get to the line “When Christ and his People” because I hear “When Christ and his Pee”. Immature, I know. Thanks Elder Toledo…

  4. My mind is often in the gutter, and I have the hardest time keeping a straight face during Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy. It’s usually sung by men and I can’t help hearing “Some poor fainting struggling semen, you may rescue, you may save” during the chorus. Save the sperms! It reminds me of the “Every Sperm is Sacred” Monty Python song.

    I mean, I’m totally reverent during church. 😉

  5. The hymn that gets me is “Though Deepening Trials,” which in my ward is always misread by the conducting Bishopric member as “Through Deepening Trials.” So then I spend the whole song pulling out random “r”s and putting them in every word that began with a “th”. I lose it when I get to the line about being thronged in Christ’s love.

  6. Last week I took note that as Music Director I should not choose “We’ll Sing All Hail to Jesus Name” when that particular counselor is conducting since it comes out as “All Hell” when he says it. Singing all hell to Jesus name just doesn’t sound so good.

  7. Yes, In Our Lovely Deseret is a gold mine for hymnal humor. This line always cracks me up:

    Tea and coffee and tobacco they despise

    (I guess it’s the word “despise” applied to something so relatively innocuous as tea and coffee.)

    Now I’ll tell you an embarrassing but true story. My friend and I were young priests sitting at the sacrament table. We were just teenagers. And for some reason we had been laughing about the double entendre possibilities in the word “come” prior to the service. So we’re sitting there, and in the announcements and hymns that word just kept popping up everywhere in the most humorous combinations. We’re facing the congregation, so there’s nowhere for us to hide. And we’re both turning bright red and about to explode from the effort of not laughing. As soon as the sacrament was over we both darted out of the chapel, went outside and just laughed and laughed without so much as exchanging a word between us.

  8. I just add my own lyrics, for example:

    High on the mountain top, a badger killed a squirrel.
    Ye nations now look up, he waves to all the world.

    I love singing my own hymns, however quietly I have to do it!

  9. Thanks for all your suggestions and rewritten lyrics! These will definitely help keep me entertained in church.

    Kevin, come on! Is that story true? 😉

  10. A mission companion and I would append “in the outhouse” to the names of the hymns:

    A Poor, Wayfaring Man of Grief in the Outhouse
    Be Still, My Soul in the Outhouse
    Have I Done Any Good in the Outhouse?

    You get the idea. Great for entertaining young men who otherwise won’t sing hymns.

  11. My then-teen daughter and I had a huge fight in the morning before church. We both like to sing – she’s a soprano, I’m an alto. We stood as requested for the intermediate hymn, “Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth.” We got to the second verse:

    Parents teach and lead the way, Children honor and obey,

    And we both started laughing. And laughing. Finally, we stopped singing and sat down.

  12. And I thought our ward was the only one with ultra sloooooow tempo! I don’t intend to get us onto another thread here, but I sometimes change pronouns to include women. I would think that it’s about time for a new hymnal since the current one was published in the mid 1980s – perhaps we’ll get some new lyrics to poke fun at AND updated (ie non-gendered) pronouns. Ziff, et al, thanks for the add-to-the-line strategy. Isn’t it curious that so many of us need to distract ourselves during S. Mtg.?!

  13. Does anyone else like to sing in the shower?

    Have you ever sung hymns in the shower?

    Have you ever sung “I Need Thee Every Hour” in the shower?

    Have you ever sung “Behold a Royal Army” in the shower?

    Have you sang “We Thank Thee oh God for a Prophet” in the shower?

    My favorite is to sing “Family’s Can be Together Forever” in the shower.

    In writing or vocally, how long could youl string someone along before they got the joke?

  14. My husband and his brother still crack up at Sweet Is the Work, looking vertically at the first word in every verse. “Sweet, sweet, my but(t)” aahaha now I think of it every time!

  15. Just a comment about fermatas: The fermata can have different meanings depending on when the hymn was written. For Lutheran chorales (of which A Mighty Fortress is one), the fermata simply designates the end of the phrase. That’s all. You might give a very slight pause there, but to hold it out like we are accustomed to doing, to “take squatter’s rights on the note” as one of my music professors put it, is incorrect. The conductor who “ignores” those fermatas is actually musically correct in doing so.

    Of course our congregations aren’t used to doing that, so when a conductor or organist tries to do it the right way, it sounds funny and “wrong” to us. I prefer the musically correct way. I HATE to have to sing it with the fermatas observed; it loses all it’s energy. It feels wrong. But when I conduct or play it, I kind of compromise because it confuses people so much. I do lengthen out the ends of the phrases a bit, but not too much, not as much as people normally do.

  16. My dad always makes fun of a few songs.

    “I need thee every hour” was the bread making song (“I knead thee, oh i knead thee, every hour i knead thee!”)

    “Let us all press on” was the ironing song

    and “Till we meet again” was the one he teased about the most. “till we meeeeeeet, till we eeeeeeeeat, till we eat meat on Jesus feeeeeeeeet” etc.

  17. I like up-tempo music. I’m 3/4 Scottish, and 1/4 German. Our ward has an 84-year-old Austrian organist, who likes up-tempo music. I got to sub for the chorister on Christmas Sunday, and the “rest hymn” was announced as “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

    Our organist leaned over to me, as we sat behind the organ, and said, “Shall we rejoice?” I just grinned, and she said, “Can you make it at 140?” I grinned more.

    So, we ramped that puppy up to 140 beats, and got a bit vigorous. My heathen husband, caring for his heathen youngest offspring in the foyer, said that by halfway through the second verse, the congregation figured out We Were Not Slowing Down, and knuckled down to keep up.

    It was awesome. Humorous only because the *other* organist plays everything at a dirge-like pace (putting my eldest daughter rather irreverently in mind of Eddie Izzard’s “Haaaaaaaaa-le-loooooooooooo-yaaaaaaaah” riff), so it’s hilarious to watch the shock and awe from the congregation when things are played faster. Get an ancient Austrian and a rebellious Scot into the music team, and you’re going to have more fun in general.

    My family used to do terrible things to church songs… one of my favorites is: “I belong to the church of cheese and mice of rattle-day snakes”…. continuing as normal until the lead up to that last bit hits you… “I’ll honor his name”… and then swinging into the last bit of Jolly Holiday from Mary Poppins, because that phrase leads perfectly into: “When Mary holds yer hand, ya feel so grand! Yer heart starts pumping like a big brass band! Ohhhh, it’s a jolly holiday with Mary! (ba da da da!) No wonder that it’s Mary that we love!”

    We also used to string hymn titles together to make snarky sentences, and threaten one another with re-christening, using the more interesting names in the Old Testament.


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