The Apostle Paul wrote that the Saints should be filled with the Spirit, “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19). We sometimes forget this: hymnody is not only a prayer to God, it is a way of speaking to ourselves. And because it is not always obvious what we are saying to ourselves in our hymnody, hymnbook companions become necessary. Such works not only expound the hymns but also tell their histories, on the premise that a hymn’s origins may say something about the people who sing it.
The publication of a new Latter-day Saint hymnbook in 1985 made Davidson’s book necessary. Originally a General Music Committee project undertaken in connection with the new hymnbook, this book attempts to appeal both to scholars and novices, indeed anyone who might ever sing an LDS hymn. By and large, it substantially improves upon its predecessors, George Pyper’s Stories of LDS Hymns (1939) and Spencer Cornwall’s Stories of Our Mormon Hymns (1963). It is more attractively designed, better researched, and more comprehensive than those books. Aside from the traditional hymn-by-hymn commentaries, the work offers a well-illustrated biographical appendix, a concise history of LDS hymnbooks, and a miscellany of facts that, while humbly labeled “hymnbook trivia,” illuminates the character of the 1985 hymnbook.