A New Songbook!
With 128 pages and many new lyrics and melodies
THE singing of songs is an integral part of the worship of Jehovah God, and how glad we are that this is so! It is at once a duty and a pleasure. Recognizing the obligation of Christians to sing songs of praise to Jehovah, the publishing agency of Jehovah’s witnesses has from its earliest infancy been producing songbooks, beginning with the year 1879, the very year The Watchtower began to be published.
In 1896 appeared a special issue of The Watchtower consisting entirely of Christian songs set to music. The next issue of that journal, commenting thereon, among other things stated: “The singing of the truth is a good way to get it into the heads and hearts of God’s people. We thank God for the musical and poetic talent granted some of his” people. Among other songbooks that served Jehovah’s people since then were Hymns of Millennial Dawn, published in 1905, and Songs of Praise to Jehovah, brought out in 1928. The latter songbook made a special effort to break away from Babylonian sentimentality and creature worship.
More progress was made by the Kingdom Service Song Book published in 1944. Uniquely it gave no credits to authors and composers; for which reason it did not contain any songs for which permission to use had to be obtained and acknowledged. Of its sixty-two songs, more than a third were original with Jehovah’s witnesses.
After about a half million of these songbooks had been published and distributed, it was replaced in 1950 with Songs to Jehovah’s Praise, containing ninety-one songs. It spelled further progress, for it had many up-to-date themes, had dispensed with archaic King James language and made a start of using the terminology of the New World Translation, the Christian Greek Scriptures of which were released the same year. Song No. 49, for example, was based on Matthew 6:33, ‘Keep on seeking first the Kingdom.’ Almost half the lyrics and melodies of this songbook were original with Jehovah’s people. However, a number of gems from the field of serious or “classical” music were included and set to Scriptural themes, such as Nos. 24 (Von Weber), 46 (Chopin) and 87 (Beethoven). This songbook was translated into eighteen languages and upward of three million copies were printed and distributed.
Proverbs 4:18 tells us that “the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” This Scriptural principle has made it advisable to publish a new songbook, for with the ever-increasing light there are new truths, new themes, clearer understanding and change of emphasis. And so now again, in 1966, after sixteen years, the publishing agency of Jehovah’s people, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, has produced a new songbook entitled “Singing and Accompanying Yourselves with Music in Your Hearts.”
The songbook’s title is taken from the words of the apostle Paul at Ephesians 5:18, 19, which reads: “Keep getting filled with spirit, speaking to yourselves with psalms and praises to God and spiritual songs, singing and accompanying yourselves with music in your hearts to Jehovah.”
ITS SPIRITUAL TREASURES
Of course, what makes a songbook suitable for Christians is its words. And so that these may to the fullest extent be appropriate for dedicated Christian ministers, not only have all of them been based on Scriptural themes and as far as possible on New World Translation expressions, but all lyrics have been dropped of which there was any doubt as to their having Babylonian origins. Any similarity of any of the lyrics of this new songbook to words appearing in other songbooks will be purely accidental, such as because both happen to be based on the same Scripture texts.
The very fact that the words of this songbook adhere to the New World Translation as far as possible helps to make it distinctive, and this of itself has resulted in a number of changes, as any careful Bible student will note. Thus, to give but one example, the first line of song No. 21 used to read, “Gracious Jehovah, our strength and our song”; which is based on the way Isaiah 12:2 reads in the Authorized Version. But now that line reads, “Gracious Jehovah, our strength and our might,” for that is in harmony with what Isaiah actually said in the first place.
As for the themes of the more than eighty new lyrics appearing in this songbook, these certainly are abreast with the increased light and cover a wide range of subjects. Even as the 150 psalms of the book of Psalms 1-150 are not confined to songs of praise to Jehovah but also contain accurate history, divine principles and admonition and inspired prophecy, so also the songs in this new songbook contain sacred history, admonition and prophecy. Among the new themes or titles are: “Declare the Everlasting Good News!” “From House to House,” “Get Out of Babylon the Great!” “God’s Loyal Love,” “‘Jehovah Has Become King!’” “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize!” “‘Let God Be Found True’!” “Not Neglecting ‘the House of Our God,’” “Pouring Out the Seven Last Plagues” and “‘It Is Impossible for God to Lie’!”
In keeping with the increased light, there are two songs in this book on the resurrection theme, each entirely different from the other in both words and mood. Each of the nine fruits of the spirit mentioned by the apostle Paul at Galatians 5:22, 23 is represented by one or more songs, and one song has something to say about each of those fruits of the spirit. There are also several songs especially appropriate for the Memorial celebration, including one bearing the title “The Lord’s Evening Meal,” the opening lines of which are:
“Jehovah our Father in heaven,
O this is a most sacred night!
’Twas Nisan fourteen when your greatness
Your justice, love, wisdom and might!”
There are a number of stirring new songs exhorting to courage and fearlessness, such as “Christian Warriors,” “Displaying Loyalty,” “‘Jehovah Is Our Refuge’!” “Preach with Boldness!” “See Jehovah’s Army!” and “We Are Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the chorus of this latter song being:
“We’re Jehovah’s witnesses;
We speak out in fearlessness!
Ours is the God of true prophecy;
What he foretells comes to be!”
Another theme that is made prominent in this new songbook is that of brotherly love and unity. The previous songbook had a number of songs with this theme, which have been among its most popular songs, and these have been kept. Added have been others dealing more specifically with the various facets of love, such as: “Be Forgiving!” “Be Long-suffering!” “Proof of Discipleship,” “The Power of Kindness,” and so forth. One stressing unity, and based on Psalm 133:1, has as its first verse:
“How pleasant to see brothers
All dwell in unity,
Who truly love each other
And work in harmony!
Jehovah’s blessing on it rests;
It’s like Mount Hermon’s dew
That fell upon Mount Zion’s slopes
And made them fresh and new.”
Additionally, ever so many favorite Bible verses have been made the theme of entire songs or incorporated into the songs. Thus there is a song on Joshua’s determination, “As for Me and My Household” (Josh. 24:15), one entitled “Be Steadfast like Ruth!” which tells of Ruth’s resolve (Ruth 1:16, 17), another that tells how the Shulammite maiden feels about her love for her lover, “The Shulammite ‘Remnant’” (Song of Sol. 8:6), and another based on the comforting words of Jesus found at Matthew 11:28-30, called “‘Take My Yoke’!”
Among still further treasures in this songbook is the highlighting of the faithful course of God’s servants. Among these are: “Faith like That of Abraham,” “Be like Jeremiah!” “Remember Ezra!” “Christ Our Exemplar,” and Nehemiah’s example, appearing in the song on this year’s yeartext. Truly, singing such songs will be rewarding as well as enjoyable!
The inspired musician-poets, the sons of Korah, long ago wrote: “Make melody to God, make melody. Make melody to our King, make melody. For God is King of all the earth; make melody, acting with discretion.” And the musician-poet David wrote: “Sing you to God, make melody to his name; raise up a song to the One riding through the desert plains as Jah, which is his name; and jubilate before him.”—Ps. 47:6, 7; 68:4.
These instructions by God’s inspired musicians of long ago have been carried out in connection with the new songbook in a literal sense, for in it there are some seventy new melodies in addition to about ten adapted from the orchestra folio, “District Assembly Music.” On the other hand, all music known to have originated with Babylon the Great has been dropped, as have the few remaining melodies from secular or “classical” sources, because of their worldly associations. Any similarity of melodies in the new songbook to worldly melodies would be offset by distracting differences.
Needless to say, all this has meant the dropping of some melodies that may have been favorites to many; but it is well to remember that it is the words that make this songbook one of praise to Jehovah and that it is to be preferred that these words be free from all worldly associations, religious or secular. For example, in the previous songbook there were melodies frequently used in certain religious or fraternal circles. A person once associated with these, upon becoming a Christian, would be reminded of his one-time association whenever such melodies were sung. Now this will no longer be the case. Whenever you hear a “Kingdom Song” melody it will be a Kingdom Song!
However, it is confidently believed that by the time the new melodies are learned, which tend toward the modern idiom, they, in their own right, will become even more dear to the Witnesses than were those dropped, and that owing to their preciousness because of the lyrics that go with them. To aid in learning these songs, the entire songbook has been recorded by a fine orchestra consisting chiefly of strings and woodwinds.
The melodies were supplied by Witnesses from many nations in addition to those composed by brothers working directly on the songbook. Among such are some quite characteristic of the land from which they came, such as song No. 19 from Hawaii, and song No. 53, which was developed from a theme sent from Lebanon. Among the other lands and countries from which the Witnesses have made melody contributions for the songbook are Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico and South Africa, as well as a goodly number from the United States. Of interest also is the fact that many of the melodies were composed by Witnesses while in prison or in a concentration camp.
THE WORK INVOLVED
It will help you to appreciate this new songbook more if you know about the work that went into making it. While many melodies were received, almost invariably these required much work before they were suited for congregational singing. After the words and music were finalized, the words were divided into their syllables and set on a linotype machine. At first it took an operator 8 1⁄2 hours to set just one song. Later a system was worked out by which he was able to set six songs in a workday of 8 1⁄2 hours, but this system placed considerable extra work on others, such as compositors and artists. Proofs of the words were then sent with the music manuscripts to the music producer, where the music itself was typed out to match the words, much as a typist types letters on a typewriter.
Next, the printed words were pasted between the lines of music and then the result was photographed. From these photographs zinc masters were etched and from these, in turn, “mats” were pressed, which were used to cast the printing plates; after which the printing and binding were done. To provide better opacity, making it easier to read the notes, special paper was manufactured.
The new songbook, by reason of its great variety of powerful lyrics and beautiful melodies, gives much cause for rejoicing. By singing such songs we not only bring praise to Jehovah God but thereby we also can ‘make public declaration of our hope and incite one another to love and fine works.’ Singing these songs will impress upon our hearts and minds vital truths and strengthen us in our determination to serve Jehovah and to be loyal to Him and to fellow Christians.—Heb. 10:23-25.
To help those attending the congregational meetings to become better acquainted with these songs, some may want to play them, by recordings or a pianist, before and after the regular congregational meetings, taking care, however, not to play these too loudly. Enjoy these songs also on social occasions at home or elsewhere. And as you who are dedicated Christians become familiar with these songs, sing them with all your hearts, “admonishing one another with psalms, praises to God, spiritual songs with graciousness, singing in your hearts to Jehovah.”—Col. 3:16.