Learning and Leading with Love

A few years ago when writing acknowledgments for one of my books, I realized that most of my piano teachers through my doctoral work had played the organ in church.  All had significant commitments to music in their churches.  These were piano teachers, of course, and none was trained first as a church musician.  But each taught more about church music than intended.  I watched as they practiced, chose repertoire carefully, and made excellent church music a priority in their lives.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, David Brooks demonstrates the connection between emotional relationships and learning.  He breaks through the myth that musicians have long known: the whole person, including experience and emotion, is critical to lasting learning.  Relationship quality is at the center of learning.  It is the people who matter to us that determine what we learn.  It is the people we love from whom we learn the most. [1]

The neuroscientist Daniel Levitan, in his book The World in Six Songs, says it is love that brings us to understand there is something bigger than ourselves, our worries and existence.  He gives evidence how throughout history song has been the way humans have communicated love, life lessons, and a social structure for children.  He talks about the connection between truth and love, the vulnerability that real love requires to have faith and trust in another person.[2]

The December article included Christina Rosetti’s poem, “Love Came Down at Christmas.”  “Love all lovely, Love divine; Love was born at Christmas”. . . .God incarnate, in loving relationship with us.  “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)

We are in the season of Epiphany with the ultimate gift of God’s love in the person of Christ who offers us a relationship of love, truth, and life.  We are the recipients of hundreds of years of a treasure of sacred song, still being created, that renders text through music, helping us learn in relationship with God and each other.  We have all we need and more.

Tim Shewmaker, a CMI Lilly Scholar and musician at Our Redeemer Lutheran in Dallas, reflects on his vocation:  “Successful church music leadership is an act of love. The cantor must empathize with the skill level of the musicians under his/her care and allow them to use their talents to the best of their ability. Volunteer church music exists not to serve the interests and status of the leader, but to allow the musicians in the group to be fed musically and spiritually and to care for one another. Amateurs [literally those who love what they do] who sense that they are loved by their leader will respond in kind.”

At the Church Music Institute we strive in all we do to be “informed by the past, committed to the present, preparing for the future.”  Check out the myriad of rich resources and offerings for 2019.  I suspect you, with us, will find people at these events and music online and encountered at workshops already beloved or soon to be loved.  Most of all, we anticipate learning to know God better.  Then, are you ready to learn and lead with love?


[1] Brooks, David.  “Students Learn From People They Love.”  New York Times, January 18, 2019.

[2] Levitin, Daniel J.  “Love” (Chapter 7) from The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.  New York:  Penguin Group, 2008.