Tag Archive for mentor

The Power of Influence: Timothy Dudley-Smith

As you read each post in this series,
I hope you’ll think with gratitude about those who have influenced you, and
I hope you’ll ponder your investment in the lives of others.

By January, 1983, I was feeling the need for informed and candid reactions to my hymns. I had earlier written to Timothy Dudley-Smith (1926-   ) in my capacity as director of Lillenas Publishing Company. He was already a well-known and widely-respected hymnwriter. So I worked up my courage and wrote him in a personal capacity. I told him about myself and my hymn writing and sent along nine of my hymn texts. I enclosed a check for $5.00 to cover postage for an airmail reply, since he was living in Norwich, England, and I in Kansas City.

In less than two weeks, I received a lengthy reply. He returned my check, explaining that “really I have so little to say that will help you that I should feel a fraud to keep it; and I have had so much help and encouragement from others that it is a privilege to be writing to you now about your own work.” He went on to explain his own unworthiness as a critic, ending with “…and I have many other lacks which make me hesitate to write. But since you ask me…”. My first lesson from Timothy Dudley-Smith was a lesson in deep humility.

He went on to give detailed responses to my specific hymns and as well as comments about hymn writing in general. He talked about the importance of opening lines. He candidly asked me, “Do you revise enough?”, then gave a number of examples of my typing errors, clumsy expressions, colloquialisms (he disliked contractions in hymns), loose expressions, scansion, and the lack of adequate punctuation. He gave his own take on “false rhyme”. The final third of the letter was entirely a lesson in revision.

I responded, sending him revisions of the same hymns plus one additional one. Again, he answered within days. He included an entire page of detailed responses to the additional hymn, Raised from Death to Love and Living. His praises and criticisms helped me polish the hymn, and it is still in hymnal use.

Our correspondence continued similarly through several more letters that year, and we occasionally touched base in the coming years.

My revision process is still not as painstaking as his, but I consistently employ one technique I learned from him. After arriving at the best finished draft I can produce, I let the hymn sit for several days, then come back to it again. Getting the hymn out of my mind for a few days, I can then see it with fresh eyes, and revisions and needed improvements are apparent that I would otherwise have missed.

Whatever my hymn writing is today, in 1983 it was primitive by any measure. I marvel that such a capable writer took my scratchings so seriously; that such a busy man, with so many demands on his time, took so much time with me. I still aspire to the balance of kindness and candor that he showed throughout his critiques.

Timothy Dudley-Smith was a vital part of my development as a hymn writer. He gave me one of the greatest gifts one can give a writer: a truer perspective. He helped me see my work more critically and showed me a practical road toward improvement.

The Power of Influence: Tom Fettke

As you read each post in this series,
I hope you’ll think with gratitude about those who have influenced you, and
I hope you’ll ponder your investment in the lives of others.

Previously, he had taught high school choral music in Oakland, California. But when we started working together, Tom Fettke was selling pianos and organs out of a store showroom. When we needed to talk business, I had to call him there.

During the early years when he worked such full-time jobs outside music publishing, he sometimes wrote third shift, between late night and early morning hours. That’s how dedicated he was to his writing. When I met him in the summer of 1975, soon after I became music editor at Lillenas Publishing Company, he had already had a Christmas musical published by Lillenas, Love, Joy, Peace, as well as several anthems.

We hit it off from the beginning. Our ideas and personalities were radically different in many ways, but we were both secure enough to be completely honest with each other. That candid communication has taken us through all the years and all the situations since.

At that point, Lillenas was going through a changing of the guard, and by the late ‘70’s, I was not only director but also in charge of product development. Whenever I had an idea or needed a sounding board, Tom was my first stop.

He and I grew up together in the church music publishing business. Tom has always been a superb composer, arranger, and producer. But what made him unique was his avid interest in the behind-the-scenes aspects of publishing. Most writers only wanted to write—forget the business end. Tom was the opposite. He was insatiably curious about the rest of publishing—product development, marketing, song selection, copyright, and more. Thus he was absolutely invaluable to this young publisher who by now had more than he could possibly handle.

Basically, my 38 years in church music publishing have been more interesting, fun, and fruitful because of my close personal and professional friendship with Tom Fettke.

But he has also had a profound influence on my writing. Coming to Lillenas out of the Conservatory, I brought with me a handful of Christian songs, with original words and music. Tom quickly praised the lyrics but asked to be allowed to do his own musical settings. Thus our relationship as composer and lyricist began early and continued through perhaps 100 songs, give or take. A number of my earlier hymns, still in print, were written at his request.

Tom was and is a perfectionist. He would ask for a lyric to fit certain criteria, or I would offer one I had written, and I could count on the fact that he would call me and name multiple spots he wanted “re-examined”—which meant redone. He forced me to be much tougher on myself in every area of lyric writing, but especially when it came to the singability of my words. I learned that I had to be unflinchingly aware of the flow of the sounds of the words, how easy and natural it was to sing those consonants and vowels to those notes, in that context. If I didn’t iron out those problems before I sent him the lyric, he would force me to address them. Over the years, I came to examine the exact motion of the mouth required to say or sing each sound and each syllable. Could that sound be easily and naturally sung to that pitch, at that tempo, in that context? If not, it had to be replaced, no matter what the sense demanded.

That training in Tom’s school of lyric-writing has proven invaluable in my later years as I’ve focused on hymn writing. Hymn writing is like building a ship in a bottle, with every word having to be exactly right in relation to a long list of criteria—denotation, connotation, singability, meter, rhyme, etc. Anything I know about writing singable lyrics was learned under the tutelage of this dear and very exacting friend.

Thank You, good Lord, for Tom Fettke!

The Power of Influence: Dr. Thomas Scott Huston

As you read each post in this series,
I hope you’ll think with gratitude about those who have influenced you, and
I hope you’ll ponder your investment in the lives of others.

Bigger than life—those are the first words that come to mind when I think of “Doc” Huston. He was over six feet tall and slightly hump-shouldered, with thinning, wispy red hair. Some of his ways would have seemed brash and uncouth in a younger, less authoritative man. His smile was warm, his gestures often broad and dramatic, and his voice could boom with unapologetic passion.

He was given to definitive pronouncements, almost theatrical in their fervor, and when the situation demanded it, he had a temper to match his red hair. As he strode down the hall with his distinctive gait, everyone knew he was there, and when he arrived at class, he “made an entrance” without even trying. But he had a twinkle in his eye that seemed permanent, even in his wrath.

During my senior year in high school, I attended a Saturday music theory and composition class in the College-Conservatory of Music building at the University of Cincinnati—part of their preparatory school program. The teacher of that course introduced me to Doc Huston. Knowing I was about to enter the Conservatory with an interest in composition, he offered to let me to sit in on one of his composition classes during my freshman year. When school rules allowed me to switch my major to music composition at the beginning of my sophomore year, I officially studied composition with him for four more years, including one year of master’s study.

His composition classes were always held in his office studio. When he played one of his students’ compositions for that week, he would attack his studio grand piano with an energy totally unbridled by correctness. I remember once when a younger student tried to tell him he was playing his masterpiece incorrectly. Bad idea. His more experienced students knew that Doc was hearing far more than he was playing.

He always had a cup of coffee and a cigar in composition class. The coffee was often a victim of his passionate gestures and would end up inside the grand piano. A cursory mopping up was all the attention it got. Cigar ashes regularly fell on a student’s precious manuscript. Doc would brush them away without missing a beat.

How many times did I hear him rant about the five perfect compositions in music history! Bach’s B Minor Mass…Brahms’ Third Symphony…there was a Stravinsky in there, but I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember the rest.

As a student, there were some younger profs I respected more when it came to knowing the technical details of music analysis. By comparison, Doc seemed more of a broad strokes guy. Sometimes I even wondered if Doc wasn’t using theatrical proclamations to cover his lack of detailed familiarity with the literature. Forgive me, Doc.

But 20+ years after leaving the Conservatory, when I turned from writing lyrics alone back to composing my own music, it was Doc’s oft-repeated broad strokes about music composition that proved unforgettable. Doc had majored on majors, not on minors, and I reaped the rewards of his wise investment. His basic principles lie behind every good hymn setting I’ve ever written. (I’ll take the blame for the rest.)

Externally, he was not a poster child for conservative evangelical Christianity. But he was outspokenly, unapologetically Christian in a place and time when profs more often sneered at God and openly mocked belief in Him. For a college kid struggling with his faith in a very atheistic environment, Doc was a light in a dark place, a homing beacon on the shore of a safe and welcoming harbor.

The Power of Influence: John Matre

As you read each post in this series,
I hope you’ll think with gratitude about those who have influenced you, and
I hope you’ll ponder your investment in the lives of others.

My “musical career” began in fifth grade with school band. When they demonstrated each of the instruments, only the clarinet seemed like something I might be able to do, so that was reason enough. I took up the clarinet.

My band director from fifth grade all the way through high school was Mr. Matre—John Matre. I liked him.

And I guess he liked my clarinet playing, for he encouraged me all along the way.

In fact, in seventh grade, he came to me and offered me free private lessons on the clarinet, on his own time. I was flattered and honored, so I took him up on it.

I don’t remember anything specific that he ever taught me. Perhaps it’s my spotty memory, or perhaps it was because he was a trombonist, not a woodwind guy. But that didn’t matter. With my temperament, I was never destined to become a world-famous performing artist on anything, clarinet or otherwise. By the time I was 18, I was good enough to be accepted into the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati as a clarinetist. But at the beginning of my sophomore year, when school rules allowed me to become a music composition major, the clarinet was abandoned forever. Not even my wife of 42 years has ever heard me play.

But what was important is this: because Mr. Matre thought highly of my clarinet playing, so did I. Because my music was important to him, it became important to me.

My music ministry began there and then—in the seventh grade with free clarinet lessons from Mr. Matre. Thank you, John Matre, for giving of yourself to me. Everyone I have ever touched with my music thanks you as well.

The Power of Influence: Dr. Morris Weigelt

In mid-June, 1975, my wife, my one-year-old son, and I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, so that I could begin my new job as music editor for Lillenas Publishing Company. We immediately began attending a little church in the suburbs, Grandview Church of the Nazarene. That same week, Dr. Morris Weigelt moved to KC to take up his appointment as Professor of New Testament at Nazarene Theological Seminary. He and his family started attending Grandview Church as well.

His influence on me began as I simply heard him preach and teach. Though I had grown up in the church, he opened for me a whole new dimension in Bible teaching. He laid open God’s Word in greater depth than I had ever imagined possible. He taught with warmth, practical relevance, and a sense of bubbling fascination. His considerable intellect was blended with a spirit that was passionate and contagious.

So imagine my surprise when in 1977, he came to me and asked me to team-teach an adult Sunday School class with him. Each Sunday morning for three years we sat side by side on stools and together taught a Bible lesson to a room full of adults. Our only coordination was a brief phone conversation on Saturday night to set general direction. Otherwise, the back and forth between us was completely unscripted. The format was his idea.

Tell me, why would a Bible scholar and expert teacher in the prime of his career approach a 27-year-old kid with such a proposal? I had never taught the Bible to adults—I had never even considered it before he approached me. But I’ve never stopped teaching the Bible since, both in person and in writing.

He has continued to be a guide, mentor, and encourager to me over the years. For more of his wise counsel, see Saturate Yourself with the Truth and Don’t Pick the Fruit Too Soon.

Most importantly, Morris’ example turned me on to creative communication of biblical truth. That passion is still alive and well in me and burns behind everything I do. He showed me that God’s Word could be taught with greater depth, warmth, and relevance than I had ever dreamed.

The Lord turned my life toward doing that same thing through hymns. Congregational music can be much more than a temporary emotional experience. The truth about Jesus Christ demands that it be more. Hymns can help nurture our eternal relationship with the Living God.

Dr. Morris Weigelt helped open my eyes to this possibility, and I thank the Lord God for his influence in my life. The Lord has used him to help me fulfill His calling.

The Power of Influence: Introduction

What people have influenced you the most? That’s what I hope you’ll be thinking about as you read this series of blog posts, beginning today. Each Wednesday for the next few months I’ll be talking about an individual who has influenced me in very significant ways.

I have two goals for this series:

  1. I hope you’ll think with gratitude about the people who have influenced you.
  1. I hope you’ll ponder your influence on others.

A few years ago while my wife, Gloria, worked at a local seminary, we attended a staff retreat. In one small group, we were asked what people had influenced us the most over the course of our lives. A whole host of names were written on the board. Then the leader asked us why they had influenced us so significantly. Again, the responses were recorded on the board.

At the end, we reflected on all the reasons why we were influenced by the significant people in our lives. Among all those reasons, there was not a single professional ability. No one had been had been nominated as a significant influencer because they were brilliant or talented. The people who had influenced us the most were those who had taken the time to care about us personally. 

Do you want to be a good, godly influence on someone? Care about them, and show it by investing your time, one-on-one.

My own list of influencers will include a number of people who took time to care about me. But you’ll also see a few people from the past…people of a different time whom I’ve never met. They made my list because their passion ignited my passion.

Creative work can be lonely. Serving God in any capacity can be lonely. Part of His training often involves separating His servants completely to Himself. Decades after He called me to serve Him, that loneliness is still part of my ongoing experience. I often feel like it is just Him and me in this work.

But that’s never been the truth. He has always given me companions—companions who shared my heart for the work and who generously shared with me their much-needed abilities. A few of these very significant people won’t get their own article in the weeks that follow, so please allow me to thank them here:

  • Dr. Edwin Willmington, head of the Fred Bock Institute of Music at Fuller Seminary. He is a wise and talented Christian musician who has an important ministry in connecting people who need to know each other. I have been a grateful recipient of that ministry more than once. Thank you, Ed!
  • Dennis Allen, composer, arranger, producer, keyboard player, and now college professor. If you have heard any of our recordings on LNWhymns.com, you’ve enjoyed Dennis’ work. He has arranged, produced, and played keyboards on every new demo we’ve ever done—many hundreds. His talented wife, Nan, has done all the female solos, and his equally-talented son, Mark, has recorded most of the male solos. What God-sends they have been! 
  • My daughter, Kindra Bible, full-time missionary stationed in Quito, Ecuador, and computer programmer. (Yes, with modern communications, some missionaries are computer programmers!) How could a techno-phobe like me ever have such a wonderful website? She’s the answer.

Thank you, Ed, Dennis, and Kindra! I humbly thank God for each one of you.

With each of us, our lives can play important parts in a purpose much greater than we could ever imagine. The sovereign God of all reality can use each of us to influence precious people, present and future. So stay faithful in the place He has put you.