A few weeks ago, I developed a new friendship with someone I highly respect and admire. Austin Lovelace has influenced thousands of church musicians to the glory of God and the strengthening of Christ’s church cross-denominationally. When Dr. Lovelace and I spent that afternoon together over coffee, I had no idea how short the time would be. He was, of course, very old, but he was full of energy.
Dr. Lovelace is certainly a traditionalist when it comes to worship. He’s an accomplished organist, a gifted choir director, and a sensitive and thoughtful composer of musical works, especially of the choral type. Our own choir has sung many of his compositions. My colleage, Douglas Macomber (organist and choirmaster), had the privilege of studying under him at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Lovelace’s traditionalism did not stop him from pursuing me for an afternoon conversation.
What I learned from that afternoon was that Dr. Lovelace’s deepest passion was hymnody. Of all the things he loved and devoted himself to in church music, hymnody was his baby. In fact, The Hymn Society is largely the work of his own heart. When we got together, Dr. Lovelace was chiefly interested in talking to me about hymns, my love for them, and what I hope the church can do with them. I told him about the hymns movement among young people all across the United States today–young people seeking to fill some of the gaps left by the contemporary worship movement. Dr. Lovelace and I, though with differing stylistic tastes, shared the same passion to see the church remember, utilize, and pass on hymns. Dr. Lovelace even condescended (he wouldn’t put it that way, but I would, considering what a great musician he is) to have me play some of our hymn re-sets off The Glad Sound. He didn’t scowl. In fact, he was bobbing his head a time or two. I’m sure the synchopations and pop inflections weren’t his cup of tea, but he was engaging and encouraging me to continue this pursuit. He also told me to join the Hymn Society, because, as he articulated, that organization would need fresh voices from folks like myself, even if that meant pushing the envelope stylistically a bit. I plan on joining and hopefully even submitting an article or two to their periodical, The Hymn.
Perhaps what impressed me most about Dr. Lovelace that afternoon was his generous spirit. Whenever I meet someone who has a more generous spirit than I, I am usually humbled and motivated to pursue that kind of heart in my own life. Such was the effect of my afternoon with Dr. Lovelace. He was a gentleman, and even in what I now know to be his twilight weeks of life this side of heaven, he was interested in mentoring a new generation to sieze his own passions. A piece of Dr. Lovelace’s heart and vision will live on in me because he gave me the time of day.
According to an email circulating through the American Guild of Organists (AGO), Dr. Lovelace was put in hospice care after being diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in mid-March. He stepped into the arms of Christ on Sunday, April 25, 2010. Thank you, Dr. Lovelace, for your tireless service of Christ’s church. May you now enjoy your eternal reward and perpetual Sabbath.