Often when listening to someone singing live or on television, I close my eyes to try to hear the song so as not to let the singer’s performance get in the way of the song. A song can be lost in its performance; indeed, the performance can take over so that the song is replaced by the singer.

When anyone is performing live, be it on a stage, in a classroom, at a podium, or in a pulpit, there will always be some combination of three things. The speaker will be trying to impress others with his talent; he will be trying to get a message across; and (consciously or unconsciously) he will be trying to channel something true, good, and beautiful for its own sake. Metaphorically, he will be making love to himself, making love to the audience, and making love to the song.

It is the third component, making love to the song, which makes for great art, great rhetoric, great teaching, and great preaching. Greatness sets itself apart here because what comes through is “the song” rather than the singer, the message rather than the messenger, and the performer’s empathy rather than his ego. The audience then is drawn to the song rather than to the singer. Good singers draw people to the music rather than to themselves; good teachers draw students to truth and learning rather than to themselves; good artists draw people to beauty rather than to adulation, and good preachers draw their congregations to God rather than to praise of themselves.

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