A few weeks ago, I wrote about the resurgence of contemporary artists reviving old hymns and writing new ones. However, whenever I start thinking about old hymns being well done by a contemporary artist, one name comes to the forefront of my mind: Fernando Ortega.
This brother has a powerful gift. Not only is he an accomplished musician (is there an instrument he doesn’t play?) who possesses an amazing voice, most impressive is that he knows how to perfectly craft a song. He knows how to find the song’s perfect “voice.”
Some songs have beautiful and rich lyrics, but the music that accompanies them either contradicts the message of the song or distracts from it. If this happens in secular music, it is disappointing but at the end of the day, it doesn’t make much difference. However, when this happens with the music of the Church, it can be a real hindrance in allowing the song to engage your mind and fuel your affections.
I could give you negative examples of this, examples of songs in which the lyrics are sadly carried along by an accompaniment far beneath them or contradictory to them. Instead, I’d rather just point you to someone who does it well- who seems to find the perfect musical vehicle for the message. Again, Fernando is that artist.
Where this is most clearly on display is in his re-working of old hymns, especially ones with which most of us are familiar. It is an amazing gift to take a song that many know and love, and remake that song in such a way that those who listen to it say, “That song should have always been played that way!” Time and time again, this happens when Fernando re-works a hymn.
As my library of Ortega music has grown (currently 79 songs), I’ve repeatedly had this experience. He takes songs that I love and makes them even better. He introduces me to new hymns and his version becomes the standard. And, because he is doing this with the rich, deep hymns of our faith, when the marriage of music and message is made, the impact is glorious.
Let me give you an example of what I’m referring to. I’ve already written a post about Ortega’s version of “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” but there I didn’t emphasize that those soul shaking lyrics are accompanied by just the right musical arrangement. The tempo is perfect. The song begins with a haunting harp-like effect produced by a classical guitar. A cello joins the arrangement in the second verses (why aren’t there more songs with the cello?) and a female vocalist accompanies him at just the right moments in the song. Each turn of the music emphasizes the rich truth of the lyrics, bringing the message to the hearer with such power and force that you find yourself weeping over your sin and yet rejoicing in firm foundation of the Cross. Once you hear the song this way, I don’t imagine that too many other versions (even the original musical paring) will come close to being able to satisfy. And this is just one example.
The powerful “This is my Father’s World,” the meditative “What Wondrous Love is This,” the uptempo “Children of the Living God” are others I would point you to in which you could observe this wonderful harmony of music and message.
When you see this being done so well, and experience the powerful proclamation that results, it makes you desire more. If you haven’t experienced it, I’d encourage you to buy an album by Fernando Ortega immediately! If you have tasted this rich blessing, would you join with me in praying that God would raise up other artists who would be just as careful to find the song’s voice?
Also, would you pray for me? Although I would not classify myself as a “musician,” as I lead the corporate worship of our Church I want to pursue this goal as well. I want to strive for accompaniments that fit and assist the songs we sing. My desire is that our church’s worship in song is aided by the music, not hindered by it. Although some may downplay the importance of this goal, when you hear a song’s truth communicated in its true voice, you quickly understand. You begin to see the blessing of God’s gift of music to the Church and why it has had such an important place in the history of His people’s worship.
Thank you, Fernando, for ministering this gift to us.