Unanswerable Questions: Fernando Ortega

Unanswerable Questions--The beginning of an ongoing segment here at PostConsumer Reports where I ask questions to people of interest who will most likely never answer them, simply because I do not know them and probably never will. Still, the questions come and I have got to ask them somewhere. I have so many questions. So so many.

This Sunday, August 28th I will be attending the Fernando Ortega concert at Wesley United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Illinois (http://wesley-umc.com/). So, I thought I would end my unofficial Fernando Ortega month (see previous blog posts) by "asking" him some of the questions that have popped into my mind as I have been listening to his music the past few weeks. I am sure there are still tickets to the concert so if you are able to come it would be great to see you there. Most of the questions I have for Fernando deal directly with his new album Come Down O Love Divine which was released this summer.

  1. The choral pieces on your new album sound great. At times they sound a little like the work of contemporary choral composer Morten Lauridsen. I’m wondering if he’s been an influence on you at all.
  2. In line with the first question, as far as I know you’ve never included choral pieces on an album of yours before. Have you just recently started writing for vocal ensembles since you are in a new context as a music leader in an Anglican church or do you have a bunch of choral works just waiting to be performed? Also, out of curiosity, are you using any of the modes as a tonal base in any of them; at times they remind me of the setting of the Psalms in the Plainsong Psalter?
  3. How intentional are you in making your music slow in tempo and contemplative in tone? I’m thinking especially of pieces like “Grace and Peace” off of Shadow of Your Wings and “Kyrie 1” off of Come Down? In composing pieces like this are you deliberately intending to slow down the listener or the worshipper as they open his or her hearts to God or did you compose them that way simply because that’s what you like and that’s the particular song that came out in the moment?
  4. I find much of your music very easy to sing. I pick up on the melodies quickly and yet they are melodies that endure. In composing your own sacred songs or in arranging older hymns, how much do you think about the needs of congregations who might potentially sing your songs?
  5. In the congregation where you lead the music do you often have them sing some of your own songs, like “Sing to Jesus” or “Come and Worship”? It’s one thing to sing your own songs during a concert, but do you at all feel self-conscious about having them sing your own music, as if it would be vain to have a congregation sing something you’ve written yourself? Also, do you typically “roadtest” songs before a congregation first?
  6. I noticed in the liner notes that you did not site the original hymn “Just as I Am” as a source. Is there a reason you left that out?
  7. A number of the songs on your new album are pulled directly out of the liturgy, which means that in an Anglican setting they would be sung at specific times during the liturgy and not just during a long worship set as in a lot of Evangelical churches. Were your compositions written out of necessity for your position at the church you work at or did you just like the texts and wanted to set them to music? Also what can you tell us about how your perspectives on worship and singing has changed since becoming Anglican, something you addressed in a recent blog post?
  8. Over the years you have been on a number of different record labels. Your new label is partly owned by Sandi Patty. What can you tell us about your new label, why you had to switch labels, and how being with a different label affects how your music is distributed, marketed, and even recorded?
  9. Could I have the sheet music for “Kyrie I,” “Trisagion,” and “Aaron’s Blessing”? Pretty please? Thanks!
Related Fernando Ortega Articles:

1 comment:

Phernandeau said...

1) Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna is one of my favorite pieces ever written. I've often listed it among my "desert island" CDs (The recording with Salamunovich and Los Angeles). Good ear, Chris.

2) This is my first real attempt at writing choral music. I've done a couple of things for my church, but not nearly as involved as these pieces. I would love to explore it further. If there are modal tonalities in any of the choral pieces, it's purely by accident. I didn't set out to write in any particular mode.

3) These days, everything I write comes out slow. I don't know why. For awhile, when I was traveling with a band, I used to work hard at writing faster, more punchy songs. A few of them work pretty well, but for the most part, when I try to sing other stuff, I sound contrived. My most successful work (IMO) along those lines are on my self-titled record.

4) The congregation is very much on my mind when I write specifically worship songs - the key, the range, the accessibility of the song. I'm not prolific at this stuff yet, but I hope to be.

5) We sing several of the songs I've written at my church. I don't feel as self-conscious at my home church as I do when I'm visiting another church and they sing one of my songs. I don't think of it as a vain thing to do. Many famous guys did it throughout history when they were called to be the choral master in a given church - Bach, Purcell, Vivaldi, Hayden, Handel - etc.

6) In retrospect, I should have cited the original hymn Just As I Am as a partial lyric source for my new song. I'll try to correct that on the next printing.

7) Yes - all the Anglican songs were written out of necessity for our congregation, or by the request of our rector. Anglicanism has really influenced the way I think about worship music in that (like any other liturgical denomination) it follows the church calendar. The entire order for worship each year is guided by the narrative of Christ's life (as you know, being Anglican yourself). To be more specific, if I am writing a song for lent, I am very cognizant of the overall tone of lent, which is a penitential season. Advent, which is also considered penitential has a different kind of hopefulness to it, or a sense of anticipation, combined with a sense of longing. Those things affect the way we pray and carry on our devotional life at home as well.

8) I'm not really signed to Sandy's label. She has just graciously agreed to be the means by which the record gets manufactured, distributed, and accounted for. Stylos Records is doing an amazing job so far and the people there are terrific.

This record was funded entirely by a wonderful group of investors, mostly friends I've know for a long time. I guess that would (sort of) make me an indie artist. Ha. The music should have become automatically more edgy and hard. Instead, it got even more mellow.

9) I'll work on the sheet music thing for you. Maybe we can connect at tonight's concert. I'm glad you're coming. It's been a blast reading your blog but I only figured out today how to respond. When I logged on, I was surprised to find this list of questions. You've made me laugh several times - and my friends as well. Now, you've exhausted me with this interview so I'm going to head to Chipotle to get some lunch before the concert tonight. God bless you Chris, and thanks for all the excellent press. I look forward to swapping worship leader ideas with you.