One of my objectives this year (and that of our Worship Commission) is to explore three new sources of worship music, by which I mean “new” to us, personally. Gregorian chant could fit the bill, if we haven’t been exposed to it before. By circumstance, or more likely, by the working of God, I borrowed a CD recently from the public library for listening on a long drive (to Depoe Bay, for fishing) of someone with whom I was only vaguely familiar: Fernando Ortega, “Come Down, O Divine Love.”
I was hooked from the first track. By the second or third, I realized I was experiencing something special: ancient Christian liturgies in contemporary musical styles, fresh and tasteful, challenging but not technically distracting, blending harmony, instrumentation with lyrics and meaning with the sophistication of any great classical composer, but much more accessible to singers and musicians not as skilled as Ortega himself. One example is Track 4, Trisagion, or “Thrice Holy,” an ancient Greek Orthodox litany adapted to contemporary style like that of Windom Hill music. Ortega draws on other historic Christian traditions as well, such as Wesleyan, Reformation Era Lutheran Chorales, Black American Spirituals, even Gregorian and Medieval Plain Chant, traditional Christmas carols, and Jewish sources. He has also composed and recorded worship songs in Spanish, as well as songs in Celtic or Country and Bluegrass styles that celebrate nature, family, life and love. Even when he has struck out with something entirely new and original, Ortega’s music and lyrics are still grounded in the long flow of what C.S. Lewis called “Mere Christianity,” something that Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant and Anabaptist worshipers would recognize and enjoy.
While we were carrying on our worship wars between those who love traditional music with deep and profound lyrics and four-part harmony on one side, and those who love upbeat and contemporary styles and instrumentation, Fernando Ortega has been showing that the way of openness, dialogue and respect for both genres and their fans can bring peace to our worship wars by synthesizing the best of both worlds. Make that, many worlds. Thank you, Fernando.
by Mathew Swora