THE HEART OF THE MATTER

By

After my last post, I received quite the flurry of responses, most of them positive, some of them critical. Some people were quite offended, feeling that I had attacked their personal view of what worship is. What a massive subject—the definition of worship! It inspires tremendous passion. Most pastors would agree that nothing can tear a congregation apart faster than disagreements over worship styles. I’ve experienced the agony of worship wars too many times.

I’d like to reiterate that the primary goal of my last blog was to encourage specifically those who are attempting to write modern hymns. I was not trying to pass judgement on contemporary worship choruses (though I have plenty to say on the subject), nor was I turning my nose up at simple choruses and worship songs. I have written and recorded plenty of both, and intend to do more in the future.

The discussion prompted me to think about how the critical process has been instilled in me and has become vital to me as a song writer. I’ll start with a quote from one of my favorite authors of the last century, Flannery O’Connor. This quote is from one of her lectures to college students, aspiring writers:

Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

I experienced a dramatic stifling as a musician when I was 21 years old. I flew out to the east coast to audition for graduate schools in piano performance. I had worked hard for several years and knew my pieces well. I was practicing Chopin Ballade #3 one night at the Juilliard School (a friend let me in), nervous about my audition at Stony Brook the next day. Suddenly I heard the same piece coming out of a practice room down the hall. The person playing was a fantastic pianist—technique to burn; gorgeous, mature tone; deep, thoughtful musicianship. I recognized instantly that at my very best, I would never be capable of playing Chopin as well as this person. Thoroughly intimidated, I walked down the hall and peeked into the practice room. Seated at the piano was a young girl, maybe 13 or 14 years old.

The lesson for me was huge and devastating. In an instant, I became acutely and painfully aware of the limitations of my gifts as a pianist. I was not a world-class pianist (as I had secretly entertained in my mind). I was merely a good pianist—better than average, but by no means gifted enough to compete in the classical world I longed to be part of. I fell into a depression that lasted two years as I began to sort out more honestly what musical talents I had been given, and which talents I had not been given. I look back on the whole experience and recognize God’s hand of mercy on my life.

It was also Providence that brought me a few years later as a young song writer to the classrooms of Elaine Rubenstein and Peter Morrison, two poets who taught writing workshops at Irvine Valley College in the late ’80s and through the ’90s. The workshop was, for me, at first, a fairly brutal weekly event. Each student wrote a poem within the framework of whatever we were studying that week—a catalogue poem, the Art of Tea, the Navajo creation story, a psalm, or a beatitude. At the following session, we read our poem aloud in front of the class. Critique was provided by the students and the teacher. You weren’t allowed to defend yourself or argue back—just to take it all in. I was often discouraged to realize that a week’s worth of writing had rendered perhaps only one keeper line, or worse, a rhythmless poem riddled with clichés and sentimentality.

As I write these two stories down, I’m reminded of the important, sometimes predominant role negativity has played in the creation of my songs: so much stripping away, so much tearing apart before I can get to the heart of what I’m trying to communicate.

There are songs I wrote years ago that I’m still proud of today. They caused me a lot of sweat and agony, struggling over single words for days or weeks, pacing up and down the length of our driveway at night, driving my wife nuts. And there are songs I wrote and recorded that I now find cringe-worthy. I would have been better off starting over from scratch, or filing them into the nearest paper shredder.

All these years later, I still send most of what I write to Peter and Elaine for critique and guidance. They have keen eyes and ears, and they’re excellent teachers. They’re beautifully and eloquently honest. The process of getting to the heart of the matter still isn’t easy for me, but I’ve learned to welcome it.


42 Comments

  1. Becca

    Giggling at the Flannery quote. So perfect.

    Fernando, I love what you have written. Art-making parallels the gospel, I think. (Unabashedly stealing from Sayers here.) 1. An idea is given. 2. There is the working out of the idea. 3. There is resonance (or not).

    The “making” stage of art seems to work very much like sanctification. We are involved, but ideally, we are not the energy source. I am thinking specifically about Galatians 3:3. There should be a reliance upon something bigger and truer than the ability of flesh-and-bones self.

    This means the sifting of what should be kept from what should be discarded isn’t personal. It isn’t something that gives or detracts from our worth. Our worth is secure.

    It seems Christian artists often adopt a secular mindset about their “worship” art. I think that is why personal offense comes so easily. We feel threatened because during making, we have rested our worth upon our performance.

    But faith means relaxing into the resonance of our calling, embedded in the identity of an unshakable name. Our marriage to the old husband of achievement/performance/approval is gone. (Romans 7) We are now married to Someone who assigns worth apart from our doings. Someone who makes loveliness flow from the heart, out of a context of intimacy and fullness.

    So in artmaking, we abide. We listen. We resound. Corrections are made. Beauty is born. We are safe. All is well.

  2. Gabrielle

    Oh my, I can comment here and Fernando Ortega will actually see it. I wish I had some insightful, thought-provoking comment to make about song writing, but I don’t. I’m a former English teacher and now a full-time mom, and I just want to say thank you for your modern hymns.

    We have two kids (so far), and the oldest is nearly three. We started playing The Shadow of Your Wings for her over a year and a half ago, to help her relax and go to sleep. By around 20 months of age, she would ask for “Peace,” referring to the first song on your album, Grace and Peace. And a few months later, she could tell us that whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely “sink on dese tings” (think on these things). There is nothing so sweet as imparting scripture to your little ones. Thank you for writing music that makes it easier for us, as parents, to do that.

  3. Kathryn Ross

    Great post and awesome quote by Flannery O’Connor! I have to say, working in education today, I am at wits end as to how to bring correction to students. The mainstream teaching techniques today ask teachers to ignore errors so as not to damage the child’s self-esteem. Very difficult to do when I know that all I’m really doing is cementing bad habits – and not allowing a child the ability to learn how to deal with disappointment.

    When I was in school – years ago, I looked forward to the “red marks” on my papers. It showed me that 1. The teacher actually read my work closely and 2. Now I knew where I was wrong and was tooled with the wisdom to make corrections and not error again. There is freedom and growth in this.

    Submitting to critique is not easy – but it can be transforming if we allow it – much like our submission to the Lord to “critique” us in the furnace so that we come forth as gold.

    Joyful in truth – even though it sometimes hurts . . .
    Kathy

  4. Whipple

    That’s a curious bit from Flannery O’Connor, seeming to contain a clear barb at the nature of people to prefer the dramatic-yet-dispensable to the timeless and excellent.
    I myself recall a good many songs that I enjoyed singing and felt strongly about ten years ago, but which I would see as weak and full of sentimentality today. I’m therefore personally guilty of lacking discernment where lyrics are concerned, but I don’t think I’m the only one.

    Not to try and get you in more trouble, Mr. Ortega, but I’d be interested to know your thoughts about that consumerist nuance as it applies to church music.

  5. Heather E. Carrillo

    I actually laughed out loud over that quote! There was a post on this website earlier about how we are lacking in Masters and I think the problem is that as a society, in the name of tolerance, we allow too much to pass for art that just….isn’t. When what we should do is come alongside people who have a talent or passion for something and encourage them to master and develop what they have.

    I actually really loved your post, and I think it’s very apparent in your own music that you sincerely believe what you are doing should be beautiful because you are writing for the glory of God. Shai Linne in his blog has a post similar to your first one here: http://lyricaltheology.blogspot.com/2011/10/skills-or-message.html I think the book he recommends looks very interesting.

    A young man has recently been baptized in our church and as a very young believer said that he appreciates the (sometimes solemnish) older hymns because they tell a story. He said he’d been to other churches that have peppier music and it was nice, but it almost didn’t mean anything. He said he can see the links between the word expounded by the pastor and words of the hymns we are singing to God. I thought coming from a brand-new believer this was pretty awesome. And maybe something to think about when we worry that the “boring” music will drive away seekers.

  6. Loren

    Thank you for sharing your heart again, Fernando. I was laughing a little in sympathy with your early musician (or not) experiences as I thought of my meager attempts to play the trumpet well or sing. In both cases I was trying to do something that was not my strength, and I wanted to be noticed. I don’t think I was really listening to what God wanted me to do. I still love to sing, but have no desire to be front-and-center with it. God can use me much better elsewhere!

    And so true about criticism. I much prefer people around me to be straightforward with me. If I have hurt or offended, I want people to let me know! I will sit down face-to-face and work through the painful process of restoration. And we will all be the stronger, more beautiful for it. It’s part of true Body-life.

  7. Cara Maat

    Just a note to say thank you. I first was introduced to your music by my dear friend Mary Patterson back in high school. I had spent my whole child hood dreaming of being a singer and musician but put it away somewhere else in order to pursue sports and activities of different kinds in which I perceived would “advance” me with my peers. But it was around the time I first heard your music that I decided to step into what I dreamed of doing. The first solo I ever sang in front of my peers as a freshman in high school was Breaking of the Dawn. Thank you for that song. It was so beautiful to me, and it began for me a journey of falling more in love with music and for pursuing what I loved to do. I was at the Patterson house when I heard it for the first time, so that album also brings me back to memories of beautiful friendship and community.

  8. Chris Marchand

    MAN!
    Everyone’s being so positive towards Fernando’s blog post.
    Doesn’t ANYONE have any criticism to offer him? Someone get negative, and quick!

    Actually, it’s been great being encouraged by everyone’s posts.

  9. Traci

    Hmmmm…I don’t think anyone has worded my Freshman and Sophomore years as a vocal music major more clearly. I struggled because I love singing and beautiful musicianship so much but I slowly realized that the Lord was not calling me to music as a vocation. I ended up with a music minor and a greater appreciation for those who do bless me with beautiful music. It is a sad thing for me now when I go to sing and find my voice less nimble, but in general, I can still enjoy the gift of music without feeling driven or desperate for good performance as I once was.

    I enjoyed your last post so much that on an evening out alone I purchased the CD and have listened to “Come Down, O Love Divine” more times than I care to admit! I so cherish when weighty lyrics are married to such beautiful music.

  10. Phernandeau

    Becca,

    Thanks for your brilliant post. I liked this:

    “The “making” stage of art seems to work very much like sanctification. We are involved, but ideally, we are not the energy source. I am thinking specifically about Galatians 3:3. There should be a reliance upon something bigger and truer than the ability of flesh-and-bones self.”

    Though I think to say we’re “involved” in the making of art is an understatement. The involvement is physical, emotional, and spiritual. Exertion and sweat-work are required on several levels. Then, as you say so beautifully, it all falls into place under something much bigger than ourselves. And in the end, the exertion does not define us, nor does the final outcome.

    This statement also rings true to me:

    “It seems Christian artists often adopt a secular mindset about their “worship” art. I think that is why personal offense comes so easily. We feel threatened because during making, we have rested our worth upon our performance.”

    Years ago I met a young woman who told me she was a songwriter and that in the last few years she had written more than 400 songs. Astonishing, I said to myself. She then told me that she was not responsible for writing a single one of them. She would often be awakened in the middle of the night to find herself groping at her nightstand for her pen and note-pad. The Holy Spirit had taken complete control of her body and she would involuntarily start scribbling all over the pad. She would wake up the next morning and find an entire song written on the page. This happened night after night. I was highly skeptical, though she did look awfully tired and gaunt and I half expected to find stigmata when I shook her hand to say goodbye. Later, I listened to a few of the songs. Predictably, they were not very good. But imagine the devastation this person would feel if she were to be told such a thing. Her entire identity was caught up in those songs.

    Lastly, Becca – concerning your idea about how the making of art parallels the process of sanctification, I think of the first four Beatitudes, which are addressed to:

    The poor in spirit
    Those who mourn
    The meek
    Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

    This passage seems to me an outline, if you will, of the progression of the sanctified life. There is the negative before the positive when it comes to the Gospel and our sanctification. (Here, I am borrowing from Martin Lloyd-Jones). Jones then compares the passage to Isaiah 6 where the prophet sees God and is stricken as though he were dead

    I believe this is the framework for our lives as Christians. Out of it flows our daily life – our worship, our work, our art, etc. This is the order God has set in motion.

    I also like James Witmer’s brief quotation from Proverbs:

    faithful are the wounds of a friend;
    profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

    I have thought of this passage many times with regard to the subject above, though it applies to so many areas of our lives.

    Thanks to all of you who wrote such encouraging and lively responses. I love the Rabbit Room and am thankful once again to The Proprietor for giving me the opportunity to interact here.

    Oh – and thanks to Chris Marchand for trying to incite a riot against me. Chris is a prolific blogger and you can find his work here: http://postconsumereports.blogspot.com

  11. PJ

    I’ve been listening to *The Shadow of Your Wings* lately myself. Need to get my hands on your latest, Fernando.

    As another way of encouragement–some of those “cringe-worthy” songs may be just the ones that someone has ringing in their ears over the years that is a blessing to them.

  12. Thaine Norris

    Our family lived on the Mexican border for three years outside El Paso. We made frequent drives to and from Denver in support of missions teams coming to work in Juarez. I so looked forward to those drives–usually just myself and one of my children for a special time with dad–from El Paso, through Alamogordo, and the gorgeous wide open spaces in which our hearts swelled with God’s surrounding glory. I will always associate your rendition of “Immortal, Invisible” and the chord progression themes and powerful words in “Storm” with those times.

    Thank you for both of your posts. We have so enjoyed the product of your obedience to God and His gifts to the Body of Christ through you.

    ¡Gloria a Dios!

  13. Brent

    Fernando,

    What do you do when you disagree with someone’s constructive criticism? If their comments reveal flaws or weaknesses in your work, and you recognize them as such, then it is “easy” to edit to correct those issues. But when you disagree… How do you know when to respond by humbly addressing the criticisms and when to trust your artistic gut/vision/instincts by ignoring them?

  14. Becca

    Phernandeau:

    Finally a few minutes to respond. The whirl of Mommydom commandeers most of my week; but it is Friday at last, and time to sit in the sweet company of a few hours of quiet.

    I was moved by your response. How it resounds.

    Particularly this:

    The poor in spirit
    Those who mourn
    The meek
    Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

    This passage seems to me an outline, if you will, of the progression of the sanctified life. There is the negative before the positive when it comes to the Gospel and our sanctification. (Here, I am borrowing from Martin Lloyd-Jones). Jones then compares the passage to Isaiah 6 where the prophet sees God and is stricken as though he were dead

    I have never thought of this as a progression before. As I read it now for the fourth time, I sit here stunned by the clarity of it. (How have I missed this all my life?) Yes. This is the way it goes.

    Last night I was reading Annie Dillard’s _The Writing Life_, and these two quotes struck me in light of this conversation:

    “The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. In your humility, you lay down the words carefully, watching all the angles. Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope the birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.” (3-4)

    “the work’s beginning greets the reader with the wrong hand.” (5)

    So, we must enter creativity with the humility to relinquish. Doesn’t this releasing of control shiver with faith?

    Also this, from reading Jeanne Guyon’s _Intimacy with Christ_. (Thanks, Ron Block.) As you read it, replace the concept of “friends” with the concept of our creative work in process.

    “You seem to mark out a certain circle of friends and experiences for yourself. You are afraid to go outside of that circle lest you be hurt or lose control. If you insist on controlling your own life, your Lord will not force you to give up your control. While it seems that you are making progress, you are really only ‘going around in circles.’ Do you know what that circle is filled with? The self! I beg you to pass beyond these narrow boundaries that you set for yourself. / Allow yourself to be led by the will and way of God, not by what you want or think to be best.”

    How much of low-quality making is rooted in this sort of fear? Demanding that art is bridled to the control of self. Demanding that self remains safe. Demanding that self remains central at all times?

    I left my Dillard at home today, attempting to force myself to work on a thesis. However, there is an amazing little section in that book where she compares writing to shooting out of the atmosphere past the planets. She says we go, go, go, soaring into the unknown. She says we don’t have to understand the journey fully as we travel, though words may come for the experience later. At least in part, our job is to hold our breaths in wonder and see. To be present. To behold.

    That takes faith. Letting go of a deity we can control and trusting that there is a God who is bigger than the bounds of our understanding. It rubs the fur of our post-Enlightenment grain the wrong way. We are comfortable cognitive with our hands on the steering wheel.

    To be the size we are, no more, no less – that is painful. Eustace without dragon skins. Being made while making. “We are not as strong as we think we are,” said R. Mullins. This is the forge of creation.

    Oh, this post is too long. Apologies for that.

    You are a thinker. So many of you are here. I am so glad for it.

  15. Dodd Drake

    Fernando,
    I will never forget when I joined staff with Campus Crusade, this brilliant, kind, gentle, worshipful man led us in worship week after week. I was never the same. I experienced heart-felt worship that was full of sincerity, passion, and love. It was you. And then I got to know you, and saw the music came from a heart for God that drew me to love Christ like you did.
    It takes great courage to do what you have done, to not quit when others are more gifted, to not quit when others tear up your poetry and music. It takes great courage to submit yourself to others and learn. I am thankful after all these years you continue to be a model for me, and continue to lead us to the throne in awe and amazement at the glory of God. Your friend, Dodd Drake

  16. Phernandeau

    Brent – There are plenty of times I’ve disagreed with someone’s critique or point of view and stuck to my guns. Especially with regard to theological points. The more you write, the more you develop an ear for the way words work together.

    Dodd – great to hear from you. I have wonderful memories of my Campus Crusade days.

    Cara – Do I know Mary Patterson?

  17. Chris Castleberry

    So very well said,Fernando. I’m thankful for those times of being stifled and the resulting realization. What’s unfortunate is that I can be a stubborn, slow learner. I’m glad God steered you in the direction He did, Fernando; your music is a blessing!

  18. Alyssa

    This puts perfect words to what I experience most every time I step into the Rabbit Room. On the days when I’m not abiding, when I’m insecure and performance-driven, I’m afraid to even hazard a comment. I’m the younger you, reeling in the presence of those with more skill and greater understanding. It really does feel like a forge (to use Becca’s word), where the work of the finer and purer tends to beat the living daylights out of me.

    But the beauty of the RR is that the forge is also a place of grace — as it should be. I’ve been tempted at times to become demoralized by my (percieved) inferiority — to give up, and in doing so to avoid the criticism. But I’ve always found the courage to return to the very place where I’m so thoroughly humbled. Because of grace. The goodness in these writers’ masterfully chosen words motivates me to sharpen my skill. The welcome in their virtual voices softens the smithy’s blow.

    The woman at the well: what becomes of her if Jesus’ stinging accusation is not paired with the offer of living water? The woman caught in adultery: how differently would she hear Christ’s admonition apart from his mercy?

    That is the gift the RR has given me: correction and critique bound up in love. Growth. Thank you all.

  19. Phernandeau

    Alyssa… sounds to me like you do pretty well with your words.

    I have the same insecurities as you. Have you ever read Anne Lamott’s book called Bird By Bird? It’s a guide for young writers that’s actually very helpful. As I recall, there’s even a section that addresses the kind of insecurity you’re describing.

  20. Becca

    Alyssa, do you have a blog? I would love to keep up with your writing. I’ve been thinking about you ever since Hutchmoot, and I am praying for the fire God is stoking inside you.

    Reading Annie Dillard or Wendell Berry makes me feel the way you described. The quality of their craft makes me want to throw my laptop in the trash and find a bathroom to clean.

    Last night I read this in Jeanne Guyon:

    “Do not compare yourself with others, for they may not be led as you are. God chooses to give some people brilliant gifts, but He has chosen you, stripped of everything, in the depths of spiritual poverty. When you see your total spiritual poverty and inability to do anything by your own strength, it brings you to renounce your self nature. Without this renouncing of self you cannot be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. // No matter what insight or revelation you have, it is nothing compared to seeing your total need of God. There is no greater revelation than realizing that you can do nothing of yourself. When a believer reaches this place, God takes everything from him so that he might have the Beloved alone. It is also a place in which you are shielded from the inroads of the enemy, for the enemy can reach only that which remains of self and not that which has been hidden in God.”

    and then this:

    “Do not be overly concerned about your human weakness and failings. It is part of God’s way for you. Be as a little child. When a child falls, he cannot pick himself up but lets another do everything for him.” … “I once thought that the most spiritual Christians were free from faults, but I now see otherwise. God allows certain human shortcomings to remain…”

    It is such a strange thing to start here, to revel in weakness and embrace it with both hands, to sink down deep into our vesselness. It is a walking dying to begin creation knowing that our vision is impoverished; make art yielded to the forge; and then cast this offering of love out into the world, knowing that if we ring of Christ, we will be misunderstoood. (Another parallel to Sayer’s idea, energy, power, BTW.)

    I read Romans 8 after Guyon. Paul reiterated the severity of my choice. As an artist, I can either walk in the confidence of the flesh — or take my newness seriously. Beautiful gospel, it applies even in the trembling, private pastings of word upon word.

    Because of it, you and I are secure as a creators. We are secure for the same reasons we fear. We have need. Thank God, we have need. It is a holy place, primed for wonders.

  21. yankeegospelgirl

    Fernando, I think what inspires me about you is your humility. You’ve got such a quiet, unassuming style that gently draws people of just about any taste who appreciate good music. I swear my family is all over the place taste-wise and you’re one of the few we ALL agree on. There’s magic in simplicity. And I think that humility is reflected in your personality as well. Ever the consummate professional, yet never full of yourself. It’s a breath of fresh air. You’re much loved. Thanks for being you.

  22. Alden

    Fernando, Thanks. As a musician, worship leader, writer, creative, I don’t always get to see and appreciate the sweat, blood, and heart ache that goes into each single piece of work I admire from afar from artists such as yourself. The lesson for we who read this is that all the work is worth it. There is much growing and shaping we go through as we critique our own work and put it up for the criticism of others whom we trust. You’ve inspired me here. With more determination, I want to get to the heart of the matter as I create.

    Thanks,

    Alden

  23. Phernandeau

    Hello Yankee G G – You have been very encouraging since the last blog I posted here and I am grateful. Thanks for what you just said about your family and my music. You must be a songwriter, or at least I remember you posting a hymn you wrote. Are you also a pianist?

  24. Phernandeau

    Becca – your first quote above from Jeanne Guyon is precisely the idea about the beatitudes being a progression. It all starts with an acute awareness of ones spiritual poverty – Blessed are the poor in spirit, etc. The beautiful outline can be found in Studies In The Sermon On The Mount by Martin Lloyd-Jones. Dr. LJ’s book was standard reading a few decades ago.

    In fact, Ron Block knew him personally. Ronnie and Lloyd Jones once had tea together in a back room at Westminster Abbey. Ronnie was about to get thrown out of the joint for plucking his banjo too loud during Evening mass but the doc intervened and actually asked Ron for banjo lessons.

  25. Chris Castleberry

    I love reading these comments in the Rabbit Room. It really feels good to be in the presence of so many artists! Becca – I’ll be reading your “October” post soon!

    Regarding these “stiflings” and outward pressures and “negativity” that mold us and shape us – isn’t it great?! If we were all left to ourselves, to do exactly what we wanted, we would be stunted and immature at best. Well, perhaps I’m still a bit immature here in mid-life. 🙂 But, I know that God is still using those “stiflings” to mold and shape me.

    I’ve had a recent eye opener along the same lines (though not at the same level) as what was described in the piano auditions. I’ve been playing guitar most of my life and mandolin most of my adult life. In my early 40’s, I fell in love with the cello and just had to conquer it and catapult myself into the classical world of music playing! I got a fairly decent cello (though, to get a good one, you have to shell out more money than I can afford) and I practiced for hours a day for several years. When I would go on a business trip, I contacted the local orchestra to see if someone could loan me a cello so I wouldn’t miss practicing. I ended up playing in a local orchestra and I played parts that I never thought I’d be able to play. It was an enjoyable experience. However, after 6 years, I realized that I’d never become that cello player that I dreamed of being. And, though I was still playing guitar and mandolin at home, I neglected to play and sing in groups or at church like I used to. My ambition with the cello overshadowed the “simplistic” matter of the heart. Sure, I like classical music now and again, but there’s nothing to compare with playing and singing worship songs or leading worship. I was really neglecting the greater gift in my life. I won’t give up playing cello. I do some home recordings now and again and I’ll put some cello pizzicato and arco alongside my guitar and mandolin, to give a different sound. So, to have that extra bit of music, I am thankful. But to be so focused and have that (what I think was really) selfish ambition, really made me lose the focus on what was more important – using art to express oneself and share the beauty of our Creator and his creation. And in all that, to consider others as more important than yourself.

    Was I meandering! Sorry if I was! Hopefully I didn’t get too off topic.

  26. Becca

    Phernandeau: Giggle. Probably true. During my last visit to Nashville, I saw four yard bathtub shrines venerating concrete Ron the Banjizers. Hail, Ronnie, full of grace. Disturbing on all fronts.

    I hear he’s very bad at Wham! lyrics. Guyon says this will keep him humble. Let’s hope so.

    ‘Going to check out the MLJ book. Thanks for the heads up.

  27. yankeegospelgirl

    You’re most welcome Fernando! Yes, I am a pianist… uh, er, well I mean, NO, I’m no kind of a pianist at all. That is, I mean, I do play, sort of. I practiced classical pieces when I was very young and got up to a decent level, but then I broke off when I got into highschool and now I play by the seat of my pants. I have an atrocious sense of rhythm but a good natural ear for chords and things. I call what I do piano karaoke. I still remember determinedly hacking away at Michael W. Smith’s “Place In the World” until I had it all worked out IN THE KEY OF B. For some strange reason I’m very particular about keys. 🙂

    I do also write a little, and I’ve actually got a song I’m pitching around now—it’s in the old-fashioned inspo vein, like classic contemporary. A friend in Nashville recorded a killer demo for me (he used to sing tenor for the Gaither Vocal Band). But I also dabble in hymnwriting, and yes, I did post a hymn here. I believe I’m signed into your website under my real name, so I may drop in there or send you an e-mail some time.

  28. Alyssa

    Phernandeau: Thank you. I appreciate the recommendation. _Bird by Bird_ has been on my to-read list for a while, but perhaps I need to bump it up to next in line.

    Becca: Yes: http://cordsoflight.wordpress.com. I’m not going to say anything to give away how FREAKED OUT I am at the prospect of you reading. Not at all.

    Splendid quotes. Thanks for sharing. I have got to get my hands on Guyon.

    “Be as a little child. When a child falls, he cannot pick himself up but lets another do everything for him.” This reminds me of something Ron B. told me at Hutchmoot, in a conversation that thoroughly singed my brain in standard Ron Block style. Concerning faithing, he said, “Put all the pressure on God.” So blasted obvious, but so contrary to my programming.

    Thank you for your encouragement. I have replayed our conversation at Hutchmoot many times in my mind, and it continues to give me hope.

  29. yankeegospelgirl

    Question: Is there a good way to get in touch with you personally? On your website it lists management and booking addresses, but nothing else that I can see.

    I fully understand your not wanting to put anything more personal out there publicly. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail—if you’re interested I’d love to share a couple things with you.

  30. Cara Maat

    Phernandeau: Mary Patterson is the daughter of Ben Patterson. Does that ring a bell? I feel like I remember them telling me, when Mary introduced me to your music, that Ben knew you? I could be remembering wrong.

  31. Dan R.

    I just want to chime in and say thank you to everyone who has put so much thought and effort into the comments in this thread, especially in the light of all that’s been said.

    Speaking on behalf of all of us who have never been to Hutchmoot, I feel like this is what community at the Rabbit Room is all about.

  32. Sara Santos

    I know I’m a little late in joining the conversation, but I just had to comment, because it’s Fernando Orega!!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a post by quite possibly my all-time favorite musical artist. Wow! I only *dreamed* of you being part of the Rabbit Room community, but didnt think it would ever happen– but here you are!

    Mr. Ortega, you have blessed sooo many through your beautiful music. I’m a 24 yr old recent college graduate who prefers your soul-strirring music to the cheap pop songs that my peers listen to. I never ever get tired of your music.

    I always joke to my family that I’ll get you to play at my wedding, or my funeral…. haha but seriously, I’ve been so blessed, and couldn’t pass an opportunity to thank you.
    I hope to see many more posts by you here!
    Gods richest blessings to you and your family.

  33. Bags

    “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It seems to me that wisdom could be exchanged with art and remain similarly true. It’s not that much different than whate everyone is saying about the starting point being “poor in spirit”, though in some ways I find it easier to understand fear than poverty. Poverty brings up in me feelings of insufficiency, lack of providence, and a certain desperation that is at the root of some of the most challenging and despairing questions I have for the Lord. Fear on the other hand just seems more honest; He is the Lord, I am created. Period. From there, if there is any impulse to engage in an artistic effort, to create, or rather re-create, or even better, copy, it is then that I feel most unencombered. From there the development of skill comes down to how well I listen/observe, rather than how well I write.

    As for the writing teachers referred to by Fernando, I will only say this: I’m sure he is correct in identifying their indespensible contributions to his writing, and he is better for it. Nevertheless, I believe there are some songs that seem to come from somewhere else, like they were written in the sky, and in those cases very little criticism is needed. In fact, the criticism might even be inappropriate.

    Some pieces come out of great labor and struggle, like Jacob wrestling with the Lord. Others come like a burning light of revelation like Paul on the road to Damascus. The great challenge is knowing the difference between the two and being careful in the application of both the pen and the knife.

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