Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Music and apropos thoughts

Ladies and gentlemen, Fernando Ortega. ("Sing to Jesus", from the albums Storm and The Shadow of Your Wings: Hymns and Sacred Songs). I become engrossed, oblivious to other things, when I listen to this song.

My views on modern worship music are generally well known - I'm not a big fan. Honestly, Fernando Ortega is one of the few who produces music in this genre that I really love. His lyrics are so perfectly matched with the music, so healing to listen to, so deep in reverence and awe of Jehovah, yet as light and gentle as a butterfly's wings. Absolutely beautiful.

I read a quote, from a recent interview with Ortega, that I've been pondering for the last several months.

Well, I think that most of today’s Christian music is based on a thin premise. When you take a pop song and weigh it down with the gospel it sort of cheapens both. The theology is too heavy for the song, and the song usually ends up being too light for the theology. Often I feel like you end up with some sort of fuzzy Christian propaganda that doesn’t do music or the gospel any justice. That’s why I like hymns so much. The early fathers wrote many of the texts to hymns that we sing today. I like that they attach us to our Christian history and remind us of what in our faith is worth preserving. Hymns were written by theologians, not pop stars, and that is why when they are sung, we so tangibly feel the weight of glory.
There was some interesting discussion on this in the Rabbit Room. This sounds like something I would say. In fact, when I read it to Mrs. E, she said exactly that. I'm not sure that I 100% agree, or even that Ortega was able to get his full thoughts out in the small conversation recorded there. But I often wonder at the trite approach to the writing of much of today's "Christian" music.

Take this, for example. This weekend at our church we had some guests in leading us in worship. They lead a couple of songs that I had never heard before. Let me emphasize, I had never heard them sung, nor as much as heard the titles of the songs before. Yet I was able after hearing only a few bars to pick out (predict, really) the melody and harmonies, know when to expect a bridge, and even do a decent job of guessing words. I'm no musical genius, though I've studied some music theory (20 years ago). To be able to predict the music so readily makes me wonder at the writing, itself - we who are to bring first fruits, to know God well enough to know the works He desires for us to accomplish, we should be able to do better.

Of course, only one in a thousand songs has ever been good enough to survive in peoples ears for more than a few years; much less those enduring for hundreds of years. Just look at the shear number of hymns written by Luther or Wesley, and how many are remembered and sung today, to see how the "great hymn-writers" fared. Perhaps my expectations are too high for imperfect beings.

But I can't help but wonder: do we need more worship music written and produced, or do we need more effort put into crafting a few songs? Fernando Ortega puts out that effort, and it shows.

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Anonymous said...

Great topic E. I agree with Fernando Ortega who has recorded my favorite version of "Give Me Jesus" and I also love "Sing To Jesus" and his versions of "Be Thou My Vision" and "Pass Me Not". As much as I love to consume new music and hear new songs, I think "worship" music has become cliche' for the most part. Rather than single out any artists, I've been thinking about my top 50 songs of the decade and "In Christ Alone" by Stuart Townend, "How Great Is Our God" by Chris Tomlin (re-write of "How Great Thou Art"), "Grace Like Rain" by Todd Agnew (re-write of "Amazing Grace"), "Blessed Be Your Name" by Matt Redman and "Here I Am To Worship" by Tim Hughes are the only 5 "worship" songs in my top 50 and 2 of them are hymn re-writes, which is interesting.

Douglas said...

I love Fernando Ortega's work. I wish their were more artistic works like his. It is kind of weird, too, to see a ccm artist with graying hair in a suit and tie. He reminds me of my Bill Gothard friends. One thing that struck me as a bit odd, is that he said, "The early fathers wrote many of the texts to hymns that we sing today." I can only think of a few hymns with pre-1000 AD texts. It makes me wonder what he considers to be early?


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