A conversation with Fernando Ortega


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, October 9th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: an interview with Christian singer and songwriter Fernando Ortega.

He’s recorded 20 albums in a career spanning 30 years. He has a style that ranges from bluegrass to Latin American to jazz to contemporary worship. But what many of Ortega’s fans love best are his own interpretations of classic Christian hymns.

EICHER: WORLD correspondent Jenny Lind Schmitt recently interviewed Ortega after a benefit concert in Issaquah, Washington. Did I get that right?

JENNY LIND SCHMITT, REPORTER: You did! 

EICHER: She’s here now with some highlights. Good morning, Jenny!

SCHMITT:

Good morning!

EICHER: Well, Jenny, I’ll take the position of the listener who’s never heard of Fernando Ortega. Give us an idea what he’s like.

SCHMITT: Sure. Ortega just came out with his first album in seven years, so you may not recognize the tune. But if you’ve heard him before, you’ll recognize his voice. This is a song called Your Will Be Done.

MUSIC: Your Will Be Done clip

SCHMITT: I just love that sound. It’s got the warmth of his voice against all those kind of subdued instrumentals along with the depth of lyrics that Ortega is known for.

EICHER: Yeah, that’s nice. Was this your first time meeting Ortega? I’m curious what you thought of him.

SCHMITT: This was the first time I’ve met him. It’s not the first time I’ve heard him sing in concert. Both times he was giving a benefit for Care Net pregnancy centers here in Puget Sound. He was very warm. He was personable. And I thought he seemed genuinely thoughtful in his answers. Let me put it like this: I had the impression of someone with an enormous talent, but also very humble and funny.

EICHER: We mentioned in the introduction that Ortega is best known for his take on classic hymns. Did you talk to him about that?

SCHMITT: Yes, I did. I asked him whether, as he talks to people around the country, he sees a desire for more traditional music in the church. Here’s what he said. And just a heads up, as I mentioned, I spoke to him right after a concert, so in the clip you will hear a bit of noise in the background from people leaving the venue.

ORTEGA: As I’ve gone around and sung for colleges like say Wheaton or Westmont, recently, Moody, I’ve talked to students about, what do you think of Christian music these days? And I remember one conversation clearly stands out from one kid from Wheaton who was the student worship leader there. He said, we just appreciate anybody who comes here and teaches us a historic hymn that we’ve never heard before that sheds some kind of light on the character of God… I thought, Wow, that’s really something. I find it true that there’s sort of a longing to be connected somehow with something historical about the faith. And I think that what those songs do, what liturgy does, is ties us and connects us to generations of Christians that have gone before us, way, way before us, and then recent as well. And it gives us a sense I think of groundedness in our faith.

EICHER: Jenny, you said this is Ortega’s first album in seven years. Why such a long recording hiatus?

SCHMITT: Well, I can’t say for sure, but in talking with him, Ortega talked about having a difficult personal time, and as he put it, that led to a season of doubt. That season actually lasted several years. I really appreciated such an honest answer from a Christian in the public eye.

ORTEGA: And it was like going through this wilderness where I would just go days on end where I just couldn’t feel Him, I couldn’t feel that He was answering my prayers, that He was even hearing my prayers… The last time I had that was three years ago. And it was in those years, leading up to that that I just doubted. All this is not true. You don’t get to experience God’s peace or His comfort because those things just kept pummeling me. And I really don’t know what fixed all that in the end, why the anxiety now is gone, as it seems to be gone. But there was that long period of doubt and then it seemed like He finally answered my prayer.

EICHER: Fernando Ortega, maybe at this stage in his life, I’m guessing he’s more mentor than mentee these days. But I’m wondering if you talked with him about the people who influenced him as a musician.

SCHMITT: Yeah, he encourages younger musicians to steep themselves in good poets and writers—both Christian and non-Christian. People who master the richness of the English language. And that’s what he did. He specifically mentioned Elizabeth Bishop-she’s a poet, and Flannery O’Connor, the writer.  He said O’Connor’s stories—and the theology in those stories–helped him write a lot of his songs. I asked for an example, and he told me about a song he wrote called Old Girl. Here’s a clip of that song and then you’ll hear Ortega’s explanation.

ORTEGA: It’s about a homeless woman in Laguna who I saw in a restaurant. I was going to buy her breakfast. I got so caught up thinking about what a good guy I was for thinking about buying this women breakfast, that before I ever got a chance to ask her if I could buy her breakfast, she saw me staring at her and she started cussing at me, and stomped out of the restaurant. She called me a few choice words and then she left. Then I thought, Ooo, God used that woman to get me away from my thought.

EICHER: Jenny Lind Schmitt is a WORLD correspondent based in Washington state. You can find her more of her interview with Fernando Ortega in the October 13th issue of WORLD Magazine. Jenny, thank you for joining me today.

SCHMITT: You’re welcome, Nick!


(Photo, Handout) Fernando Ortega 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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