About twenty-five years ago, we “discovered” Fernando Ortega’s music while browsing through CD’s at a Christian book store in Lexington, Kentucky. It was pretty much love at first listen. His clear, beautiful voice, his gentle melodies, and his touching lyrics drew us right in.
Over the years, we’ve continued to appreciate the blending of folk influences and the diversity of his poetry and musical compositions. His song Angel Fire is haunting and touching, mourning the loss of a spouse and touched by the beauty of the San Gabriel Mountains. Mi Abuelito celebrates the life of his grandfather and his burial near the tiny village of Chimayo (also another song) east of Albuquerque. City of Sorrows, blending visions of Old Testament prophets and modern history, pays empathetic homage to Jerusalem. Old hymns, fresh tributes, sacred selections and odes of deep love and respect. His music has become part of who we are.
We have sung and still sing his songs in our living room and in our churches. Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted is a perfect communion hymn, as is Here Is Love. We plan to include Angel Fire in our respective funerals. His albums are among our most enjoyed and appreciated possessions.
We were delighted to find out a few months ago that he would be performing at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas. Immediately, we invited a couple of friends to join us. And so, with joyful anticipation, we headed north Saturday afternoon with Mark and Diane Flickinger. It didn’t hurt anything that they were both alumni of Tabor. It also didn’t hurt anything that they suggested we have an early supper on the way at “The Bread Basket” in Hillsboro. A hearty meal of Swiss Mennonite cuisine turned out to be a perfect prelude for Fernando’s concert.
Set in the almost brand new and certainly beautiful Reichert Hall, the concert was everything we’d hoped for and more. We’d done so little research over all these years, we didn’t even know that Fernando plays the piano. And plays it quite well! His voice—even in live performance—was as clear and beautiful as we expected. His sense of humor was another discovery. Quick and charming, he shared witty remarks and occasional stories. A couple of the stories were ended abruptly with, “I’m not sure where I was going with that.”
During the concert I sneaked a few looks over at our friends. Even though they weren’t as familiar with Fernando’s music as we were, the looks on their faces seemed to make clear that the Flickingers were enjoying the performance as much as we were.
In addition to the songs and stories, Fernando also shared deeply personal insights and experiences, including the loss of family and friends. As he recounted his own struggles from about five years ago, he confessed, “There were times when I’d just go to my knees and pray, ‘God, just get me through these next five minutes.'” There was poignancy in such deeply personal revelation.
Sharing times of fear and despair, moments of joy and sorrow, experiences of pain and fulfillment, this is the basis of relationship, the foundation of meaning and connection. In my admittedly limited experience, it is rather rare that a concert includes such things as this. But then, Fernando Ortega is a rare talent, a man anointed for worship and sharing in song.
Whether as internationally known performers or known only by a handful of friends and family, such sharings enrich our lives and draw us closer together. Even quiet conversations that fill in the miles of long travel through the rich darkness of a Kansas night become precious threads in the ties that bind us together.
Those, too, are parts of the soul’s own music that bring us all closer. In Fernando’s words, “Heavenly Father, remember the travelers; bring us safely home. Safely home.”