Received an unexpected gift today at work. Rendy pulled out an album of Fernando Ortega’s music and said we could have it or pass it on to someone who might be interested in it. I thought the name sounded familiar but couldn’t place it. So I surfed over to his website and stumbled upon his blog. He was reflecting on song-writing, and also on the lack of thoughtful literary artistry that seems commonplace in congregational worship music.
His conclusion was what really stood out to me:
I didn’t set out to write a didactic blog. I’m writing to myself. Be specific when you write songs about God. Avoid cliché. Avoid convenience. Avoid an obsession with the consumer. Avoid the temptation to make commercial success your central goal. Write with intelligence, employing all the craft, skill, and experience with which God has endowed you. (Fernando Ortega, “Come Down, O Divine Love”, http://www.fernandoortega.com/fernandoortega/blog/blog)
His advice could be for any artist, not just the hymn writer. There is a common attitude today (or perhaps it has been with us for centuries) that we create for a consumer. What will people like? What will sell? Those are legitimate questions, but I don’t think they should be the bottom line. If we begin to think of money or success as an end in and of itself (an attractive one, to be sure), then I wonder if we miss the bigger picture? To tend towards the cliché, the consumer, the commercial success at the expense of intelligence, skill, craft, mind and imagination is indeed a grievous thing. How much more so when the Art is intended as worship?
I was also reminded of my friend, Koko, whom I wrote about earlier. Koko is now an urban missionary in Victoria, where one of his projects is writing hymns to go along with liturgy at his Anglican church, The Table. I think Koko embodies the attitude that Ortega is getting at in his blog. I wonder what the world would be like if more people avoided writing the cliché for commercial success and focused instead on bringing all of themselves into their art, seeking to point others toward beauty and truth. I wonder if we’d be able to feel the difference in the music they’d create? I think so. I think it’d be really cool.