Come Down O Love Divine
When Fernando Ortega was in his early teens, God began planting the seeds for his career and ministry as a musician. “The realization that I was meant to be a musician came gradually, through reinforcement from a couple of really wonderful teachers,” he says. “When I was fourteen, my piano teacher, Mrs. Hughes, who had a ton of students, said to me, ‘I know what kids can do, and you have a gift. You are a musician.’”
Still, Ortega was determined to work with animals or in the field of biology, a lifelong curiosity, and he continued to regard music making as a highly enjoyable past time rather than a career aspiration. He entered college at the University of New Mexico with the intention of being a science major. However, when Ortega sought to continue piano lessons at the school, George Robert, the professor he played for, insisted he switch his major to music.
Fueled by the affirmation of these two caring instructors, as well as Ralph Berkowitz, another teacher and mentor, Ortega began pursuing a career not as a church musician but as a classical concert pianist, a path that ended after a humbling series of auditions at a few big name conservatories. “I failed all my auditions, which was traumatizing enough,” he says, “but the most humbling experience was hearing, in the next room over, the piece I was auditioning with played impeccably.” When Ortega looked next door to behold the virtuoso, he saw a girl of about fourteen sitting at the piano.
Following the realization that he was not going to become a classical concert pianist, Ortega fell into a depression. Out of that, though, the Lord spoke to him in new and remarkable ways, affirming his gifts in composition and lyric writing, and ultimately urging him on in what has become a life-giving ministry for millions.
Ortega’s newest album, Come Down O Love Divine, offers listeners a rich and beautifully composed compilation of original instrumental songs and lyrical hymns fueled by his intentional, worshipful approach to songwriting and his perspective on the current culture’s fractured relationship with prayer and meditation.
“This record is very meditative,” says Ortega. “which is just the opposite of our digital age where our attention spans are so compromised. I feel it in myself — in the way I approach books, reading, conversation, the way I find my news on the internet. I find everything in bits and pieces; my mind slips on to the next thing and the next thing.”
In direct contrast to this fractured existence stood the liturgical calendar of the Anglican church for which Ortega is music director. Entering into the holy rhythms of the faith, he found focus and beauty. In January of 2011, Ortega envisioned a piano album that would take about four days to record and produce.
However, after writing and arranging a few songs, Ortega decided that he needed vocals for the record. With a touch of surprise in his voice, he says, “It grew. I’ve never had a record take on a life of its own like this.” Even as the last master was completed, Ortega revised his work again after hearing choral parts in some of the songs. He credits John Schreiner at Jasmine Sound for his openness and flexibility throughout the process.
Fernando Ortega Biography Come Down O Love Divine
The result is a deeply complex album made especially unique by the presence of a few key elements: the beautifully pearlescent sound of Ortega’s beloved Mason & Hamlin BB piano; the renowned Millikin University choir, directed by high school friend Brad Holmes, who Ortega says sang like “old souls” in their flip flops and shorts; his brother, Armando’s, musicianship, and the curiosity, joy and gratitude that has come with Ortega’s late arrival to fatherhood. His daughter, Ruby, is now two.
In concert with the liturgical focus new to Ortega’s personal and professional life, Come Down O Love Divine still speaks to the musician’s evangelical roots. “Just As I Am” alludes to Billy Graham’s invitation hymn, and tucked into the final phrases of the piece is a moving clip from one of Graham’s sermons, in which he speaks to his deep need for Christ in a plaintive tone somewhat uncommon for the evangelist. “After listening to hundreds of clips, we sort of stumbled upon this one,” says Ortega, “and it was just perfect for the mood of the song.”
“Trisagion,” which is perhaps the most heavily influenced by Ortega’s role as an Anglican music leader, is an ancient song with present day implications. The piece, translated “Thrice Holy” from the Greek, calls on God for his mercy while praising his holiness and might. In his instrumentation and choir composition, Ortega aids the listener in elevating the focus from this world to the world beyond.
Ruby’s Advent Song is a joyful, beautifully rhythmic meditation on what it means to wait in anticipation for anything – a long-awaited child, a gift of affirmation, or a Savior. A narrative of the kind of journey a waiting heart embarks upon is told through the perfectly chosen notes and harmonies in this piece, named for Ortega’s long-awaited little girl.
These songs, in combination with a number of others, make for an album unlike any Ortega has released before. Recorded in his home, at a Lutheran church and in the Jasmine Sound studios in California, Come Down O Love Divine came to fruition through the hard work of John Schreiner at Jasmine Sound, John Mayfield, who mastered the work, and wife, Margee Ortega, who took Ruby on a two-week vacation solo to ensure a perfectly quiet home studio for the album’s recording.
“Come Down O Love Divine is really about a longing for the experience of heaven on earth,” says Ortega. “That is how I think we are supposed to approach life, and I think for me, this album is about how every aspect of our lives should be measured out by the narrative of Christ’s life. Every year, through the journey of each Holy season, Christ’s ministry starts again and again; living life this way – so intentionally – affects how you think about everything.”
“Maeve has uniquely strong melodies and harmonies. They could sing forever and God wouldn’t mind. Lyrically, they are not cliché, not saying what they think we want to hear, rather telling their stories honestly, candidly, and in so doing reminding us of our own. As people, they are humble, funny, accessible, smart, refreshing, encouraging and needed. When they smile, they can light up a room. When they sing they can light up a lot more.”
-Dan Russel (Director of Newsound Concerts and Inside Out Soul Festival)
Maeve is a collaboration of three women artists – Courtney Reid, Rachel Taylor and Rollyn Zoubek – blending together their own distinct voices and styles to create a cohesive sound rich with harmony reminiscent of the Indigo Girls and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Maeve was birthed in 2001 when a promoter friend suggested that the girls, who were all performing in different musical configurations at the time, collaborate for an evening at a venue just for fun. This performance led to additional collaboration both as performers and songwriters. The Boston-based trio then decided to take their music underground to try out their new songs and develop their unique sound alongside Boston commuters while busking in Harvard Square and at the Back Bay Train Station. One day while playing in the subway, the then-nameless band met a little girl named “Maeve” who danced to their music and dropped a dollar in the open guitar case. Thanks to this little angel, the band discovered its name.
Above ground, maeve continues to share their music in East Coast clubs, coffeehouses, colleges, festivals, churches and women’s conferences. Maeve has shared the stage with Jars of Clay, Ollabelle, Brooks Williams, Nicole Nordeman, Sara Groves and Sam Phillips. Their singles “Sweet Abandon” and “Found a Love” have been highly requested for airplay on WERS Coffeehouse, Emerson College Radio.
Maeve has independently released four recordings and have worked with producers Phil Madeira (Buddy Miller), Don Chaffer (Waterdeep, Sara Groves), and most-recently with Grammy Award winning producer Charlie Peacock.