Monday, May 24, 2010

Playing Hymns Like Fernando

In my last post, I mentioned that I've been re-writing some hymns. In this post, I'd like to focus on hymns with timeless melodies. Consider the following:

Be Thou My Vision
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Come Thou Fount
Fairest Lord Jesus
Rock of Ages
Abide With Me: Fast Falls the Eventide
Amazing Grace

One of the cool challenges I've had in the churches I've worked in is seeking to preserve timeless hymns while playing them on the piano in a way that an 80-year-old and an 18-year-old can relate to them. Most hymns are written in choral format, so if you were to play them exactly as they are written, you'd be duplicating the vocal parts (i.e. soprano (melody), alto, tenor, bass). For my ears, I find this to be mechanical. Instead of duplicating the vocal parts, I like to use the piano as accompaniment, not as a vocal-part reinforcer.

Fernando Ortega has mastered this. If you're someone who really wants to learn to play hymns with a contemporary accompaniment style, but your ear doesn't seem to allow it, listen to Fernando. Check out his arrangements of "O Sacred Head Now Wounded," "Give Me Jesus", and "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." Fernando's style is very simple, but his chord-voicings are lush. He's got some song books with the accompaniment written out exactly like you hear it on the recordings. Learn to play his songs note-for-note, and you've got yourself contemporary piano accompaniment!

Take caution! If you re-write the piano part, you'll need to tweak the vocal parts, too!


  1. Well and good, but my concern is how Fernando's style is so much the lullaby. Believe me, I need no more inducements to sleep in church.

    Consider, as well, the majesty of open chords, triumphant majors, etc. Don't underestimate the 18 yr olds ability to appreciate, and even desire, something a bit more transcendent than what he may be already hearing in the dept store and on LiteFM.


  2. Yes, while I'm heavily influenced by his stylings, I don't think I could listen to one of his cd's all the way through. But I give the guy props for not apologizing for his slow, sometimes sleepy, songs and continuing to write that way. I couldn't imagine him trying to sound like Casting Crowns or Derek Webb.

    Point taken about the majestic/triumphant stylings...