On January 22nd, several
hundred women gathered at Sagemont Church in Houston, Texas , to listen
to Debbie Fortnum the keynote speaker for Ladies Night Out, a quarterly
women's conference. The singer/songwriter also presented several of her
songs including accompanying herself on piano during "Guess How Much
I Love You." Fortnum, who has dual Canadian and American citizenship ,
is in such demand in both countries that she often has declined as many
gigs as she accepts. This year's tour schedule includes stops in
Toronto, Washington State, California and her native British Columbia Canada.
Fortnum, whose husband Scott
is a pastor, has for several years kept her travel schedule at a minimum
to focus her attention on her family. This year however Scott has stepped
away from fulltime ministerial responsibilities to pursue his Masters degree
and to free up more of Debbie 's time for touring.
When you meet Debbie Fortnum,
it does not take long to realize that she possesses a gentle spirit and
her sincere approach to ministry infuses her music. "Part of my brokenness
is that I need to just keep throwing myself back on the Lord and realize
that I am doing what he has called me to do. My goal is just to encourage
their socks off. I loved the women up, encouraged them, ministered over
them and that is all I can do, " said Fortnum.
"The call of the Lord upon
my life began when I was nine years old. I felt a specific call to ministry.
At that time, I had been struck with a debilitating disease that ransacked
me for three years. They still have not been able to diagnose the disease.
They think it was a strain of polio, " the singer recalled.
Fortnum continued, " I couldn't
do much except sit down at the piano and play. I just began to develop
this incredible love relationship with the Lord. I would play, read and
sing scripture. The songs began to pour out of me and it was within the
context of pain. I started when I was nine and then when I was twelve God
miraculously healed me. I believe the Lord used that experience to reroute
me. He wanted me in music and ministry. "
During her teen years, Fortnum
was presented with an opportunity to attend Boston's famed Berklee College
of Music but instead decided to attend a Christian college in Canada.
Looking back at that decision it now appears that God intervened in her
decision for it led to her eventual meeting with her husband Scott.
One could make an argument
that genetics alone dictated that eventually Debbie Fortnum 's life would
embrace music. Her father plays guitar, her grandmother was an opera singer
in Seattle and her grandfather a concert violinist. The first time Fortnum
sat down as a child at a piano in the church where her father served as
pastor, she discovered she could play by ear.
Her first CD Oasis of
Thirst, recorded in Nashville, was a miracle of sorts. In 1999 while
doing some work on behalf of Ravi Zacharias, she was approached by another
member of the organization who agreed to fund her project from his personal
Fortnum who has a penchant
for speaking and writing in metaphors describes the impact her first recording
experience had on her, "I felt more fulfilled than ever before. It
was my way of slapping paint on a canvass. I absolutely love being in the
studio. My artistic expression is an act of worship to the Lord ."
"When I sit down at a piano
it usually is not to write a song. It is usually to worship. I sit down
to worship the Lord, hear Him and quiet myself. When I sense inspiration,
words or melody, then I have pen and paper not too far away, " said Fortnum.
Fortnum's songs often paint
vivid pictures and it flows more from the person that she is than a technical
inclination. "I have been described as earthy and elegant. I love
being outdoors more than I like being indoors. I enjoy hiking. There is
something about green grass and blue sky that just makes me alive inside.
I can be barefoot with ponytails all year long but I also have this thing
for evening gowns and the elegant part of me too. I love very much being
a woman, " she said.
It is therefore not surprising
to hear Fortnum admit, "I love using imagery (to describe) creation and
one of my songs "The Forest Of My Soul" borrows a lot of imagery
Fortnum also has a fondness
for using scripture as a foundation for several of her songs. "When
scripture is put to music it helps stick the Word of God to our hearts,"
she said. One of those songs , "Where Can I Go?" was first performed at
a Ravi Zacharias conference and was received so well that she decided to
record the tune. The song is based on Psalm 139.
In late January, Fortnum
headed back to the studio to record her second all instrumental album,
this one titled __The Beautiful Piano__ . She once again teamed up with
producer Chris Janz with whom she has enjoyed a long-standing relationship.
"He (Janz) is able to bring out gutsiness in me. I think because of my
evangelical upbringing I was safe. I was the good girl. There were some
radio stations that I wasn 't allowed to listen to while I was growing
up. I know there is actually a rocker girl deep down within me and it is
slowly coming out. Chris is able to push me to the edge of my ability vocally
and musically, " said Fortnum. If the name Janz sounds familiar to readers,
you may recall that Paul Janz, Chris' father was a revered pop artist in
the seventies and eighties. The younger Janz is not only an accomplished
producer but has inherited his father's vocals and has mastered too many
instruments to mention.
"It has become clear to
me this year that my heart for evangelism and worship is being facilitated
through these piano CDs. This is the first time that my music has reached
far into the homes of unsaved people and they aren 't offended by it. There
is something that is drawing them to this music and they don't really know
what because there are no words to it at all. I hope in my heart that continues
," Fortnum said.
"I record these things in
a spirit of prayer. Playing the piano for me is a very deep, meaningful,
worshipful experience for me. I pray through my piano playing and my deepest
prayers come through my fingers. As I record these albums I am praying
that God would just do in my heart what needs to be translated from my
fingers into the hearts of people who listen to it, " the songwriter said.
I hope that it causes people
to become curious as to who I am and who Christ is, " said Fortnum.
Perhaps no other words define
Debbie Fortnum than two statements she made to me over the course of the
past year, "My ministry has always been my motivation. The ministry
of sharing Jesus Christ and the radical implications (for one's life),"
and, "I am still very much the mother of my three kids and the wife of
my husband. I am doing what I am called to do, being a mom and every other
weekend or so I am going to women 's retreats, speaking, singing and leading
worship. I just feel so incredibly fulfilled."
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.