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 decline 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,” says 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 recalls.
Fortnum continues, “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 resources.
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,” says 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 says.
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 from nature.”
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 says. 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,” says 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 says.
“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 says.
“I hope that it causes people to become curious as to who I am and who Christ is,” says 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.”
Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.