A day in the life of... Frances Novillo Jump to main content

A day in the life of... Frances Novillo

I wake up to phone messages from a singer who wants to arrange a one-to-one rehearsal with me this week and a clarinettist asking me to write parts for her to play as she can’t transpose at sight. I’m a church musician, so I lead many volunteers making music – instrumentalists and singers of all ages and abilities. I fulfil these quick and easy requests before heading out to lead music at a funeral at 10am; I’ve been booked by the funeral directors and the priest knows me well so I know we’ll co-ordinate our leadership of the worship smoothly together. Today the family have asked me to sing a solo Ave Maria, the priest has asked me to cantor the Psalm and the Song of Farewell, and I’m accompanying the congregational hymns on the organ. I’m a little more nervous than usual as I know this church has live-streaming (http://www.churchservices.tv/borehamwood) so relatives are watching (and listening) in the United States in addition to the congregation here at church, but all goes well.

After the service, I head across to the church where I’m employed part-time as Parish Music Director to meet with my priest, find out about forthcoming services, community outreach and social events and discuss how the music team can contribute to enhance these. I also want to make sure enough rehearsal time is booked in the church diary. I co-ordinate more than 50 volunteers in three regular music groups at this church, plus occasional singers and instrumentalists, and our organist. After the meeting, I take some time in my office at church to file music (a never-ending job). I also finish off the new list of music for forthcoming services I’ve chosen to suit the requirements of the worship, and the different abilities and experience of the available musicians. We take a community music approach in this parish, so anyone is welcome to join the music groups – it’s up to me to adapt the music to suit participants’ varying abilities, so they feel comfortable and confident joining in, and can take on the challenges necessary to make progress musically.

After lunch I take a couple of hours off. My work pattern varies each week, but I generally find that work fills up my weekends, evenings, and mornings, leaving afternoons available for me to relax and sort out my non-working life. I pick up work again in the late afternoon, starting by checking my emails. Someone’s got in touch from a national music and liturgy organisation asking if I’m available to contribute to a day conference in April; a parish in the north of England wonders if I can visit in June to run a Saturday workshop with their choir to teach new repertoire and skills. After responding to these, I finish an article I’m writing on seasonal music for an international Catholic newspaper (http://www.thetablet.co.uk/parish-practice/6/9505/music-at-a-time-of-penitence) and quickly call the parish secretary before she leaves the church office to ask if an invitation for occasional singers to join the choir for Easter services can be fitted into this weekend’s newsletter.

This evening, I’m running a session on improving church music open to musicians from all parishes (and any non-musicians involved in church music, such as teachers, catechists, clergy, and lay ministers). Today it’s about how churches with different musical resources can sing Psalms so I’ve brought a wide range along with me suitable for congregations and choirs, children, cantors, bands, accompanied and unaccompanied, in unison and in harmony and so on. Covering a variety of styles of music is a feature of my work, as the standard and style of music varies greatly between churches. So I’ve found that to maintain a career in church music, I need to be confident and skilled playing and singing, leading and training others in contemporary and classical, traditional and informal styles of music for all types of Christian worship. This evening a small and enthusiastic group turn up – the small number of participants gives me time to tailor my input to each participant’s circumstances, making it very relevant and useful.

Returning home, my little resident community is ready for us to conclude the day together with evening prayer, including the last piece of music I sing each day – the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

Frances Novillo, MA, FISM, ARSCM

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