A former Ellesmere College student has landed the prestigious role of Choir Director at St Mark’s English Church – in Italy!
Scott Phillips, 20, from St David’s, Pembrokeshire, left Ellesmere College as a student last year before returning on an internship. His role as Choir Director in Florence will last a year after which he will take his place at York University.
St Mark’s ‘English’ Church is an Anglican church in Florence, a chaplaincy of the Church of England in the Diocese in Europe. It is a unique venue for weddings, opera, concerts, music and a wide range of artistic, literary and cultural events.
The church was closed for several months during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, which had such a devastating effect on Italy, and reopened for it’s first service on September 6th.
Scott said: “I was a chorister at St David’s Cathedral for a number of years so the British choral tradition is in my blood. I also visited Italy on a choir tour with Ellesmere College.
“I saw the position advertised on Church Times, applied, had a phone interview in March then got offered the job and started on September 1st – I really love it out here.
“The position at St Mark’s is the most important role I’ve had to date, I head up the department, have two organists and the choir. It’s a great deal of responsibility but thoroughly enjoyable, and means I have needed to defer my place at York University until next year.
“I left Ellesmere College in July 2019 as a student but then went back as an intern and spent most of the last year working there – it was quite a strange thing to leave as a student and then go back as a member of staff.
“I was also the Organ Scholar at Shrewsbury Abbey from October last year through to this July. I like to think that I take every opportunity thrown at me to get as much experience under my belt as I can.
“During the last year I got the chance to do classroom teaching with students and now I’m running a department, so see all that side of things as well as working with people of all ages and abilities.
“St Mark’s is a lovely church and has a capacity of about 400 when absolutely packed. It’s a pre-Raphaelite building and the building the church is in was built in the 15th Century so has incredible architecture.
“The church plays a leading role in offering opportunities and often has intern positions drawing, usually, post graduate students. It also has a big connection in drawing Cambridge students.
“St Mark’s wants to give students the opportunity to push themselves but also to have the experience of being able to run a department – not something many people get the chance to do.”
The church usually draws its singers from university campuses in the area, especially the American colleges, and Scott said Covid had brought about unprecedented challenges.
“It has meant we are having to rebuild the choir again because so many of the choristers had to leave the country earlier in the year, particularly the Americans and a lot of British,” he added.
“We have had to start recruiting and I’m keen to look more locally so if something like Covid were to happen again the church choir wouldn’t be so decimated. They would still be in the country
“September 6th was the first service the church has had for six months and meant completely starting things from nothing and building it back up again. The choir started with zero, now we have six and will be built up to about 20 as a standard number but the choir here can have anything up to 40 singers.
“Day to day, I spend quite a bit of time in the office planning events, we are looking at doing outreach to the local schools, including the International School. My goal is to try and draw more locals into the church, it’s obviously a very Catholic tradition out here and we are unique in that we are a C of E church in the middle of Florence.
“It brings this great choral tradition with it so if we can show the locals what a great experience they can have here then hopefully we can draw on them as well.
“We have services every Sunday morning plus evensong and an additional service which varies from month to month.
“My hopes for the future are in many ways to carry on doing what I’m doing now, directing music, whether in churches or possibly theatre. I love the choral tradition that church music brings and my placement year at St Mark’s can only help me achieve my goals.”