James Short is the multi-talented director of music and deputy churchwarden at St. Mark’s English Church. He speaks with Caroline Savage about his music, life and the roles he plays in via Maggio.
What brought you to Florence?
My arrival in Florence was almost by default! I finished university during the first wave of the pandemic, which meant my options for the next step were severely limited. St. Mark’s was still keen to press ahead and welcomed me with open arms, so I found myself living and working in a new country, speaking very little Italian! Looking back, however, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
You are an accomplished organist, pianist and conductor. How do you combine these talents as the director of music at St. Mark’s?
Being a musician within the Anglican choral tradition requires a great deal of multitasking. During the space of a single service I can find myself playing the organ, conducting the choir and even singing. Combining all of these factors takes concentration as you need to be able to immerse yourself in what is written on the page. For me, patience and clarity are some of the most important qualities to have if you want to be a good choral conductor.
Tell me about your musical plans at St. Mark’s. What’s coming up this fall and winter?
The last quarter of the year is dominated by the run-up to Christmas. Covid-permitting, this year we will be able to resume our full schedule of services and concerts, including candlelit carolling around the Oltrarno! We will also be performing a concert of contemplative choral music on November 6 in celebration of Remembrance. Looking further ahead, we will be visiting Malta on tour in April 2022. You can keep up to date with all the choir’s activities on our Facebook page.
What’s your daily routine like as the director of music and deputy churchwarden?
Most of my work at St. Mark’s takes place behind the scenes. There’s a lot of admin to be done, but my passion is for fundraising. In May, I launched Friends of St. Mark’s, a long-term initiative, creating a community dedicated to the survival of St. Mark’s. It is through hard work and generosity that we are still here, despite what the pandemic has thrown at us. I am always planning concerts or searching for performance opportunities for the choir. I am very lucky to have such a supportive and caring team to work with, without whom St. Mark’s wouldn’t exist!
As a fellow pianist, I’m curious about your daily practice regimen.
The dreaded question! I divide my time between solo repertoire and music for church services (of which there tends to be a lot!). I spend a good amount of organ practice time on the piano. For me, it’s a more effective way to achieve muscle memory and finger dexterity, but having just one keyboard in front of you certainly simplifies things. This is a must for organists approaching late-Romantic repertoire, which is highly pianistic in style. Of course, there comes the point where you have to throw all of the individual elements together at the organ console. Whether it proves successful, you can judge if you happen to be walking past the church’s window on via Maggio!
Is there anything in particular that you’d like the readers of The Florentine to know about music at St. Mark’s?
Only that we’d love to get as many of you involved as possible! The choir is still recruiting new voices, with an emphasis on tenors and basses. Rehearsals take place on Tuesdays at 6pm and we sing Eucharist on Sundays at 10.30am. We are planning to launch a regular recital series very soon, so watch this space!