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Interview: Friar Alessandro singer and teacher

05 October 2012

'Singing, for me, is prayer, even when I sing for people in concerts'

I have been a Franciscan friar for about ten years. I joined the Order when I was 21, and made my final vows in 2009. During that time, I did experiment with attempting the life of a hermit, but then came back to Franciscan community life. I have never had any regrets about joining the Order.

I was born and brought up, along with my sister, in the little village of Castiglione della Valle, near Perugia. My grandparents lived close by. My family are, and always have been, an important part of my life, and I would describe us as being very close.

As a child, I was enthusiastic about so many things. At different times, I wanted to be a musician, a poet, a writer, a vet, a scientist. But what prevailed was the desire to become an organist and a singer.

I had my vocation when I was just 16, in which I had a tremendous feeling of universal brotherhood. Shortly afterwards, I saw the film Francis of Assisi by Liliana Cavani, which described the life of St Francis, who embodied this spirit. I aspired to follow in his footsteps.

I began to learn to sing in a choir as a teenager, and took up voice lessons when I was 18. From time to time, I still take lessons, but now I also give lessons as a teacher - although I find that in teaching I learn as well.

I love every kind of music, but especially Johann Sebastian Bach and Michael Jackson.

Singing, for me, is not work. I sing as part of my duties in the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels [in Assisi] during religious celebrations.

Singing, for me, is prayer, even when I sing for people in concerts. But I also show people around the Basilica, and tell them the story of St Francis of Assisi. In my spare time, I work as a carpenter and restore old furniture.

I don't know what St Francis would think of the modern music industry. I couldn't even attempt a guess.

I'm just an instrument, or a channel for the message of peace and love. I want the content of that message to be remembered, not me.

I take two holidays a year. It is a time of rest, and I spend it either with my family or in another friary.

I read mainly the Bible and Franciscan books, but I also like novels and other kinds of books.

I like the whole Bible, especially the books about Wisdom and St James's Epistle.

My favourite sound is the sound of a friendly human voice.

So many people that I met in my life have influenced me, especially Jesus, whom I saw through them.

Injustice and prejudice make me angry.

Beauty and good humour make me happiest.

I pray according to the needs of people who come to me.

Who would I like to be locked in a church with? The idea of being locked in implies a loss of liberty, while a church is exactly the contrary. If stone walls and iron bars would become a hermitage for one of your poets, a church for me, with the real presence of God, would be very heaven. "Angels alone that soar above enjoy such liberty."

Friar Alessandro was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Voice from Assisi is released by Decca/Universal Records on 15 October. Having taken a personal vow of poverty, Friar Alessandro will not accept any money from sales of his album, and his day-to-day life will not change. What has changed is the way in which he chooses to keep in touch with fans of his music: he has turned to 21st-century technology to engage actively in the social-media channels of both Facebook and Twitter.

For more information, see facebook.com/FriarAlessandro and twitter.com/FriarAlessandro.


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