Interview with BBC Songs of Praise Contributor, Fiona Pacquette

Interview with BBC Songs of Praise Contributor, Fiona Pacquette

Sharon Platt-McDonald BUC Director for Women's Ministries, Health, and Adventist Community Services

"God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another."

1 Peter 4:19

Fiona Pacquette, Director of the East London School of Music (ELSOM), uses her gifts to enhance our churches' worship experience and bless many in the community.

Appearing on BBC Songs of Praise broadcast on Sunday, 24 September 2023, along with her ELSOM students, Fiona, a Hampstead Seventh-day Adventist church member, was interviewed by Pam Rhodes, TV and radio presenter and author of several books.

The programme also featured interviews with two brothers from Tottenham Lighthouse church. 14-year-old Kena is studying Grade 5 Piano, Pipe Organ and Violin and Grade 5 Music Theory and aspires to teach Music Theory to beginner students. Also, 17-year-old Yeron is currently studying Grade 5 Violin but is very keen on becoming an organ builder like Martin Renshaw.

Engaging Fiona in a subsequent interview for BUC News, I was blessed to hear about the impact of her music ministry:

SPM – What was your inspiration for music?

FP – My inspiration for music comes from my late mother, Mrs Leone R Pacquette (d. April 2021). She came from a musical family of 12 (she was No. 11), and when I was about 7 or 8, she taught me how to play hymns on our little electronic organ. Mum would play at every Friday evening worship to welcome the Sabbath. Mum also paid for me to have piano and music theory lessons with the late Elder John Prince at Hampstead Seventh-day Adventist church until he passed away. I then took over from Elder Prince and continued teaching at Hampstead church for about 20 years.

My late Father was the exact opposite of Mum musically. He preferred his soca music and wasn't into classical music, so there was a bit of conflict. In one part of the house, you would hear Mum playing her Handel's Messiah vinyl records; in another, Dad would play his soca and reggae music. I started taking piano lessons at 15 and joined my school choir. That is when I became exposed to classical music, and my appreciation for it grew.

SPM –What are your aspirations as a musician?

FP – My fundamental aspirations are:

1) To continue to reach others through Music Ministry, i.e. introducing the art of classical music, which is also a means of therapy. People who suffer from mental health issues benefit from listening to classical music. We have young students who are in this category. Playing a classical instrument has given them something positive to focus on to take away the sadness of their situation.

2) To continue to make classical music training more accessible to those who cannot afford it. The school's mission is to reach out to these disadvantaged families and allow them that opportunity. We have been raising funds by hosting classical concerts to help these families.

3) To train more Adventist musicians to support their churches. There is a considerable shortage now; some churches do not have anyone to play for them. If each Adventist church were to sponsor at least one person from their church to learn how to play the piano/organ, there would not be a shortage of musicians.

4) To continue to perform for God's glory and honour. I don't play as often as I used to due to my condition called dystonia. However, I thank God that I can still play the piano, organ and flute, but my focus is mainly on teaching, managing the school, conducting orchestras and composition.

SPM – The history of ELSOM is quite intriguing. Could you give us an overview of its development?

FP – The East London School of Music project idea came from Pastor David Burnett in 2015. There were discussions within the Area 6C committee about having Centres of Influence within the various communities, including a school of music. Pastor Burnett recommended me to run the school. I accepted the position, and we opened our doors to the community at our Open Day, 5 April 2015, hosted by Mike Johnson.

At the start, we had around ten students and four teaching staff. We offered Voice Training, Piano, Violin and Music Theory.

Fast forward to September 2023: we now have 9 teaching staff and 108 students across three sites and nationally. Our current courses have expanded to teach instruments such as Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, Flute, Piccolo, Recorder, Sax, Brass, Voice Training, Piano, Pipe Organ, and Music Theory (compulsory). We teach from age five and upwards.

We have four sites:

Clapton Adventist church (site 1)

London Ghana Adventist church (site 2)

Dagenham Heathway Library (site 3) – in progress

Hyland House School (site 4)

We introduced online lessons during the pandemic; therefore, we also have students in Wales and Scotland.

ELSOM is a registered Trinity College and ABRSM Exam Centre. It is one of the Trinity College Champion Centres for 2023/24. UK Registered Charity, No.119 6175.

The motto for ELSOM is Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

SPM – What are some of your memorable ELSOM performances?

FP – There are so many to mention, but 2 of my favourites are:

His Majesty, King Charles III Coronation Bank Holiday Monday 8 May 2023, Hackney Town Hall. Councillors, dignitaries and mayors attended the event from two London boroughs, i.e. Hackney Council and the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham Council. The finale piece, 'I Vow To Thee My Country', arranged by the American composer Geoff Knorr, received a standing ovation from the audience and dignitaries despite the fact we didn't get the time to rehearse it!

Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Celebrations – 70 Years, 2 June 2022: in collaboration with Hackney Council. The students wrote an original orchestral piece called 'The Procession of A Triumphant Jubilee' and sent a copy to Buckingham Palace as a gift to the Queen. We received a 'Thank You' response from the Queen via her lady-in-waiting. She continued: "The Queen was interested to hear that you plan to perform the work over the weekend of celebrations."

SPM -How did you become involved with this episode of Songs of Praise?

FP – During the summer, the BBC Songs of Praise team contacted our organ builder, Martin Renshaw, after viewing the documentary Organ Stops Saving The King of Instruments (aired 24 December 2022 on BBC4). The team was inspired by the success stories of two pipe organs saved from destruction – our ELSOM school pipe organ is one of them. Martin forwarded my details to the Songs of Praise team, who contacted me and arranged to meet the ELSOM staff and students at Clapton Seventh-day Adventist church (our main site).

Fiona adds: "We are so very grateful for the support from Clapton Adventist church leadership for allowing the school to use their church for lessons and community concerts; otherwise, we would not have a building to use. Also, Area 6C and LAAC have been helping sustain the school financially from 2015 until now. This support has allowed us to help around 20 students who are currently in hardship."

The full version of this interview will appear in the BUC Women's Ministries Newsletter under the caption: Women of Influence impacting our Churches and Communities.

You can watch the episode of BBC Songs of Praise here