December 5, 2014

Parish music director hits high note in winning international contest

Francisco Carbonell, left, was the first-place winner in a prestigious international competition for music composers earlier this year—another moment of joy in the life of the native of Spain who is the director of music at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo by Megan Fish)

Francisco Carbonell, left, was the first-place winner in a prestigious international competition for music composers earlier this year—another moment of joy in the life of the native of Spain who is the director of music at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo by Megan Fish)

By John Shaughnessy

The news came as a surprise to Francisco Carbonell, leading him and his wife to jump with joy.

Carbonell had just opened an e-mail on his smart phone, informing him that he was the first-place winner in a prestigious international competition for music composers.

“I couldn’t believe it,” recalls a smiling Carbonell, director of music at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “My wife and I were jumping!”

That spontaneous celebration in September is just one of the joys and surprises that have marked the life of Carbonell in recent years.

A native of Spain, he met his wife, a native of Mexico, through an online dating website, www.catholicsingles.com.

He also studied in Rome for three years, where he was a member of the choir at St. Peter’s Basilica.

And just as intriguing, there’s the story of how the Spanish-born, Italian-trained musician-composer found a home—and an even deeper appreciation of his faith—in the middle of America’s heartland.

“After I finished my degree in composition in Rome, I had an offer to go to Jerusalem as a Church musician,” he says. “But, praise to God, the visas were a disaster, and we couldn’t go. Still, we knew God was there, that there was probably something better. I began to send about 20 resumes to the United States—to Seattle, Baltimore, New York, Indianapolis.”

One of those resumes drew the attention of Father Rick Nagel, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish. After a week’s worth of job interviews by video conference between Father Nagel in Indianapolis and Carbonell in Rome, the pastor offered him the position of music director. Carbonell didn’t hesitate to say “yes.”

“The St. John’s search team and myself were so impressed with Francisco’s gifts of music, including his proficiency in organ, conducting and composing music,” Father Nagel notes. “However, we were most moved by his deep love for our Lord and his Church. Francisco exudes the goodness of God in his daily walk of life.”

After accepting the job, Carbonell, his wife and their then-1-year-old daughter soon made their first trip ever to the United States. He started working at St. John Parish on Oct. 11, 2013.

“It’s just excellent, fantastic,” he says. “The thing we really like is the people, and how warm they are in their welcome. From the first day here at St. John’s, we found a family, more than a job. Everyone from the staff to the parishioners is very nice. The current president of the parish council even lent us a car for five months.”

The move to Indianapolis has also led to another significant step in his journey of faith. With sadness, he acknowledges that he had grown away from his faith during his youth and his early adulthood in Spain. Yet meeting his wife, Itzel, online changed him.

“She helped me a lot to discover that God has been loving me since I was born,” he says. “When it was noon in Spain, she was awake at five in the morning in Mexico to pray with me. We were married in Mexico in 2010.”

His faith deepened again during the three years he studied at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome.

“I began to discover more my faith through the music, the liturgies. And God blessed me to be a member of the choir of St. Peter’s, Cappella Giulia.”

The blessings have continued in Indianapolis.

“I’ve seen a real commitment of faith from the people here that I haven’t seen in Spain,” he says. “Here, you live the faith. It is deeper.”

The depth of his faith is captured in the musical composition that earned him first place in the 2014 MusicaFicta International Choral Competition.

Working from the theme, “New Music for Easter Time,” the competition invited composers to write a piece that focused on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday. Eighty entries from around the world were submitted, including Carbonell’s composition on Good Friday called “Caligaverunt Oculi Mei.” Translated in English, the song is titled, “My Eyes Have Been Covered by My Tears.”

“It’s a lamentation by Jeremiah that is read on Good Friday,” Carbonell says. “Every time I saw those words in other texts by composers, it’s been very powerful. It shows how raw the pain of Good Friday is for the Redeemer. I thought, ‘Can I make something by myself?’ I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I had been working on that for nearly a year.”

The joy of winning that competition in September reached another level recently when his wife gave birth to their second child.

Then there is the joy he has experienced from a faith that has kept getting deeper as he has fulfilled his different duties as the parish’s music director. He arranges and composes music for the weekend Masses. He conducts the traditional and young adult choirs. He also plays the organ for weddings, funerals, special liturgies and Sunday Masses.

“During my first two months here, changing completely from my own language in Spanish to English required me to be more ready for the Mass,” he says. “I studied first the readings, and then put together the music. It’s made me reflect more.”

That attitude continues to guide him as he plans music for the Advent and Christmas seasons at the parish.

“They’re my favorite seasons,” he says. “When I was a child in Spain, I learned all the English carols. When I came here, I already knew the hymns and music of Christmas.

“I always like to compare Advent with Lent, in terms of waiting. I always encourage people to think of Advent as a time to prepare for the great joy of Christmas.”

The joy of his faith especially strikes him when he plays the organ during the parish’s Holy Hour Adoration from 11 a.m. to noon on Fridays.

“I feel very close to the Lord,” he says. “I play my own music. It’s like giving him my gift.” †

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