Giving Voice in the Body of Christ

Fiona Dyball, 16 June 2022

For Fiona Dyball, making music means doing our part, then opening ourselves up to the mystery. “It moves in you and there is a kind of sacred joy that comes from partnering with the Spirit.” In this, she finds that many musicians are “innately spiritual”. 

Fiona’s connections between faith, music, spirituality and justice took root very early on in her life. She comes from a Catholic family in Albury, who were deeply involved in all aspects of parish life. To sing at Mass, to take food to sick neighbours or to sit with dying parishioners; all seemed to flow seamlessly together – it was an integrated way of living.

Fiona has a vivid memory of her father taking a group of men in the parish to visit a man who had lost his wife, turned to drink, and started to get violent. They confronted him honestly, then asked how they could help. It was a “wonderful community to grow up in: safe, prayerful and social justice focused.” She discovered that faith didn’t mean some fluffy sentiment, but it empowered churchgoers to do difficult things.

Fiona came from a musical family and in grade 4, a Mercy nun heard Fiona singing and invited her to sing at Mass at her local parish. That started a lifelong love of the “magical” ministry of music. After school, Fiona did a Bachelor of Music and was blessed to be taught by Sr Deirdre Browne IBVM, of the famed hymn, ‘Come As You Are’. Yet as she progressed technically, Fiona decided that it wasn’t just about making beautiful sounds, but moving us to take action for the suffering.

Fiona then studied music therapy and grew to understand the psychology and healing power of music. It is “not just icing on the cake or window dressing, but music encodes things into deep memory.” In addition, she began to listen to First Nations voices and to discover the power and gift that songlines have been for our country.  

Although she loved music therapy, Fiona was drawn to work with young people in secondary music and religious education, to make a difference in the formative years of their lives. She became Music Director and Performing Arts Leader at a large regional Victorian Catholic Secondary College. She also conducted a 150 voice folk festival choir that sang about the power of place and addressed social justice themes such as compassion for refugees and rejecting racism. It was another “Vatican II” moment for her, as the music brought untrained voices – from truck drivers to doctors – together in powerful union. When that happened, “something more” became possible and it was “joyful, wonderful and amazing.”

Fiona (centre, seated) with the parish choir at Immaculate Conception, Hawthorn

In the same way, Fiona recognises the power of liturgy, which is not complete without music. Even when unnamed, singing makes the body of Christ real. “What we sing shapes what we believe about God, and guides mission in living.”

After a Masters of  Theological Studies majoring in Liturgy, Fiona worked at Marcellin College, on the National Formation Team for the Marists across Australia, and in liturgy formation for the Office for Justice Ecology and Peace. She is now liturgist at a large Melbourne school of over 2300 students and Music Leader at a parish in Melbourne. On top of this, she is also working on a PhD thesis on empowering the voice of the people in singing the Psalms. Her passion for justice remains strong, and this is reinforced in her school’s ‘head, heart and hands’ methodology. 

This year, Fiona experienced a wonderful example of the power of liturgy on the margins. She is connected to the Exodus Community in West Heidelberg, where the inclusion of local people in all aspects of work is central. Fiona was asked to help with the music for the ecumenical Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. At this annual event, the cross is carried through the streets for 2 hours, highlighting “modern crucifixions”, including the war in Ukraine and robodebt. It was such a “privilege to be part of it… Christ comes alive in the shared reality of the community.” 

The Exodus Community’s Way of the Cross through West Heidelberg

Through her ministry of music, Fiona is helping liturgy to fulfil its potential. On the streets or in the churches, she is about “giving voice” to everyone. She believes that supporting and providing for people in ministry allows them to serve the community more. While some want to be partners with the ordained, others are truly called to this ministry for life. “Everyone deserves access to the sacraments and there are people who want to step into those roles.” We have received these gifts and now seek to give them back in return, to work in the vineyard, to do our part and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. 

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