A new Gregorian chant CD by a group of Benedictine monks in Norcia, Italy, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s classical music chart last week (June 10). The album, “Benedicta,” was also the top overall seller at Barnes & Noble, was No. 2 on Amazon and made iTunes’ Top 40.
This is not the first time monastic chant has seen secular appeal; the biggest seller to date has been a CD called “Chant,” which became a pop-culture sensation 21 years ago. It featured music recorded in the 1970s and ’80s by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain, but it didn’t attract much attention until re-released in 1994 by Angel Records.
With its whimsical cover illustration of hooded friars floating among the clouds, and marketing language that touted a “magical calm,” the CD sold 2.6 million copies in the U.S. and more than 6 million worldwide. It was followed by sequels “Chant II” and “Chant III,” among others.
But that was two decades ago, and times have changed — both musically and religiously. Buying albums has become passe. Today’s fans graze on music a track at a time on streaming services, like a la carte appetizers. Interest in Christianity continues to decline, according to the latest surveys. So it seems especially paradoxical that an album showcasing the Catholic Church’s most traditional form of liturgical prayer would generate such interest.
The co-founder of the small label that put out “Benedicta” believes it’s no accident.
“We look for things that are little gems,” said Monica Fitzgibbons, of church-focused De Montfort Music and its more eclectic parent company, AimHigher Entertainment.
Fitzgibbons had wanted to record the Norcia monks since she first heard them in 2007 and recognized something special in the small community, which finally agreed late last year to make a CD.
The first clue was that the monastery’s leader, Prior Cassian Folsom, had studied voice at prestigious Indiana University before becoming a monk; he and many of his brothers sound not just prayerful, but musically trained.
SOURCE: Leslie Miller
Religion News Service