Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Benedicta - Marian Chants from Norcia

NLM first shared news of a new CD from the Benedictines of Norcia here

De Montfort Music has just produced a lovely video to accompany the upcoming release of the CD.

From De Montfort, here's a bit more about the project in light of its monastic setting:
On June 2, De Montfort Music together with Decca Classics/Universal Music Classics will release BENEDICTA: Marian Chant from Norcia, the major label debut from The Monks of Norcia. Based in Norcia, Italy, the community of the Benedictine Monks of Norcia is comprised of 18 men, half American citizens and the other half a diverse group of men from all over the world representing a variety of cultural backgrounds. Monks and their devotional singing were not heard in Norcia for nearly 200 years, until 1998 when Fr. Cassian Folsom, Prior, settled with his community in the monastery located on the ancient ruins of the birth-home of St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica, thus also becoming the site where The Monks of Norcia were born. An American who was admitted to and studied at the highly competitive world-renowned voice program at Indiana University before joining the monastery, Fr. Cassian explains, "Music is essential to the monastic life… chant is part of the air we breathe."

For The Monks of Norcia, music is woven into a daily life of liturgy and industry. With their daily monastic chant of the Divine Office, sung Mass and singing the prayers at table for mealtimes, the monks sing nine times per day. As a young and ethnically diverse monastic community – the average age being 33 -- there is a youthful vitality to their adherence to the rule of St. Benedict which is summarized by the motto "ora et labora," that is, by the alternation of work and prayer throughout the day, along with the togetherness of a community of brothers.

BENEDICTA consists of songs dedicated to the life of Mary, Our Lady, including previously unrecorded chant versions of responsories and an original piece composed by the monks, "Nos Qui Christi Iugum," ("We Who Have Taken Up Christ's Yoke"). Some pieces on the album are sung by the entire group, some by smaller ensembles of monks and others by soloists, lending a vast range of sound and color to BENEDICTA.

Choirmaster Fr. Basil Nixen serves as the music director for the project. Describing the repertoire for the album Fr. Basil says, "The selections try to look at Our Lady's life by focusing on 7 mysteries, or defining moments, of her life and include pieces that many people would be familiar with and could connect with as well as some pieces that are a little less known and more musically challenging and complex but also very beautiful. Many of these chants are familiar prayers that we sing often and that are very, very dear to us."

Along with their offices of daily prayer, the monks work for their self-sufficiency – as Fr. Cassian says, "We are not angels, we are men – so we have to eat." To that end, they operate a craft brewery at the monastery, Birra Nursia, where they produce a beer "pleasing to the taste and satisfying to the spirit." These blond and dark brews have gained devotees from distant countries, bringing new visitors to Norcia. "A lot of people have perhaps a romantic idea that monks sort of float around in the cloister all day long," says Fr. Cassian. "But in fact, the monastic life is quite ordinary. Music is important to us, especially for the sake of the prayer. Even someone who listens to this without any background will be drawn to it, I think, by its pure beauty and its mystical quality. This music has been sung over centuries and centuries."

Since 2007 when Aim Higher Entertainment was launched -- the umbrella company for De Montfort Music -- the label has wanted to provide and share a state of the art recording of the hidden Gregorian Chant of these humble yet talented monks. Finally in late 2014, The Monks agreed to be professionally recorded on location at their monastery. The culmination of these efforts is BENEDICTA, a labor of love years in the making. The album was produced and engineered by the multiple Grammy Award-winning team of Christopher Alder and Jonathan Stokes respectively, who describe The Monks' music as "timeless and beautiful."

BENEDICTA follows other successful recordings from De Montfort Music and AimHigher Recordings, who together accounted for three of Billboard's Top 5 Classical Traditional Album Imprints of 2014. 

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