Made of up 18 men (primarily in their 30s), not only did the monks of Norcia bring music to the ears of America, but also to the Central Italian community of Norcia.
According to a story by Leslie Miller for Religion News Service (RNS), the monks have an interesting story.
Father Cassian Folsom founded the community of 18 men, half Americans, in Rome but the townspeople of Norcia recruited them to move into the ancient monastery there – built on the birthplace of the Benedictines’ founder, St. Benedict, and his twin sister, St. Scholastica.
The monastery had been continuously occupied from the 10th century until 200 years ago, but no monks had lived there since – until the group arrived in 1998.
RNS said De Montfort and international distributors Decca Classics/UMC, the largest distributor of classical music in the world, aren’t marketing “Benedicta” as “mood music.” But there’s been feedback from fans who say they find Gregorian chant soothing and relaxing.
I spoke recently by phone to Father Basil Nixen, the project’s artistic director and a spokesman for the ministry.
I asked Nixen why the community decided to record an album. He said they had been thinking about it for a number of years, and were originally approached by De Montfort Music in 2007. De Montfort is a small but very successful label, producing three of the top five classical albums for 2014.
While the monks were not initially ready to accept De Montfort’s proposal, when the record company called again, they said yes.
Nixen said that many monastery visitors had been inspired by the community’s music and chanting, “made more real by our example of brotherhood. It seemed that God was calling us to share. We set out to find beautiful and important pieces that would characterize our life in the monastery.”
Nixen said while they’re very happy with the album’s success, they are nonetheless surprised. He said they were simply trying to share their life with others-through the chant.
Nixen said friends and family are also very happy, as they have wanted “something tangible” from the community’s life. And, he said, it also serves as a great means of evangelism.
On those lines, Nixen called the album an extension of the monastery’s work. He said the community exists “for the salvation of souls,” and that the album “allows us to share the fruit of our loves with others.”
The chants include Marian antiphons, as well as previously unrecorded chant versions of responsories and a piece originally composed by the monks.
Nixen said it makes him feel good that people are so appreciative of the community’s music. He said he couldn’t hope for a “greater reward” than that.
And why does it speak to them? “Nixen said perhaps it’s because “People are searching for authenticity and meaning in a world that only caters to their senses. The real meaning of life has to do with spiritual realities that endure forever.”
Nixen, who is from Arizona, has been in Italy for more than a decade.
A seminarian originally planning to become a parish priest, music was always a very important part of his life. He discovered the Gregorian Chant, and close to the end of his study time paid a “very moving” visit to Norcia. That resulted in him becoming a monk and joining the community there.
He joined a community with a distinct mission. In a June 2015 newsletter posted online Folsom wrote, “The church is the heart of the monastery, pulsing with the life blood of prayer. Not only do the monks draw spiritual nourishment from the liturgical prayer that resounds in the Basilica, but so do the many pilgrims who flock to our house of prayer.
He added, “Some come from far away, traveling hours to participate in the monastic liturgy; others are from the local community. Some are regular visitors; others stumble into the basilica by Divine Providence. On Sundays, there are always new faces and people who exclaim in
wonderment how their hearts have been moved by the profound beauty of the Solemn High Mass.”
So what’s next for Nixen and this unique community of unassuming celebrities? Is another album in the works?
Nixen said he and the other community members are very happy with the first project, and grateful that so many people “are reaping its benefits.”
He wouldn’t go further than that. Pressed about a follow up , he said, “That would be a big undertaking. We’ll wait and see. It’s in the Hands of God.”
1) Pilgrims are welcome to the community. 2) Jeremy Reyalds.
About the writer: Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org.He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on “From Destitute to Ph.D.” are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: If you would like to help support the ASSIST News Service, please go to www.assistnews.net and click on the DONATE button to make you tax-deductible gift (in the US), which will help us continue to bring you these important stories.
** You may republish this and any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)