Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Cistercian monks of the Stift Heiligenkreuz

These are the monks who've made the recent chant CD (now at #7 on the British top-seller list).

The New York Times ran this article on Friday. Here's an excerpt:
When the album, “Chant: Music for Paradise,” was released in Europe in May — and shot to No. 7 in the British pop charts, at one point outselling releases from Amy Winehouse and Madonna — the trickle of press attention turned into a torrent. (The CD will be released in the United States on Tuesday.)

Now this monastery, where the daily rituals of prayer and work have guided life for 875 years, finds itself in a media whirligig at once exhilarating and unsettling for its 77 brothers.

“We’re monks,” said Johannes Paul Chavanne, 25, a Viennese who entered the monastery after studying law and is training to be a priest. “We’re not pop stars, and we don’t want to be pop stars.”

Too late: the album has made the monks of Heiligenkreuz a crossover hit, the latest example of how Gregorian chant, a once-neglected 1,000-year-old part of the Roman Catholic liturgy, can be repackaged for a secular society that savors its soothing, otherworldly cadences.

Apparently this monastery has long been known far and wide for its excellent music and beautiful chant.
While monks in many monasteries chant, Heiligenkreuz is particularly proud of its singing, which has been honed over years by one of the monks, who used to direct choirs in Germany.

Mr. Lewis was entranced, recalling that the video eclipsed the more than 100 other submissions. “There was a smoothness and softness to the voices that you associate with younger people,” he said.

Universal negotiated a contract with the monks, who proved to be anything but naïve in the ways of business. It helped that the abbot, Gregor Henckel Donnersmark, has an M.B.A. and ran the Spanish outpost of a German shipping company before he entered the monastery in 1977.

Among the clauses he sought: Universal cannot use the chanting in video games or pop music. The monks will never tour or perform on stage. And Heiligenkreuz will earn a royalty based on the sales of the album, which the abbot said worked out to roughly 1 euro per CD sold.

The monastery’s share, Father Henckel Donnersmark figures optimistically, could be between $1.5 million and $3.1 million, which it will use to help finance the theological studies of young men from developing countries. So far, Universal has sold nearly 200,000 copies.

“Money is not a source of fulfillment,” the abbot said, though he pointed out that it would defray the monastery’s expenses, which are high, partly because of its success in attracting novices.

Here's a video of some of the chant:

HT Episcopal Cafe.

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