The Monks of the Desert, who spend their daily hours praying for peace, working and studying in silence, have entered the realm of major label music production with their Sony MASTERWORKS debut album Blessings, Peace and Harmony which will be released on April 24, 2012.
Blessings, Peace and Harmony compiles selections from the Monks' four independent recordings of Gregorian chant, and also features four new chants recorded expressly for this new collection. Named after Pope Gregory I, Gregorian chant involves the early Christian liturgical music that originated in medieval times and forms the roots of Western classical music. Consisting solely of melody, the chants are sung unaccompanied and generally by small choral groups--and through the ages have continuously supplied listeners of all circumstances with a soothing sense of solace.
"The kind of singing that we do calms the spirit and helps us live in peace with our world and with one another," says Abbot Philip Lawrence, a scholar of chant who also leads the Monastery of Christ In The Desert - home to an American order of Benedictine monks from Abiquiu, New Mexico. "Chanting has some strange effect on the brain waves according to various studies," continues Abbot Philip, but this effect is certainly not the Monks of the Desert's objective; rather their goal, and that of Gregorian chant, notes Abbot Philip, is "to focus on the words rather than the challenge of voice production or sight reading. It is always our hope that our singing will bring others to peace, inner tranquility and an appreciation of beauty. These values can help create a world in which peace and tranquility prevail."
The unique vibrations from Gregorian chants are not uncommon to mainstream music and can be found in classic works such as Handel’s Messiah and Ave Maria. As Abbot Philip suggests, science has discovered various health benefits of chanting. In the late 60s, Alfred Tomatis, a French Physician and specialist in the function of the human ear, conducted an experiment with a Benedictine monastery where the monks were suffering from fatigue and depression. Tomatis discovered that a new decree had halted the usual six to eight hours of chanting the monks had previously observed and, within a short time, the monks were unable to perform their duties. When Tomatis suggested re-instituting their daily chanting, the monks recovered quickly and were able to resume their demanding schedule of work and prayers. Tomatis concluded that chanting actually affects the bones of a human being, stimulated at about 2000 Hz. The sounds of chanting, he concluded, are produced literally from the bones, not the mouth.
The Monks of The Desert observe a strict daily prayer schedule called Divine Office, or Opus Dei, which takes place seven times during the day and once at night, starting at 4:00am and ending at 7:30pm. When not praying or studying, the monks run a multitude of self-sustaining businesses including light manufacturing, brewing beer (the only monastery in the U.S. to have a working on-site brewery), an on-site “hotel” where famous celebrities often visit anonymously, a community thrift store in Santa Fe and a separate retail store specializing in hand-crafted religious items, books, music, and folk art.
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert is located completely “off-the-grid” in the Chama Canyon wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, about 75 miles north of Santa Fe and 53 miles south of Chama. The solar-powered facility is surrounded by miles of government-protected wilderness, thus assuring and promoting solitude and quiet for the religious life experienced by men from several nations.
Blessings, Peace and Harmony was designed to deliver a solid overall background of Gregorian chant. Approximately two-thirds of the music comes from the Catholic Mass, and is sung in Latin. The Monks of the Desert chose the particular repertoire on the album because they reflect aspects of monastic life throughout the year. The most wonderful aspect of Gregorian chant in a monastic community, concludes Abbot Philip, "is its ability to allow for everyone to sing and yet also provide opportunities for monks who really love music to become more or less specialists. Most of the great monastic choirs have relied on a relatively small number of wonderful voices which are able to sustain the whole choir. Thus, the whole might easily sound better than the individual voices."
For more information about the Monastery please visit www.christdesert.org.
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