Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Top of the Charts: Gregorian Chants?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Top of the Charts: Gregorian Chants?

Article excerpt

JUST THINK: After all these years, Gregorian chant is finally popular.

Or maybe we should just say that a recording of Gregorian chant sung by Benedictine monks from the Monasterio de Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain currently occupies the lofty No. 5 position on Billboard Magazine's pop chart.

But it remains to be seen whether or not this medieval church music has really caught on with the American public.

There will be reason to think that something unusual is happening on the U.S. cultural scene if public performances of chant begin to fill concert calendars all around the country, if the dozens of excellent chant recordings that have been around for decades suddenly go into back order, if monasteries find that limits need to be placed on their enrollment, if tonsures become all the rage among high school kids.

But if the album titled "Chant" simply goes platinum or whatever and then fades into memory, its success will have been a fluke.

Not that the music is undeserving of all the attention that has been heaped on it since Angel Records released "Chant" in the United States seven weeks ago.

Gregorian chant, which gets its name because its style was allegedly developed in the sixth century by Pope Gregory I, is one of Western civilization's oldest bodies of music. As music for congregational use, monophonic chant in the Gregorian style - often termed "plainsong" - began to disappear after the turn of the millennium. For hundreds of years, though, ancient chant provided the foundation for liturgical music by up-to-date composers. And in the monasteries chant continued to be sung at prayer services.

It's still sung at prayer services. Unlike most other genres of so-called early music, since its creation chant has never ceased to resonate. It may be obscure music, but it is nonetheless living music, music whose tradition of performance has never been broken. Chant survives not just because its vast repertoire was notated as soon as musical notation became a reality; it survives because of its nature. Simply put, Gregorian chant is beautiful.

But sublime musical beauty is hardly enough to turn a recording into a commercial success. …

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