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“Magical” chants win Austrian monks recording contract

.- After “blowing away” music executives with their performance of Gregorian plainchant, a group of Austrian monks has been given a record deal with Universal Music, the Independent reports.

Universal had been persuaded that there was a market for albums of Gregorian chant by the success of the video game Halo.  The game, which has sold over 16 million copies, uses in its soundtrack a plainchant sung by male choirs without musical accompaniment.

Dickon Stainer, head of Universal Classics and Jazz, said, "Young people have an awareness of Gregorian chant, even though it's not something you come across in everyday life. It made us think that there was something in it."

The music company placed an advertisement in The Tablet and The Church Times seeking “men of the cloth” to sing on an album of Gregorian chants.

After a contact in London informed the Cistercian monks of Holy Cross monastery about Universal’s search for Gregorian singers, the 80 monks compiled a clip of their singing and put it on YouTube as an audition.

The professionally edited video begins with a shot of altar candles and then switches to images of monks clad in white habits walking in double file through the ancient cloisters.  The video closes in a picturesque aerial shot of the Holy Cross abbey, set deep in the Austrian woods.

"I was blown away by the quality of their singing," said Tom Lewis, an executive at Universal. "They are quite simply the best Gregorian singers we have heard. They make a magical sound which is calming and deeply moving. They are using the very latest communication devices to get their music heard. They're very passionate and excited about this opportunity."

Lewis said the company had received hundreds of videos in response to its advertisements, but the Cistercians were the clear winners.

The monks have described their success as “divine intervention.”  They were scheduled to record an album last year, but the recording session was cancelled after it conflicted with a visit to the monastery by Pope Benedict XVI. 

The monastery, which dates back to 1133, has been famous for its relic of the True Cross.

Father Karl, a spokesman for the abbey, welcomed the news.  "Gregorian chant is part of spirituality and our life," he said, according to the Independent. "Any profits will be spent on training future brothers."

Gregorian Chant, which is named for Pope Gregory I, had some popularity in the 1990s and was featured in several successful CDs by the group Enigma.


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