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July 1, 2008

Monks make top 10 pop charts

Newsweek (US):

The question comes off like an old "Monty Python" gag. What musical group in Britain is more popular than Paul Simon or the Ting Tings? The Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz.

Several weeks ago, a group of Cistercian monks who live in a 12th-century monastery near Vienna, who wear cowls and wake at 5 each morning to pray in Latin, made a little music history when their album of Gregorian chants soared up the pop charts and landed at No. 7. At the same time, the CD, which is not yet released here, found its way to the top spot on the U.S. classical chart last week, thanks to feverish downloading on iTunes. Father Karl Wallner, the 45-year-old monk who has been at the monastery since he was 18 and is charged with answering media inquiries—"they call me 'press monk,' that's very funny," he says—had just said goodbye to two television crews and spoke with NEWSWEEK via his cell phone.

Gregorian chant is popular among young people because "there's a big harmony with those melodies." Indeed, at a time when the Roman Catholic priesthood is suffering diminishing vocations in the Western world, Stift Heiligenkreuz has an abundance—28 young men have entered in the past five years. Wallner thinks it's because of the chant.

The success of the monks' album is not entirely a gift from God, as Wallner would have you believe; it's more a dovetailing of smart marketing by a classical-music company in Britain and surprising technological savvy on the part of the monks. Last winter, noticing a surge in sales of chant as well as the runaway success of the futuristic, sci-fi videogame Halo—which uses chantlike melodies throughout its soundtrack—Tom Lewis, an A&R executive at Universal Music Classics, launched a kind of "Pop Idol" contest for Gregorian chant, which he advertised in Catholic papers throughout Britain.

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Posted by acapnews at July 1, 2008 10:17 PM

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