fly MURRAY WIIITE
THE MOST UNLIKELY musical success story of 1994 continues apace. The monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, a small town in the hills of rural Spain, have sold more than four million copies worldwide of their record, Canto Gregoriano, and in the process sparked a revival in a musical form more than 1,200 years old the Gregorian Chant.
The success has not gone to their heads. 'True, they have been able to refurbish their library and kitchen with the royalties, but their way of life remains largely as it has been for centuries. Neatly circumnavigating the "difficult second album syndrome" that plagues many "in the biz", the monks have simply gone for more of the same but with Christmas lyrics.
The classy Spanish restaurant, Albero and Grana, on London's Sloane Avenue, proved an equally unlikely setting for the launch of monks' "Canto Noel" collection last week. On hand to talk about the surprising Gregorian revival was a disparate panel of experts including the writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg and the Prior of Ealing Abbey, Fr David Pearce.
All that was missing was the monks themselves. Tired of French photo-journalists hanging out of trees to get shots of the holy men of Silos in full warble, record company EMI has imposed a total press blackout.
Classical music hacks, puzzled as to why Bragg was interested in Gregorian chant, were soon enlightened. One of their number asked why he had "been hanging around monasteries recently"?
"You make it sound like a chargeable offence," quipped Bragg, who explained that he was researching for a new novel, to be set in the seventh century. What had started out as a fairly scientific trawl through monastic tradition, had turned into something of a love affair.
"I was brought up as a High Anglican, and our psalms are very similar in spirit to these chants. They contain a lovely language" that goes beyond immediate culture, enthused the new unofficial chairman of the Gregorian supporters club. Bragg did concede that if the popularity of such music proved more than a fashionable flash in the pan, "this might be an indication of a deeper searching in society".
Warming to the philosophical turn of the conversation, music therapist Anne Sloboda lamented that so much music is packaged these days, that people have lost the knack of singing for aesthetic or spiritual reasons.
Fr Pearce, reminding those present that the monks' music was written in the sixth century, stressed that it was "not a performance, more a way of life".
The assembled secular journalists grew fidgety at the prospect of an imminent vocations drive. As they eagerly filed away for a complementary Spanish lunch, it became obvious that their round of press lunches were a way of life also.
On the menu? Monk fish, of course.