For Benedictine Monks, The Joy Of Making Albums And Beer : Deceptive Cadence The Benedictine monks of Norcia, Italy spend their days in quiet prayer and chanting the divine office. But recently the order has taken up recording albums and brewing beer.
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For Benedictine Monks, The Joy Of Making Albums And Beer

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For Benedictine Monks, The Joy Of Making Albums And Beer

For Benedictine Monks, The Joy Of Making Albums And Beer

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Father Cassian Folsom and the Benedictine Monks of Norcia spend their days working and worshiping, praying and serving, and chanting through all of it.



SIMON: Song is an essential part of their spiritual practice. The monks now share more than 30 chants on a new CD, "Benedicta: Marian Chant From Norcia." Father Cassian Folsom is prior and founder of the Monks of Norcia. He joins us in our studios in New York.

Father, thanks so much for being with us.

CASSIAN FOLSOM: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: You founded this community of monks in Rome in 1998.

FOLSOM: That's right.

SIMON: Why did your community end up in Norcia? There is a story.

FOLSOM: There is. We were originally founded in Rome, as you said, for the sake of serving the Benedictine headquarters there called Sant'Anselmo. But in the year 2000, the bishop of Spoleto-Norcia heard about us and invited us to transfer to Norcia because that's the birthplace of Saint Benedict, and there hadn't been monks there for almost 200 years. So we were happy to accept.

SIMON: And hadn't been monks there because they were during the Napoleonic era.

FOLSOM: Exactly, they were suppressed, yeah.

SIMON: Let's listen to, I think in many ways, the most familiar chant to people. Of course, this is "Ave Maria."



SIMON: Help us understand the chant. It's not just singing, is it? It's something else.

FOLSOM: Well, it's singing specific texts, usually biblical texts, especially the psalms, but also poetic compositions. And it's a form of choral prayer, shall we say. There's also individual private prayer. So what you hear in the recording, I think is, the monks put their heart into it. It's not simply musical form. It's a musical form with some passion.



SIMON: You have a couple of solos on this album. And this one - I wonder if you could help me pronounce - "Dominus..."

FOLSOM: "Dominus Possedit Me." That's a brief scripture reading in one of the offices, a proclamation of the chant in a very simple tone.


FOLSOM: (Chanting).

SIMON: What's the difference, musically and spiritually, between singing solo and singing in the company of your fellow monks?

FOLSOM: Well, the solo singing is usually just for this particular form of the scripture proclamation. Otherwise, we're singing this as a body, not as soloists.

SIMON: And tell us what daily life is like.

FOLSOM: Well, we have - the first office is at 4 in the morning, our morning prayer. Matins, it's called. So you can get up whenever you like, as long as you're there by 4.

SIMON: (Laughter). You can sleep until 3:45 then.

FOLSOM: Well, 3:40 is the wake-up call. And then prayer marks different moments throughout the day. There are seven day hours. And the last prayer is at 7:45 in the evening, and then you're free to go to bed after that.

SIMON: Of course there are other things that you do at the monastery...

FOLSOM: We, do yes.

SIMON: ...Including - ready?

FOLSOM: I'm ready, I hope.


SIMON: It's the opening of a beer bottle.

FOLSOM: We started brewing beer three years ago. We do lots of work that doesn't produce very much income, or you can't measure it in economic terms. But we needed some work that provided income for the monastery too, and so we learned the art of brewing from the Trappist monks in Belgium. And it provides also a kind of common ground between the monks and the general populace because even if somebody's not a believer, they can talk about beer.

SIMON: (Laughter). They might be a beer drinker.

FOLSOM: And that forms a connection, a bond, you know.

SIMON: I want to listen to another song on this album, which I gather is an original composition, and this is "Nos Qui Christi Iugum."



FOLSOM: Our choirmaster, Father Basil, is a very creative man, and he composed the text and wrote the music. The text comes from the prologue of the "Rule of Saint Benedict." He uses images from that foundational document for us. And the melody is inspired by the reciting tone for one of the readings at Christmas matins.



FOLSOM: So because he's immersed in the chant, these different melodic patterns are in his head. And with his own creativity, he was able to pull that together to make a very nice and inspiring new composition.

SIMON: So what you're saying then - chants, generally, just aren't from the past. They're a living, breathing enterprise.

FOLSOM: Yes, it's very much - it's not a museum piece. We live this.

SIMON: What does monastic life disclose to you about life that the rest of us could stand to learn, do you think?

FOLSOM: Two things. Monastic life is essentially God-centered. That's its motivation and what sustains it. Secondly, Saint Benedict is a master of the human heart and understands human nature profoundly. And so with years of experience in the monastic life, you begin to see the connections between your humanity and everyone else's humanity, and there's a real openness to man, to human experience.

SIMON: When people hear this album, is there a special note or feeling you hope they come away with?

FOLSOM: I hope people are moved by the beauty of it, and also the chant - because of the environment that it comes from - it creates an atmosphere of peace. Those two things I think people will perceive readily, that is, the beauty of it and the peaceful quality.

SIMON: Father, if I may, bottom's up and God bless.

FOLSOM: Thank you very much, and God be with you too.

SIMON: Father Cassian Folsom is prior of the Monks of Norcia. Their new album, "Benedicta," is out now.

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