Benedicta consists of songs honoring the Virgin Mary, including not only favorite Marian antiphons but also previously unrecorded chant versions of responsories and a piece originally composed by the monks (“Nos Qui Christi Iugum,” or “We Who Have Received Christ’s Yoke”). About the content of this repertoire, the choirmaster for the Monks of Norcia, Fr. Basil Nixen, says: “The selections focus on the life of Mary, Our Lady, by focusing on seven mysteries, or defining moments, of her life.” Some pieces are sung by the entire group, some by smaller ensembles of monks and others by soloists, imbuing Benedicta with a variety of sound. Recorded on location at the monastery in Norcia, the album was produced by Christopher Alder and engineered by Jonathan Stokes, both multiple Grammy Award winners. Alder who has just received his 11th Grammy has worked with the likes of Placido Domingo, Cecilia Bartoli, Gustavo Dudamel and many of the top names in today’s classical music industry.
“The repertoire of Benedicta is the chant that’s very much a part of monks’ daily lives,” says producer Christopher Alder. “For instance, when they finish a recording session, they don’t go back to their monastery and just relax – they stay here and keep chanting, because that’s what they do. This music really means something to them. They know the Latin texts forward and backward, and you can hear that in the sincerity of their singing. For myself, I notice that when I am recording them that I feel in touch with a distant past – and sense that it will never go out of date. It feels timeless.” Engineer Jonathan Stokes adds: “These monks are unique in the sound they produce, and we recorded them right there in their monastery. One of the biggest surprises was actually how charming they’ve been – there is no barrier or wall between them and us. They have just been artists interested in doing justice to the music.”
For the Monks of Norcia, music is woven into a daily life of liturgy and industry. Along with their offices of daily prayer, the monks work for their self-sufficiency – as Fr. Folsom says, “We are not angels, we are men – so we have to eat.” To that end, they operate a craft brewery at the monastery, Birra Nursia, where they produce a beer “pleasing to the taste and satisfying to the spirit.” These blond and dark brews have gained devotees from distant countries, bringing new visitors to Norcia. “A lot of people have perhaps a romantic idea that monks sort of float around in the cloister all day long,” says Fr. Folsom. “But in fact, the monastic life is quite ordinary. You get up and pray, you do your work, and you go to bed. The next day, you do the same thing. St. Benedict is, in a certain sense, the patron of the ordinary. To find the presence of God in the ordinary is an aim of monastic life. We have a very young community – the average age is about 33 or so. I am the oldest, with the others quite young. So there is a youthful vitality here to our alternation of work and prayer throughout the day, along with the togetherness of a fraternity – not like a college fraternity but a community of brothers.”