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EXCLUSIVE: Cassian Folsom of Norcia Monks on 'Benedicta' LP, Gregorian Chant and Home Brews

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Nov 23, 2015 04:44 PM EST

It seems, for lack of a better word, unconventional for an album of religious chants to take the number one spot on Billboard's Classical Traditional Chart in its first week of release. And it's even more unconventional that it has maintained the spot for two weeks straight.

Having bested the likes of Taylor Swift and Willie Nelson, the disc also comes as the top seller at Barnes & Noble as well as number 2 on Amazon and among the top 40 slot on iTunes' Top 40. Perhaps what is most notable about the album is not that it's performed by monks--who arenot much older than their competitors--but the authenticity of their music. There is, absolutely, an undeniable allure to their lifestyle and how it translates onto a musical format--and they even brew their own beer.

The Monks of Norcia and their debut LP, Benedicta, have an interesting story to be told. Comprised of a mere 18 within their ranks, the diversity of the community varies between half-American citizens and half a variety of other nationalities.

For the monks, the median age falls on 36, making them a youthful group but lacking an eldership. Having spoken with Father Cassian Folsom, the one who single-handedly settled the order of Monks within the community of St. Benedict, where the tradition had been born, there is an omnipresent humility that comes with their faith.

A voice major at Indiana University in Bloomington, Fr. Folsom is an advocate of music, remarking that it is essential to the religious agency of the group, going insofar as to say it's "part of the air [they] breathe."

Benedicta: A Marian Chant from Norcia devotes itself to Mary, including unrecorded and unmarked works as well as an original piece, "Nos Qui Christi Iugum."

Fortunately enough, we were able to get some phone time with Fr. Cassian and how his music translates to a major label (Decca/Universal Classics) and what it means to be a part of the community of monks reinventing the way we listen to music.

Classicalite: Thanks for tuning in with us, Father. First off, how do you feel about having this kind of music on a major label imprint?

Father Cassian Folsom: Well, Gregorian chants are the basis of music, even in a popular sense. I think it translates appropriately and honestly.

C: Does a recording of the music, in your opinion, have the same effect as hearing it live?

FCF: Hearing it live means you are a part of the prayer, which has a much different feel than on the CD. But the reason we made it was to share this beautiful experience with our friends. And its been well-received so our circle of friends is much larger than we expected.

For a deeper experience we invite everyone to join us, many people come on this pilgrimage to Italy, particularly Rome, and so we ask people if they're in [Italy] to come experience it first hand.


C: With this disc, is there any particular track/chant that sticks out among the others?

FCF: There are some chants that are more representative of the more popular devotions on the CD. Maybe to the untrained ear it sounds the same but what we sing is prayer so it's very different to those who know it. It's a way for us to express our faith, so while one might be able to merely say "I love you" to God, singing it has a bit more fervor.

All the texts that are set to music are from our liturgy so each chant has a distinct quality to it.

C: You are a part of a young community of monks, does the lack of elders have an impact, if any, on guidance or leadership within the community?

FCF: That's very perceptive! We were founded not in the usual manner of a mixed group with different ages and factions in a community. But, rather, it was more specific. I was in charge of finding this community of young men myself. Thus, we have an average age of 33 and it gives the group a certain vitality and dynamism. But, as one can imagine, there's no calming effect of having elders. The only way for that to change is for the monks to get older.

C: Can I purchase your homebrewed beer anywhere in Brooklyn? 

FCF: Actually, we have a national distributor based in Italy which, very recently, made contact with a U.S. distributor. By the fall, perhaps sometime in October, it should be available in the US for purchase.

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TagsMonks of Norcia, Billboard, Classical Traditional Chart, Benedicta: A Marian Chant from Norcia, EXCLUSIVE, Classicalite Q&A