And now for something completely different.
I spent quite a number of years attending Catholic schools. Not that we were a particularly church-going family, because we weren’t. But I did spend probably eight years in parochial schools, and that certainly contributed to my outlook on a lot of things in life. If there was one aspect of the whole Catholocism thing that always seemed interesting, it was the sheer age of it all – the old churches, legends, and trappings that gave everything sort of an ancient formality. And one of those anachronistic kinds of things was the sort of chanting style of singing, one that is perhaps most commonly known as “Gregorian chanting”.
I don’t remember exactly where I first heard about the Chant album that came out in 1994, but I think it was a review/article in Rolling Stone or something. It sounded so incredibly unusual that I immediately decided I had to track it down, which turned out to not be so difficult since it sort of blew up – it’s sold literally millions of copies world-wide over the years, and there was a full display of it at a local CD store (Silver Platters… back when they were a CD-only store (hence the name “Silver Patters”…)).
Chant always captivates me, every single time I listen to it. There is an odd soothing power in these songs, a simplicity and sincerety that runs so deep you can’t help but feel the music inside you. I don’t speak Latin, so I have no idea what these songs are about. I mean, they’re obviously religious and probably super old, but I don’t think you need to have even a clue as to what they’re singing about to appreciate the beauty of the sound. I’ve written before that to me the human voice in music is more like another type of musical instrument to my ears than a way of transmitting a message, with the vocals perceived as notes instead of words. And Chant may represent the apex of that, with no musical accompanyment, nothing more than human voices in space. Whether they are reaching out in a sort of desperation on “Anon: Spiritus Domini” or rising toward a sublime pinnacle before dropping off just as they should be peaking on “Anon: Puer Natus Est Nobis” (the absolute best song on the album, bar none), the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos achieve a level of emotional nirvana difficult to duplicate. So much so in fact that I don’t think their follow up albums that I’ve heard, Chant Noël: Chants For The Holiday Season (1994) and Chant II (1995), even come close to the near perfection of the original. They’re good, but but they don’t seem to flow as well as the songs on Chant.
I feel like I shouldn’t like Gregorian chanting, but to deny that I do, would just be foolish. This is a truly transformative album, one that can take you to a completely different place in your mind, carried away by the monk’s voices, if you’ll open yourself up to it. Religious or not, it’s worth the time to take a listen.