From the Birthplace of St. Benedict — Music That Eases the Soul

Deal W. Hudson
May 28, 2015

I’m writing this just after finishing a radio interview for “Church and Culture” with Fr. Basil Nixen, choirmaster at the Benedictine Monastery in Norcia, Italy, where St. Benedict himself was born in 480 A.D. A native of Yuma, AZ, Fr. Basil was a seminarian when, on the occasion of visiting the monastery, decided to live there the rest of his life.

The topic of our interview was the imminent release of “Benedicta: Marian Chants from Norcia,” a recording of 33 chants honoring Our Lady, published by De Montfort Music. Just prior to the interview, I had the privilege of hearing the entire recording online. I was stunned by its beauty, both of the monks’ voices and sonic ambiance of the Basilica of St. Benedict, where the monks live according to the “Rule” of the founder.

The Rule of St. Benedict, as Fr. Basil told me, requires the monks to sing seven or eight times a day, depending on how the text is interpreted. The monks at Norcia sing eight times and have developed complete mastery of delivering the monophonic line of the chant in a perfect unison of voices. They also sing with a sense of horizontal pressure that ensures the music never drags or becomes self-conscious. Chant recordings can sometimes be fussy and over-produced — performed, as it were, rather than praying. The Benedictine monks of Norcia, as Fr. Basil told me, wanted a recording that simply captured the prayerful singing they do as a community every day.

"Benedicta: Marian Chants from Noria" -- a new recording from De Montford Music.

“Benedicta: Marian Chants from Norcia” — a new recording from De Montfort Music.

I told Fr. Basil that as I listened to the recording I realized my body had become relaxed and my mind contemplative and peaceful. He seemed to appreciate that comment more than my praise of the recording itself, which corroborates the monks’ intention in their recording to provide a kind of beauty that nourishes the listener. As I wrote to Monica Fitzgibbons, co-founder with her husband of De Montfort Music, after the interview, “The music you are offering at De Montfort has, and will be, converting hearts, relieving suffering, and dispensing peace to the soul.”

For a relatively new company, De Montfort Music has had remarkable success. Their sacred music has been responsible for three of the top five classical imprints of Billboard’s Classical Chart, including the 2014 best-selling “Christmas at Harvard Square” sung by the boys of the St. Paul Choir School. De Montfort’s website contains all eight of the sacred music recordings. An important part of their success is due to the use of award-winning sound engineers, a talent the Fitzgibbons knew while working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles prior to moving their family to Florida and starting De Montfort Music.

The Benedictines of Norcia have already received worldwide attention for their Birra Norcia, a beer brewed in the monastery by two monks from Texas, which has been “credited” with the selection of both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Cardinal Ratzinger visited the monastery on the Feast of St. Benedict in 2003, not long before the papal conclave where he was elected and chose the name “Benedict.” The monks delivered several cases of Birra Norcia to the Cardinals at the subsequent conclave that produced a pope named “Francis.” The master brewer is a Texan named Br. Francis Davoren, a fact that led one monk to claim, tongue firmly in cheek, was no coincidence.

The Basilica of St. Benedetto sits on the lovely piazza in Norcia (formerly Nursia) in the Umbrian mountains east of Spoleto, itself associated with music because of its annual music festival founded by composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Over 50,000 visitors each year visit the Basilica, drawn not only by its being the birthplace of St. Benedict but also its reputation for a beautifully sung liturgy and a tasty homemade brew. I asked Fr. Basil if he was prepared for double the number of visitors after this new recording became a hit, and he said, chuckling, that the monks would be thrilled to welcome more visitors. Don’t expect to stay overnight, however, since their guesthouse can only serve eight guests, but there are additional guest rooms available at some nearby monasteries of sisters.

I strongly recommend the reader consider purchasing “Benedicta: Marian Chants from Norcia.” If you buy it directly from De Montfort Music or the Benedictine monks’ website, your money will not be divided with a “middleman,” whether that be Amazon or iTunes. The recording is ideal to introduce someone, whether your children or a friend, to the glory of chant.“Benedicta” will also satisfy the demands of both the audiophile and those already familiar with the Gregorian chant. Finally, the monks of Norcia, as Fr. Basil said to me, have chosen “selections that focus on the life of Mary, Our Lady, by focusing on seven mysteries, or defining moments, of her life.” I find that combination irresistible.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: