Friday, May 16, 2008

Austria's Singing Monks Hail Miracle Debut Album

HEILIGENKREUZ, Austria (Reuters)- Monks in Austria hailed a "miracle" on Friday as they released an album of Gregorian chants under the same record label as Amy Winehouse and Eminem.

The Cistercian monks were signed up by Universal Music -- beating more than 200 entries from around the world -- after they sent in a YouTube video in response to its international advertisement for a choir.

"I did not even know what Universal Music was. For us it is like a miracle," said the order's Father Karl as the CD "Chant - Music for Paradise" went on sale in Germany and Austria ahead of a wider international release.

It features 17 monks, mainly from Germany and Austria with one from Sri Lanka. "They sing like angels," said Father Karl, who is not on the recording.

Dickon Stainer of Universal Music sees "enormous potential" for the disc, not least since the Xbox space-age game "Halo", which has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide, uses Gregorian chant in its main soundtrack.

The music of the Heiligenkreuz (Holy Cross) Foundation, which dates from the 12th century, even has papal blessing. Pope Benedict enjoyed it during a 2007 visit to the monastery, 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Vienna.

"He sank into meditation in front of everyone as the choir sang," said the order's abbot, Gregor Henckel Donnersmarck.

Traditionally sung by choirs of men and boys since the early Middle Ages, the Gregorian chant is one of the oldest known forms of written music. It gets its name from Pope Gregory the Great, who died in 604 A.D.

Profits from the CD will go towards training for priests. The abbot sounded a note of concern at the idea of fan clubs. "This is our prayer. We are not in show business," he said.

But some monks laugh at the prospect of female fans. "If groupies want to come, we will let them know we sing each morning at 5:15," said Father Karl.

Some 115,000 people have seen the YouTube video. "Young people come to us and say: 'That's cool'... (but) we are certainly not a boy band and we are not going on tour," he added.

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