March 24, 2008 / 12:15 AM / 10 years ago

Monastery of sound goes universal

LONDON (Reuters) - A group of Gregorian chanting monks are on the cusp of international fame, after being signed by one of the world’s biggest music labels.

The Abbey of the Holy Cross monks, whose heavenly notes are enjoyed by Pope Benedict, have signed with London-based Universal Records, the company told Reuters on Monday.

The record giant, home to international artists including Amy Winehouse, Bryan Adams and Eminem, will produce the Austrian-based choir’s album, which is due for worldwide distribution later this year, it said.

The company discovered the choir, from the world’s second oldest Cistercian monastery and based 15 km (10 miles) west of the capital Vienna, after they responded via YouTube to advertisements calling for medieval chanters.

They beat more than 100 other entries which had flooded in from all over the world from countries such as the United States, France, Italy, Ireland and Canada.

According to the monks’ Web site, Pope Benedict made a rare visit last year to the Austrian monastery, founded in 1133 by St. Leopold III of the House of Babenberg.

Because of the Pontiff’s visit they were forced to postpone releasing their own album, Universal officials said.

The monks’ spokesman, Father Karl Wallner, said they had initially responded to the advertisement for fun.

“But now it has become a very serious and positive thing for us because Gregorian Chant is the expression of our spirituality, it’s how we pray,” he said in a statement released through the company.

“We’re not Robbie Williams or Michael Jackson, we’re just a group of monks who sing every day because it’s our prayer and it’s our life.”

Label bosses had placed the adverts in various religious publications after discovering a resurgence of interest in the Gregorian chant, thanks to a best-selling computer game.

The Xbox space-age Halo game, which has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide, uses Gregorian chant within its main soundtrack.

The chant, traditionally sung by choirs of men and boys since the early Middle Ages, is one of the oldest known forms of written music.

“They are, without question, the best we heard,” Universal artist and repertoire manager Tom Lewis, told Reuters.

“We are excited about the prospect of having a very beautiful and special record on our hands.”

He said it was an unusual way of signing an artist but the company was looking for something “particularly extraordinary.”

Their first album is due for release by the British summer.

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