Music from the Monks of Valaam

This Church Slavonic version of Agni Parthenon (O Virgin Pure) is interesting. Four singers, one of whom never moves his mouth (so who knows if he’s singing at all, even the ison). What's Valaam? An island in the northwestern part of Russia and an ancient monastery. The island in Lake Lagoda has bounced back and forth between Finland and Russia. The chant is peculiar to the place, much simpler than Byzantine chant with strong resemblance to Znammeny (the Russian chant that preceded the introduction of polyphonic chant). You can learn more about Valaam and its history on Wikipedia or just enjoy the pictures on the Russian website. Monasteries are very important in the Orthodox world as points of pilgrimage and as the home of monks whom the laity respect as spiritual advisors.

This is a hymn beloved throughout the Orthodox world. Sing it to a room of Greeks and several will weep. Why? I think it's the tune, based on Greek folk style. It sounds like home, like a song about your …

Blooming Vale and Anonymous 4

A lovely shape-note tune drawn from the Psalms and sung with great tenderness by Anonymous 4. The visuals are entertaining bits of New England history and locations. This is a fuging tune, meaning that its chorus features imitative entries.

This ensemble in its various combinations of singers over the years showed all of us that you could do great things with treble voices. The only requirement was four fantastic singers, good scholarship, and a heart for all types and periods of music.

Quam Pulchra Es by Francisco Carbonell

This flowing piece with interesting key changes and chords (but not TOO interesting) is by Francisco Carbonell and won second place in an emerging composers competition. Hailing from Valencia, Spain, Carbonell is music director and organist at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. He studied in Rome at the Pontifical Academy of Sacred Music, as well as at the university in Valencia. You can find more of his music on YouTube, but I wanted to make sure you were introduced to him here.

Enjoy - and why not “like” him on Facebook? Or send him a note somehow letting him know you enjoy his work?

A Kenyan Hymn in the Shenandoah Valley

Remember when everyone was just crazy for music from Africa thanks to Paul Simon? Here's a great hymn from Kenya, sung at the Shenandoah Christian Music Camp in 2017. A spirited text sung with energy by these Anabaptist young people. Camps are held in Virginia, Ohio, and Ontario. And there are lots of wonderful YouTube recordings of the singing.

Translation: Bonse aba mupolela (All who have received Him )
Balipelwa maka yakuba bana ba kwa Lesa (he Has given them the power to be called the children of God) muyaya ba kwa Lesa (everlasting will be called children of God)

These camps are the product of a desire to grow musical ability and understanding among conservative Anabaptists. You can learn more at this website. I really like the idea of "music as a core function of life."

Here's a bit on Anabaptists, if you're interested. Otherwise, just enjoy the singing!

Anabaptists are strict evangelicals who practice adult baptis…

Back to the Sacred Harp and How It Travels!

Here are two recordings: the first is from an annual singing in Hoboken, Georgia with David Lee leading the singing along with his mother, the second comes from a sacred harp singing in Ireland. This lets you hear the music in its home environment, sung from the blue “Cooper book” and then from some enthusiastic Irish/English/American singers, singing from the red Denson book. The music travels because it is such a joy to sing.

Enjoy them both - listen to just part or the whole. Note that the melody is in the tenor part which is doubled at the octave by women’s voices. Also note the singers who conduct along with the leader - they were probably up later that day leading one of their favorite tunes.

Chant from Pluscarden Abbey

On the Feast of St. Benedict, chant from a Benedictine Abbey is definitely called for. This is a restful bit of psalmody from Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. I love chanted psalms in the monastic traditions - no dragging, no rushing - just an even walking tempo. Pluscarden Abbey has a splendid website - you can even find out why these monks are wearing white rather than the traditional Benedictine black.

So pay them a visit on this feast day (or any day) and consider that the work of Benedict still continues throughout the world and pray that it continue forever.

And why not enjoy some bread today in honor of St. Benedict? You can read the story about the saint and the raven and the bread here. Saints and food are always enjoyable associations.

Monastic Family of Bethlehem

The Monastic Family of Bethlehem offers another window into the world of contemporary chant. The full title is the Monastic Family of Bethlehem, of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno. Founded by some French pilgrims in Rome in 1950, the reference to St. Bruno lets you know that their spirituality is Carthusian. The contemplative nuns were founded soon after and the brothers, in 1976. I have two CDs of their chant from the monasteries in Israel with chants in Arabic and Hebrew and Latin. They are quite unique and beautiful. Interestingly, several of the newer French-originated orders are strongly influenced by the iconography and practice of the Eastern church.

If you’re looking for them in the USA, there is a monastery of nuns in Livingston Manor, New York. The late Cardinal John O’Connor gave them an old summer camp. Here’s their website. Of course, this is the French language site, but a translation in English is also available.