A monastery of Benedictine nuns living in seclusion in southern France has opened its doors to allow recordings of its Gregorian chants to be made available to the outside world, reports The Guardian.
In what is believed to be the largest recording project ever conducted, the US musician John Anderson followed the 45-strong order for three years. He installed microphones in the abbey church of Notre-Dame de Fidélité de Jouques near Aix-en-Provence in southern France and captured the nuns singing their eight daily “offices”. The result is thousands of chants, the entire Gregorian repertoire, about 7,000 hours long.
The Gregorian chant originated in the 8th-Century and spread throughout Europe. It accords to St Benedict’s “rule”, in which the day is divided into balanced divisions of manual and intellectual work, prayer and rest, starting at 5am with the chanting of matins, and concluding with compline at 8pm, followed by the “great silence” of night.
The Jouques nuns’ lead a strict life of contemplation in which they recite the chants daily.
The abbey, which has its own congregation, is closed for Easter as a result of rules applied to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “Because of the measures taken ... we can no longer admit worshippers to our abbey’s church, and we are deeply sorry for it,” the nuns said.
They have instead allowed the release of a week’s worth of their chants (https://www.neumz.com/) for the six days Christians refer to as holy week, preceding Easter Sunday, the highlight of the religious calendar, when the chants have a particular importance. The rest is to go live next month.
The chants are presented together with their simple scores, Latin texts and translations, allowing subscribers to sing together with the nuns.
Anderson was inspired by the Gregorian chants after an aunt joined the convent and he visited her during his summer holidays from university.
“The community is living in communion with nature and in quiet contemplation. Their life is regularised by the rhythm of prayer and work,” he said. “The simple beauty of their singing” had had a profound influence on him, he said, and “on the sensation of time, the amount of focus it was possible to achieve in such tranquillity”.
After negotiating with the nuns for a week, he and a sound technician suspended eight low-profile microphones in the church, which recorded into a small recorder that saved the music to SD cards.
The nuns pressed “record” every time they entered the church and “stop” when they exited after each service.