Monks Rock the Charts

In the glow of success from their new CD, the brothers of Heiligenkreuz come back down to Earth

On The Town | Marlies Dachler | June 2008

Within a week of the release on May 19, the Austrian Cistercian monks of Heiligenkreuz rocketed to No. 9 on the UK album pop charts and No. 1 on the classical charts with their Gregorian chant album Chant-Music for Paradise. The monks had won a recording contract with Universal Classics in March after auditioning on internet platform YouTube with a video – an elegant portrait of music and spirituality that had now been watched by some 150,000 viewers. [See "Singing Monks of Heiligenkreuz", TVR, April 2008]

"We’re overjoyed, and really did not think that so many people would like the album so much," confirmed  press spokesperson Father Karl. "We hope that all who listen to it find calm and strength in those thousand-year-old melodies."

The monks also made clear that despite of their success, they were not planning on touring the world like pop stars. Their chant was dedicated to God, they said, and if people wanted to listen to it "live," they were most welcome to attend the Morning Prayer at 5:15 AM in the monastery just outside of Vienna, Father Karl said in an television interview with Vera Exklusiv on ORF2.

The income received from sales of the CD will be used for the education of monks from poor countries, mainly Vietnam and Sri Lanka. At the moment, 16 monks from African and Asian countries are studying at the papal philosophical and theological college Benedikt XVI in Heiligenkreuz.

"The recording contract was a miracle. We still can’t believe the whole story," Father Karl said in the monastery’s official ‘Making-Of’ video clip. He recounted how on the last day of applications, someone had sent him a link via e-mail accompanied by the words schnell, schnell (quick, quick). So he up-loaded the video and entered the monks’ work.

The recording studio was set up in a small church, with the monks standing in the direction of the altar in order to create the most spiritual environment to work in. This was important, Father Karl explained, "because we sing the words given to us by God back to him in praise."

Buyers on, where the CD is the 6th most sold item in the music category, have described the music as "very deep and moving" and pointed out that you could hear the monk’s passion for the chant.

"Gregorian chant comes from the heart," Father Karl emphasized. "It’s like angels singing."

The Artist Development Manager of Universal Classics and Jazz confirmed this reaction: "They are simply the best Gregorian singers we have heard," said Tom Lewis. "They make a magical sound, which is calming and deeply moving."

Chant music, one of the oldest forms of music, in general, seems to revive in an age characterized by a hectic lifestyle oftentimes disconnected from God’s spirit. Since 2006, for example, the Catalonian Buddhist monastery Sakya Tashi Ling, one of the oldest Tibetan traditions of Buddhism, has successfully released two albums, called My Spirit Flies to You, and Monjes Budistas: Live Mantra. Their style being a hybrid form of Buddhist chants and pop music, it has won over the hearts of old and young, spiritual or atheist.

The monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz will, in spite of their huge success, or maybe because of it, continue to practice Gregorian chant as envisaged by the founder of the monastery, the oldest continuously occupied Cistercian one in the world, established by Margrave Leopold III of Austria, later known as Saint Leopold:

"To open our hearts, and purify our  souls, in order to regain clarity, light, strength, and peace."

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