Tuesday, February 13, 2007

From the Sublime to Something Else

Many are the joys of working in a library at a university with an excellent music school. You meet the most interesting music. This month I discovered a sublimely beautiful CD of Irish songs. It's Caoineadh na Maighdine/The Virgin's Lament: Irish music ranging from a pagan keen – a lament for the dead – to Latin plainchant and medieval Passion ballads to a traditional Christmas carol; variously sung in Gaelic, Latin and English by soprano Noirin Ni Riain and the Benedictine monks of Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick. Noirin Ni Riain sounds more like an angel than anything on the mortal side of hammered dulcimers. The singing of the monks is beautiful in a very different way. One voice has a slight rough edge that makes his song sound incredibly real.

The good Benedictine brothers' involvement in a CD containing pagan musical elements, particularly a keen, comes as a bit of a surprise. My quick research indicates that the Roman Catholic Church at one time outlawed the keens of Ireland. On the other hand, the Roman Church does sometimes change its mind, eventually (see: Galileo) and does sometimes tolerate the envelope of the permissible being pushed (see: Fr. Andrew Greeley, who's not only still frocked but doing brisk business from his Website.)

Then this week I heard about a CD performed by the Brotherhood of St. Gregory Choir. This CD is Gregorian chant (how wonderful) settings of modern music (how remarkable.)

To be exact, it's Gregorian chant settings of songs of Elvis Presley (!!)

Yet doesn't seem to be parody. As far as I can find out, the Brotherhood of St. Gregory is an Episcopalian religious community – one with a really good Gregorian choir. I don't know what Gregorian Chant Elvis sounds like. Someone has it checked out. As soon as I catch it back in the library, I've got to hear this one. Among the tunes soberly detailed in the CD's bibliographic record are Heartbreak Hotel, Stuck On You, Love Me Tender, and Can't Help Falling in Love.

And on that note, Happy Valentine's Day.

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