What was old is new.
No longer the cathedral’s
Stone walls its boundary.
Ancient words and tunes
Lend peace, a balm and refuge
In this busy world.
The top of the charts
Means little to the singers;
The music endures.
It’s rare to see a broadcast news story about ancient music, so I was greatly surprised by the report on CBS TV’s show Sunday Morning presented by Allen Pizzey on Gregorian chant, or plainchant.
As a side note, I particularly like Howard Goodall’s commentary on plainchant:
This chant, also called plainchant or plainsong, has by default often been described as ‘Gregorian’ chant, after Gregory the Great, who was Pope at the end of the sixth century. It is beautiful, ancient, mysterious and—in its incredible test of human memory—miraculous. What it is not, we now know, is anything to do with Pope Gregory. 
The news story was prompted by the fact that a new chant recording has been made by monks in the monastery of Norcia, Italy. Benedicta has hit No. 1 on Billboard’s classical music chart. You can hear snippets from the album at the monastery link above.
This recording joins a few chart-topping predecessors.
Chant reached No 3. on the Billboard 200 music chart. You can hear samples from the Chant recordings at the monastery site.
Another chart-topper was Advent at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Here is a track from one of their CDs. [Paragraph amended to include] I could not find a video of a chant performance, but this was too lovely not to include. There are chants interspersed with angelic polyphony on their recordings.
Another recording of note is Blessings, Peace, and Harmony by the Monks of the Desert, performed by monks at a monastery outside Santa Fe, New Mexico in the United States. This recording is more intimate; in fact, it sounds like you’re in the same small room with the singers. There is something special about this recording, I’m not sure how to describe it. For example, when the monks sing Salve Mater, it’s as though you can sense them smiling as they sing. Samples are provided in this article on the music from NPR.
Plainchant is not going to be to everyone’s taste. But some may find this uncluttered music very peaceful in today’s fast-paced, complicated world. Why not give it a try?
1. Howard Goodall, The Story of Music. NY: Pegasus Books, 2013 p 18.
Image attribution: Detail from a psalter (1501-2, Verona, Italy) by Girolamo dai Libri (1474-1555). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1912. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/463605?rpp=30&pg=1&ft=manuscript+monks+chanting&pos=1