By Kathleen Naab
ATLANTA, Georgia, NOV. 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Kevin Fitzgibbons describes his production company as one “that aims to bring the very best in the true and the beautiful to the world.”
It’s only fitting, then, that the very first CD from De Montfort Music would focus on preparing for Christmas — the feast celebrating the arrival of Truth and Beauty to the world in the form of God-man lying in a manger.
The CD is “Advent at Ephesus” and it has debuted at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s Traditional Classical Music Chart.
“Advent at Ephesus” is a journey toward Christmas led by Our Lady. The title of the CD refers to the city where tradition holds that Mary lived with St. John, after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.
The singers, the Benedictines of Mary, are members of a contemplative order founded in 1995 in northwest Missouri. Their priory is called the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus.
Their prioress, Mother Cecilia Snell, happens to have a degree in music and is a former member of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra (she plays the french horn). Perhaps that is why Fitzgibbons, in founding an organization that aims to help monastic orders market their music without betraying their identity, discovered in the Benedictines of Mary the ideal group to launch De Montford Music. He says he heard from them musical sophistication (which one might expect with a professional musician at the lead) but without a “harshness or overly affected tone to their singing.” Something that was “very pure sounding.”
This, says Fitzgibbons, was an “unusual combination,” and one that requires “great discipline and humility.”
So with the help of Grammy® and Oscar® winner Glenn Rosenstein as producer and David Schober (Handel’s Messiah, John Rutter, Cambridge Singers, Royal Philharmonic) as engineer, the 16 tracks of “Advent at Ephesus” became a reality after three days of recording on location at the priory in Missouri.
ZENIT spoke with both Mother Cecilia and Kevin Fitzgibbons of De Montfort Music about “Advent at Ephesus.”
The q-and-a with Mother Cecilia was published Thursday; below are Fitzgibbons’ reflections on the CD and brining sacred music to the world.
With Advent beginning Sunday, Mother Cecilia says there is no better time to approach Our Lady, to live with her this season, following her lead in focusing thoughts and heart on Him, anticipating with her “the moment when she could see His face, hold Him in her arms, kiss His cheek, embrace Him with all the love of a mother’s heart.”
ZENIT: How did you find this group of nuns and what made you pick them? There are hundreds of congregations singing the same songs they sing every day.
Kevin Fitzgibbons: This is a good question and observation. My wife, Monica, and I have a background in the entertainment industry. I worked for SONY Music and my wife worked for DreamWorks, SKG for many years. We have come across much music over the span of our careers and in this instance when we heard one of the CDs that the sisters had recorded on their own, we knew there was a sophistication there, musically. However, by contrast, there was not a harshness or overly affected tone to their singing; it was very pure sounding. This was an unusual combination, and obviously was accomplished through great discipline and humility. We very much enjoyed their arrangements as well. After several months, when we casually inquired, we found out much more about their training and specifically the classical training of Mother Cecilia. When we visited them, within two minutes of hearing their singing at Vespers, Monica and I looked at each other and knew what we were hearing, in person, was even better than what we had already heard. (often times it can go the other way around!) We wanted to capture that sound and share it with the world.
ZENIT: Why launch De Montfort Music with these nuns?
Kevin Fitzgibbons: We have another entity called Aim Higher Entertainment and it has been in place for about five years in order to encourage artists to release positive music and film into the culture, but to also assist in handling the temptations of public promotion of self, which goes along with promoting the arts, and having the constant spotlight on the artist. To handle all of these prospects with grace and charity as well as obedience in terms of formation, is equally as important as the content of the artist.
Aim Higher is named after a book on St. Maxilimian Kolbe’s writings on Our Lady. If there is a virtue presented more than obedience in that book, I did not find it.
I had long wanted to have a company that would serve to help monastic orders release their music to the world without the order having to compromise the rule of life to do so. St. Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary” has been a big mountain-mover in our marriage and family faith journey. So you can see the theme: We seek to echo through art the Apostolic Motto of Blessed Pope John Paul II “Totus Tuus!”
Monica and I both agreed that the Benedictines of Mary would set a gold standard for this mission, and they have exceeded our expectations with “Advent at Ephesus.”
ZENIT: Many of our readers probably know relatively little about recording a CD. What is unique about recording a CD within the walls of a cloister?
Kevin Fitzgibbons: To begin with, much prayer and trust in Divine Providence. Then logistically, finding the right producer and engineer to create a mobile recording studio in the chapel of a priory! We had Glenn Rosenstein, a two-time Grammy Award winning producer, and David Schoeber, an excellent engineer who had just returned from the UK working on The Cambridge Singers’ recording of Handel’s Messiah. Once we worked through all of the many technical components, we were given three days by the sisters with which we could record. All of that would have been impossible without the Blessed Mother at the helm!
In addition, physically present in between Mother Cecilia as the singing conductor and the choir of the sisters, stood the first class relics of St. Therese and St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast days fell during the recording. The result is the 16 tracks that make up “Advent at Ephesus.” We have received many comments about the fact that upon listening to the music, one feels as if he or she has been transported to the chapel of the monastery. That is again, exactly what we felt, with much assistance, we had to accomplish.
ZENIT: So you are aiming to bring sacred music to the market. Why? What is the reason behind your own interest in sacred music?
Kevin Fitzgibbons: Our goal with De Montfort Music is to bring the very best in the true and the beautiful to the world. Monica grew up in a household where there was a love of classical music, and she also started her career working under the PolyGram Group Distribution system, who distributed Decca, Philips, Deutsche Grammophon, etc. so she has always had the interest and has always brought that sensibility to the mix in our household. I am a big fan of the eclectic and of the learned musician. While at Columbia Records, I tended to champion the projects of the technically accomplished artists. When one studies the classical music genre it is filled with sacred music across the ages. Whether Mozart, Beethoven or Vivaldi … or Palestrina … the listener is exposed to rich church history in the true and beautiful music from those composers. We are interested in many kinds of music, but wanted to promote the original sources and influences in hopes of inspiring this kind of musicality in art. We hope that any art would be first spurred on by this giant ancient resource as a base. The fact that the Benedictines of Mary are essentially the artist in this situation would, in our opinion, be the best ambassador so to speak, for such a genre.
ZENIT: What will make Advent at Ephesus a success?
Kevin Fitzgibbons: On the Supernatural Order: We have learned through bringing this project to the marketplace that many people did not know about Advent, what it means or why there could be music specifically for this sacred season. Just being able to play some small part in bringing that to the forefront in the world is a pretty humbling blessing. We know of someone who is listening to this CD to help during and after chemotherapy treatments. We are hearing constantly that this music is accompanying people on a quest for peace or a quest for truth. This music undeniably points toward Heaven and we hope you will agree that a multitude of angels showed up in order to round out the choir on this masterpiece.
If one soul is helped, then we have made a success already. However what will make it a success on the practical order? If everyone reading this will promptly purchase five copies of this music!! (www.benedictinesofmary.org)!
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
Interview with Mother Cecilia: www.zenit.org/article-36062?l=english
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On the Net:
Also find Christmas at Ephesus, recorded in 2008 by the Benedictines of Mary. Purchase of “Christmas” is on special now and includes a free copy of “Advent”: http://benedictinesofmary.org/content/christmas-ephesus-0