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11.11.2010

Interview Voices: Chant from Avignon

1   GREGORIAN CHANT AND THE ROLE OF LATIN (4.5 mins)

You ask whether Gregorian chant can ‘speak’ to those who live in secular world,

if I can give you a simile, it is that man is three dimensional and in a secular world

man lives in a two dimensional, flat, way;

in a way that is without the vertical relationship with God.

It is Gregorian chant that links the two dimensional world with God

as it speaks of God and his love of Man. I think it provides the oxygen for many of those who have had enough of two dimensional living and it is through this Gregorian music that people can breathe again.

No, I don’t think Gregorian chant is in danger of dying out, we received our training from the International  Academy of Sacred Music; the School of Saint Gregory, and we continue to do so, and we know that the Academy receives more and more subscribers to its distance learning courses and for those training sessions it organises.  This is a sign of significant interest.

The Gregorian chant does not lend itself to translation. It is totally different in other languages.

So you ask us if the Gregorian chant in Latin is the purest. There is no doubt that it is.  It is written in Latin, it is a Chant that is stressed (phonetically) according to the Latin. For example in the French language, the word endings are stressed, whereas in Latin they are not. This is reflected in the Chant and it gives its lightness.  One could perhaps adapt the Chant into French but it does not give such a good result as it does in Latin.

Latin is also a much more concise language. It expresses a lot in few words, and this adds to its strength. Whereas the French language requires many more words to say the same thing.

The thing that appeals about the Gregorian chant, even to those who do not understand Latin, is its inspiration- something which cannot be created- it comes from an experience, from a meeting with God.

Can I add something? I would like to say that even if the words are not understood, people can still hear a clear meaning, one that is very profoundly delivered via the music.  A bit like if one was to hear ‘A Little Night Music’ by Mozart, there are no words, but one still understands its essence..

MUSIC AND MEDITATION (1 min 25)

Singing plays a very important part in our life since we have the responsibility of singing seven times a day

and once a night and this takes up around five hours of our time, every day.

It inspires our prayer and what we sing is important for us

as it is for God for whom we are singing.

The most important thing in prayer and song is for us to abandon our own feelings

and focus on the fact that we are singing for God.

I would say ….that we are not looking for a means of escape.

We are seeking to abandon ourselves rather than avoiding those, often very difficult, things, that God asks of us.

I would say that yes, it is a form of escape

but in the same way that it allows us to escape from ourselves, to come out of ourselves. 

I think the worst imprisonment is to be imprisoned within oneself.

Only when one can come out of oneself can one truly adore God.

ABOUT THE RECORDING

A:  Were we happy with the recording of the Gregorian chant?

B:  Yes, we very much appreciated the recording itself with the team, with their sensitivity and encouragement and we are happy with the result but one mustn’t be too pleased with oneself!

But yes, we are happy with it.

A:  They asked us if we were nervous before hand?

B: (to A) You answered the previous question better than me...about all of Tom’s compliments...yes.. yes.

A:  Is our choice of music a reflection of our own personal journey?

  1. And the third part is recognising that Christ is present and we can then begin to change ourselves from the inside and lead a different way of life and start to walk towards happiness.

B:  To have a burning heart.

ABOUT THE RECORD LABEL

A:  How do you feel to have signed a contract with the biggest record label in the world?  And have we heard of any of the artists that they have signed?  They can give us a few examples of artists.

B:  We could try!

A:  U2?  U2 are singers; rock music. 

B:  No we don’t listen to them, not rock music, no! 

Interviewer: The Rolling Stones?

B: Yes, we’ve heard of the Rolling Stones!

A: But do we listen to them!?

B: No, no! 

But we’d like to answer the first part of the question.

You asked us how it feels for us to have recorded a record with the biggest label in the world.  We have to say we never sought to do such a thing; we never thought we would make a record with Universal, even though we do make recordings from time to time.  We must also say that Universal was directed towards us by one of our Monastic friends in France.  It did frighten us a bit at first, working with Universal, and we prayed to St Joseph asking Him that should it be a good thing, in all senses, to allow it to succeed, and if it was to be something bad for us, to remove us from our vocation and allow it to fail.  It was a kind of contract with St Joseph. And since things did succeed, without us sacrificing the cloistered aspect of our lives, we think that St Joseph wanted it to happen, and we are at peace, and happy.

A:  One of the signs of the record’s success is an increase in the number of visitors we’ve had.  Is this good or bad?

A:  Do we know the pop group ABBA?

A PERSONAL STORY – ABBEY LIFE AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

B:  Um, well I could never say I was unhappy before I entered the Monastery because I was actually known by all as a very happy person.  But there was always something missing in my life.  While I was studying or working I would ask myself why am I doing this?

For me the vocation was there, in the Monastery. This was where I could do everything for God and while I didn’t have that, in the World, there was a level of dissatisfaction.  I had been always searching. I had friends, I had a happy home. But still something was missing.  I wanted to live for God and for Him only. Not long ago I said to one of my sisters, one of my biological sisters (I have five brothers and five sisters), that I would never have been happy in the World, and yet everyone thought I was at the time.  And now that I am in the Monastery I am certainly a lot happier.

B:  Well, for example, at the moment it’s really very hot, and I would love to go for a swim in the sea!  But more seriously, I think that when one lives for and with God, nothing is missing. One is complete.  There are challenges in life but there is a very deep sense of peace. In God one has everything.  Incidentally, we don’t feel cut off from the World, since we are close to God and in prayer we always consider the World.

A:  This is perhaps a question we may not wish to answer, but he asks if there are other things in life that make us happy, other than God?

C:  It’s only God who can appeal to us. In fact, we sung about this on the CD; “I left the World and all its beauty because of my love of God”. So a love of God is the only reason that one would spend one’s life in the Monastery.  There are course other aspects of Monastic life that we enjoy, but it is not for these that we stay.

B:  I agree but happiness is also a vocational criteria for those who wish to be here. Should community life for example not suit a sister and if she had lots of difficulties being kind then we’d have to say “No, this is not your vocation”.  In Monastic life one has to be relaxed and happy otherwise... One has to love this life, a life that is very straight forward, one that does not include having such things as the cinema or walks outside. One has to love, without this it would be too hard to live for God.

There is the aesthetic aspect as well. For example, in the Winter, we have no heating. So if someone really needs such comfort and cannot put up with the cold, they would never be able to live here.

A: Why do we sacrifice so many things?

B:  Over to you...

C:  I think, as we have already said, that the reason we can sacrifice so much is because we have known the love of God.  Knowing that He loves us, we can do so.

B:  And to follow him more closely.  It’s like a wife; she can sacrifice a lot for her husband. But a woman who loves no one doesn’t have a strong enough motivation to make any sacrifices.

SACRIFICES MADE IN A CLOISTERED LIFE (4min 20)

It is simply a difference of vocation.

God calls us to Monastic life, a life which is withdrawn from the world and one which contains a good amount of penitence. 

We give up having a family, our freedom,

we accept obedience and we renounce possessions and working for ourselves. 

This is not asked of others to the same extent

but if someone really wants to love God to the bitter end, they ought to make some sacrifices

because God asks, for example, for his Commandments to be obeyed

and though in the modern world this is hard, not that it’s never been easy,

sacrifices can still be made, and they are often even more heroic than ours.

You ask how one can describe God’s calling to someone who has not felt the same thing. 

What is certain is that one must have a calling in order to be in a monastery. 

It would not be enough to simply have a love of the Chant, or of an ecological life, or a simple life.

It just wouldn’t be possible to be here for all of one’s life without a calling. 

Each calling is different.

Sometimes it’s a desire to live for Him only, other times it can be the voice of an angel saying “Follow me”

and suddenly its strength takes you over.

It could also be a grace of light whilst on retreat and one decides to respond.

Then, after seven probationary years, during which the Church must decide if the calling is one that is real,

a decision is made using very objective criteria.

For example, the need to be well balanced, an ability to live a life alongside ones Sisters,

if one is too selfish, it is not possible, an ability to be obedient; it is not possible to do things in one’s own way.

When the Church superiors say yes, and it seems the vocation is a valid one, one can then become committed for three years, then permanently.

Often young girls think they have a vocation and then for one reason or another,

for example an inability to obey, we tell them ‘no’ their place is not with us.

Or if they don’t fit within the community, it’s the same.

Yes, and like we were saying earlier, if a girl is unhappy, or becomes more and more closed off, she should leave.

THE DECISION TO ENTER THE MONASTERY

A:  It’s a big question. They have asked us if we could each tell our personal story. Would you like to answer?

C:  We entered the Monastery essentially because we believed in the effectiveness of hiding oneself from the World and in doing so help those from whom we are hiding from.  Therefore we think it wouldn’t make sense to tell our story and to reveal ourselves.  We want to pray for those who listen to us and in this way hope to be a little useful for them.

B:  You ask whether when a person enters the Monastery whether we take into account their life in the World.  Of course we do. For example, if the person has suffered too much in the World it could being cloistered may well encourage their pain to return because it has no escape, and it could become quite simply unbearable for them.  If one has suffered a lot, one can be distracted from it whilst living in the World. Whereas here, we are in silence so it could take on a destructive force.  So in that case, we would tell the person that their past life has been too tough to allow them to live a Monastic life because ones sufferings will always return and that is terrible.  On the other hand, there are those who are not weighed down by their troubles.  It really depends on the person.  However, we are very discreet about the lives our Sisters had before entering the monastery.

DAILY LIFE “UBI CARITAS” 1

A:  Do we ever argue?!

B:  Of course!  No doubt about that.  St Benedict asked that the Abbot sings twice a day in Church, out loud, so that all the Sisters can hear clearly ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’  There is another section of his ‘Rule’ in which St. Benedict asks that we reconcile with each other before sunset, and it is a small, and very wonderful, custom in many monasteries that when one argues with a Sister, and these things happen, they must go on their knees, something they do often without saying anything, the other understands and does the same immediately, and pardon is given. Since St Benedict asks us to put our house in order before night fall, it means that we never have any knots in our stomach, because every day we untie these thereby keeping our hearts light.  I would like to say that there are of course rows, but not frequent ones.  Life in the monastery is a family life and the relationships are very cordial and since Christian life is based on a love of God, all of us here are focused on this, it means that rows are rare.  This is what we sing in the ‘Ubi Caritas’; ‘Don’t lets break the union of our hearts, let God always be with us’.

A:  Do we comfort each other in times of need?

C:  Yes, we comfort each other, for most of the Sisters, it can be enough to support each other with a smile; it is very comforting to come across as Sister and to see her smile or in times of recreation, to go for a walk with a Sister who is in need, but without probing her or trying to solve her problem oneself because it is the Mère Abbess who we turn to in times of need, it is she who has the answers.  There is also the Priest that one can see.

B:  In our family, we really sense each others’ support and we treat our Sisters as we would our own.  We don’t feel alone. In the World, one can often feel alone, whereas here we are always part of a family, which is a great support.

NEW SECTION

B:  If we have understood the question, you ask us if there are things in our lives that could be adapted by those living in the World. Mère Rafael talked of the routine of our lives. I would add several other things; such as study, daily reading, which plays a big part in Benedictine life, an abstinence from TV, no TV, difficult for you!