There are approximately 35 Benedictine monks who live in a secluded monastery in Albiquiu, NM. Their ages range from early 20's to early 90's and they are from all over the world.
Many of them were professionals and/or scholars before they entered the monastery. For example, one Brother used to run the National Symphony and Opera of Mexico City. One Brother was an Investment Banker - he is now in charge of candle making!
There are three pillars to Monks' lives: Reading, Working and Praying. From 3:45AM - 7:30PM they are engaged in these three activities.
While they do have some donations, these Monks for the most part are completely self-sufficient. They work together as a community to create goods and services in order to sustain their lives and main goal of praying.
People of any faith or no faith can stay at the monastery and live like a Monk for days or months. Everyone from rabbis to artists to celebrities seek out this hotel as a place of retreat.
The Monk’s brew their own beer called “Monk’s Ale.” They are the only monastery in the US to have a working on-site brewery. They have a beer called Monk's Ale and Monk's Wit in the market place and they are working on a third one. Originally their beer was made off site at a brewery a few hours away but they just got their license to make it on site. Their slogan is “Monk's Ale - Made With Care and Prayer.” They grow the hops on site. The business is run by the monks and a man named Berkeley Merchant who is an entrepreneur who gave up his life to help get this monastery and beer off the ground.
They answer prayer requests via the Internet. Abbott Phillip sends a weekly newsletter with his thoughts and views on the world and how we can relate certain teachings to our own lives via “The Abbott’s Notebook.”
All of the buildings were designed by the famous architect George Nakashima. Christ In The Desert was a place that Georgia O'Keefe loved to paint. She would go there often.
The entire facility is solar-powered and achieved a National Green Award.
In 2006 the monastery was the setting for a TLC documentary program entitled "The Monastery.” The series followed the experiences of five laymen who lived in the monastery and observed the monastic way of life for forty days. The series was filmed in early 2006 and was originally broadcast in five episodes in the US on the TLC network in Oct-Nov 2006.
In 1995 the monastery published a web site -- www.christdesert.org -- that gained international fame and became one of the world's most visited web sites in the years 1995-1997. The monastery and their web scriptorium made the front page of numerous publications worldwide in feature stories distributed via the AP wire (in 1995) and the NY Times wire (in 1996). Print coverage included page one of the Sunday New York Times, a full color double page spread in USA Today, and the lead in a cover story in Time Magazine. Television feature stories ran on CNN International, CBS Sunday Morning, ABC World News Tonight and Brazil's Fantastico.
The Monks of the Desert bring Gregorian Chants to the mainstream via Sony Masterworks
The Monks of the Desert, who spend their daily hours praying for peace, working and studying in silence, have entered the realm of major label music production with their Sony MASTERWORKS debut album Blessings, Peace and Harmony which will be released on April 24, 2012.
Blessings, Peace and Harmony compiles selections from the Monks' four independent recordings of Gregorian chant, and also features four new chants recorded expressly for this new collection. Named after Pope Gregory I, Gregorian chant involves the early Christian liturgical music that originated in medieval times and forms the roots of Western classical music. Consisting solely of melody, the chants are sung unaccompanied and generally by small choral groups--and through the ages have continuously supplied listeners of all circumstances with a soothing sense of solace.
"The kind of singing that we do calms the spirit and helps us live in peace with our world and with one another," says Abbot Philip Lawrence, a scholar of chant who also leads the Monastery of Christ In The Desert - home to an American order of Benedictine monks from Abiquiu, New Mexico. "Chanting has some strange effect on the brain waves according to various studies," continues Abbot Philip, but this effect is certainly not the Monks of the Desert's objective; rather their goal, and that of Gregorian chant, notes Abbot Philip, is "to focus on the words rather than the challenge of voice production or sight reading. It is always our hope that our singing will bring others to peace, inner tranquility and an appreciation of beauty. These values can help create a world in which peace and tranquility prevail."
The unique vibrations from Gregorian chants are not uncommon to mainstream music and can be found in classic works such as Handel’s Messiah and Ave Maria. As Abbot Philip suggests, science has discovered various health benefits of chanting. In the late 60s, Alfred Tomatis, a French Physician and specialist in the function of the human ear, conducted an experiment with a Benedictine monastery where the monks were suffering from fatigue and depression. Tomatis discovered that a new decree had halted the usual six to eight hours of chanting the monks had previously observed and, within a short time, the monks were unable to perform their duties. When Tomatis suggested re-instituting their daily chanting, the monks recovered quickly and were able to resume their demanding schedule of work and prayers. Tomatis concluded that chanting actually affects the bones of a human being, stimulated at about 2000 Hz. The sounds of chanting, he concluded, are produced literally from the bones, not the mouth.
The Monks of The Desert observe a strict daily prayer schedule called Divine Office, or Opus Dei, which takes place seven times during the day and once at night, starting at 4:00am and ending at 7:30pm. When not praying or studying, the monks run a multitude of self-sustaining businesses including light manufacturing, brewing beer (the only monastery in the U.S. to have a working on-site brewery), an on-site “hotel” where famous celebrities often visit anonymously, a community thrift store in Santa Fe and a separate retail store specializing in hand-crafted religious items, books, music, and folk art.
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert is located completely “off-the-grid” in the Chama Canyon wilderness in northwestern New Mexico, about 75 miles north of Santa Fe and 53 miles south of Chama. The solar-powered facility is surrounded by miles of government-protected wilderness, thus assuring and promoting solitude and quiet for the religious life experienced by men from several nations.
Blessings, Peace and Harmony was designed to deliver a solid overall background of Gregorian chant. Approximately two-thirds of the music comes from the Catholic Mass, and is sung in Latin. The Monks of the Desert chose the particular repertoire on the album because they reflect aspects of monastic life throughout the year. The most wonderful aspect of Gregorian chant in a monastic community, concludes Abbot Philip, "is its ability to allow for everyone to sing and yet also provide opportunities for monks who really love music to become more or less specialists. Most of the great monastic choirs have relied on a relatively small number of wonderful voices which are able to sustain the whole choir. Thus, the whole might easily sound better than the individual voices."
Sony Masterworks USA comprises the Masterworks Broadway, Masterworks, Masterworks Jazz, RCA Red Seal and Sony Classical imprints. For email updates and information please visit www.SonyMasterworks.com.