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Gregorian chants are a hit at this Nebraska seminary

Spending 13 weeks at the top of the classical music charts, a group of priests are reinvigorating an early musical genre. Special correspondent Dennis Kellogg of NET reports from eastern Nebraska.

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  • William Brangham:

    A recent chart-topping musical recording came from a group you wouldn't expect in a place you wouldn't expect.

    From PBS station NET in Nebraska, Dennis Kellogg has our story.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    When you hear Gregorian chants, ancient churches and monasteries in Europe may come to mind, but these chants are thousands of miles and hundreds of years closer.

    Tucked away on the plains of Eastern Nebraska, you will find Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. The sounds coming from inside the church here bring the past right into the present.

  • Father Zachary Akers:

    To some extent, this music is from the early Christians, we believe — would have been singing something that resembles what we have now and what we call Gregorian chant.

    Some believe that, even in the Jewish synagogue, that they would have this same style of singing.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    Father Zachary Akers is a graduate of the seminary and now a priest in the Fraternity of St. Peter. As a child, his mother would play Gregorian chants to help him calm down.

  • Father Zachary Akers:

    We, as Christians, in our relationship with God, it transcends just mere words. And so we pray, not just with our mouth, but with singing, with our heart being uplifted to God.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    The chanting and the Latin lessons are part of the daily routine for the 90-some seminarians who will live and study here for seven years.

    Father Joseph Lee was the last student to be accepted into his class when he arrived in 2000. Now he's the academic dean.

  • Father Joseph Lee:

    These are obligatory. These are not electives. They have to do it, whether they went to music school before, acquired a major in the subject, or whether they're tone-deaf and cannot match pitch.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    As part of the early, more contemplative phase of their study, the seminarians don't use their names publicly.

    This young man from Washington state had an extensive musical background before coming to the seminary, starting with playing the violin at age 3 and the piano shortly after.

  • Man:

    Here, we're singing sacred music, Gregorian chant. We're not necessarily performing the music. We are praying the music.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    Those prayers are now being heard by people well beyond the walls of the church. A record company, De Montfort Music, approached the Fraternity of St. Peter about making a recording of Gregorian chants.

    So, they gathered 12 of the most musically talented graduates from the seminary, priests from across the world, and produced "Requiem."

  • Father Zachary Akers:

    It's a Latin word that means rest.

    And for this album, it's a selection of music that is simply the Catholic Church's musical list for a funeral mass. We all experience death and we all experience the — our return to our maker, our creator.

    And this is something that is very transcendent, and I think the music really expresses this reality as well.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    Father Akers and Father Lee are both among those participating in the "Requiem" project.

    The recording seemed to strike a chord when it was released last spring, spending 13 straight weeks at the top of the classical music charts. The Gregorian chant has found a new audience.

  • Father Joseph Lee:

    It's universal.

    It's a unifying, bonding element that transcends fads, transcends fashions, transcends geography, transcends time. And it's able to unite people, regardless of their race or who they think is going to win the World Series or what kind of food they enjoy eating.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    Maybe it's not such a surprise that a recording of priests praying Gregorian chants has become a success. After all, they have been practicing for hundreds of years.

  • Father Zachary Akers:

    Gregorian chant is not something that is just of olden days that's being sung at some small monastery in Spain. This is something that is very much a part of our life as Catholics.

  • Dennis Kellogg:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Dennis Kellogg near Denton, Nebraska.

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