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Jerome Taylor

Jerome Taylor first came to The Independent in 2005 and joined the Foreign Desk. He is now a news reporter and The Independent's religious affairs correspondent. He will be exploring the issues affecting Britain's religious and ethnic minority communities on Minority Report

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Pope to bring out debut album

Posted by Jerome Taylor
  • Wednesday, 30 September 2009 at 10:20 am
As leader of the world’s more than one billion Roman Catholics, it is fair to say that Pope Benedict XVI has a rather large fan base. Even in these celebrity soaked days there are few pop stars in this world who can command same loyalty from their followers or bring in the sheer crowds that a pontiff can.

Which might help explain why one of the world’s largest record labels is bringing out an album by Pope Benedict just in time for Christmas.

Geffen Records, better known for launching the careers of Guns N Roses, Nirvana, Elton John and Snoop Dogg, has snapped up the rights to Alma Mater, the Pope’s first album on which the 82-year-old sings and eulogises in no less than five languages.

The Vatican began recording the album earlier this year with three composers – an Italian Catholic, a Moroccan Muslim and a British film composer who happily describes himself as “undeclared”.

The album is a remarkable initiative for a Pope who is not particularly well known for his artistic flair. Unlike his predecessor John-Paul II, who was a budding actor before he joined the Church and remained a prolific poet during his days in the Vatican, Benedict earned the respect of his peers thanks to his fiercely cerebral and academic mind. But those involved in the project say the Pope is a remarkably good singer with a profound musical nous.

“It’s true that John-Paul had a mesmerising voice, but Benedict’s is also amazing,” says Simon Boswell, the British composer who was spent much of the past eight months working on the album alongside Italian composer Stefano Mainetti, and Nour Eddine, from Morocco. “His voice in incredibly gentle and warm, it really surprised me and it fits the music perfectly.”

Vincent Messina, the album’s producer, said he hoped the wide range of beliefs of the composers would give a distinctly ecumenical touch to the music that would appeal far beyond a traditional Roman Catholic audience.

"These three composers are world class and my first choices for the album," he said. "[It is] a happy coincidence that Stefano is Catholic, Simon is 'undeclared' and Nour is Muslim, thus perfectly representing our aim to produce an album that has universal appeal to all of those who love beautiful music.”

The album, which Geffen have scheduled a 29 November release date for, is a series of Lauretan litanies and prayers set to classical Gregorian music which is sung by the Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome, thought to be the world’s oldest continual choir. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra also provide the musical score and were recorded at Abbey Road studios earlier in the summer.

For Boswell, who is best known in Britain for his work on the films Shallow Grave and Hackers, Gregorian music was something of a departure from his usual area of expertise. He came on board the project because he also works in the Italian film industry where he has gained a strong reputation. “If anything my musical career began doing Italian films in Rome where, ultimately, I’m much better known. But being involved in the Pope’s album was a truly inspirational experience. One night we were recording this beautiful Gregorian choir in the middle of St Peter’s Basilica and the sound was utterly compelling.”

Eddine was equally surprised to be asked to write music for the Pontiff because his background is traditional Arabic music. "But I then discovered that Gregorian chants and Arabic melody has deep historical roots in the Muslim world as well as the Christian world," he said. "It was a magical moment for me when the tradition of the Gregorian and my Arabic melody came together so harmoniously."

The Pope himself was unable to come into the studio to record with the choir but the Vatican sent in recordings of his vocals and speeches that had been made at previous services and masses. Geffen are hoping to host a string of concerts to go with the album’s release, one of which will be in London. It is unlikely, however, that the Pope will be stepping up to the microphone for a world tour but when he visits the UK next summer, his followers will no doubt be keen for an impromptu gig or two along the way.


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Saturday, 9 April 2011 at 08:34 pm (UTC)
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Thursday, 14 April 2011 at 09:08 pm (UTC)
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