The following is the first in a three-part series on the intersection of sacred music and Catholic education, in anticipation of the forthcoming Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome. On Wednesday and Thursday we'll feature exclusive interviews with two Sisters from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles.
Kevin and Monica Fitzgibbons are the husband and wife team behind De Montfort Music. They met, and have an extensive background in the entertainment industry. Kevin has worked with the PolyGram Label, and Columbia Records/Sony. Monica has worked for PolyGram and DreamWorks, SKG. In 2007, they launched Aim Higher Media, to encourage the release of positive art. In 2012, they launched De Montfort Music to release sacred music and chant.
Their first album, Advent at Ephesus, was the bestselling classical album the year it was released. They have just recently released their new album, Angels and Saints at Ephesus, also featuring the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. It has been in the No. 1 spot on Billboard magazine's Classical Traditional Music Chart for the past four weeks.
Were you surprised by the reception your first chart-topping album, Advent at Ephesus, received?
Kevin: The short answer is yes, but then again with The Holy Ghost clearly there bringing this music out - we should not have been so surprised. But one thing we were not surprised about was that it really made an impact on many people who were drawn in by the elegant beauty of the Sisters, and their music, but also their talent. We received many comments as well about the fact that this was music specifically for Advent and often many will begin playing the Christmas Music right after Thanksgiving so this was an opportunity to have music to listen to that very much was a compendium to the liturgical season of Advent.
What led you to leave the secular music industry and start De Montfort Music?
Monica: This could be a long answer! To begin with - on a superficial level - we were both realizing that the art we were promoting was very much recycled themes and so just on a quality level we were getting ready to move on towards a new challenge.
Of course it is all explained better on the Supernatural level though and if there was one major catalyst that brought us to this path it would definitely be the Sacrament of Marriage. Once we made the commitment in the Sacrament, Our Lord found His way into our hearts and our marriage. Never ones to want to do things half-heartedly, we decided that we wanted to know more about the Faith. There would be gifts that would happen to us in our married vocation which would amaze - where no explanation could suffice - and this would profoundly move us towards gratitude in Our Lord. As well in times of trouble when the earthly crutches were not enough we began to search for Divine Assistance and there we were led to The Sacred Heart of Jesus through Mary, as well as the lives of the Saints. Having children heightened these inspirations. These are the things that led us to have to take a long hard look at our lives and our careers, which, without us realizing it, had become an all-encompassing lifestyle for us.
We began Aim Higher Entertainment in 2007 as a way to try to help artists to license their music and really to try to bring more unique and positive entertainment to the culture. It was from there that Kevin wanted to have De Montfort Music as a place solely for religious to release their music so that they would know they had their own "haven" so to speak to release their music.
What do you see as De Montfort Music’s mission?
Kevin: Our motto is "Dedicated to the True and Beautiful." With that said, our focus is to provide a platform for Religious communities to showcase to the world the very beautiful traditions of sacred music but also music that is unique to their communities. It's remarkable how the music can vary from community to community. And we also have found ways to help them release original compositions of their own, which has been very gratifying. We hope this will add to the rich treasure that we all enjoy in The Catholic Church, of religious using their gifts and vocations to create music for the ages.
In what ways did your own education help or hinder an appreciation for the faith, liturgy, and sacred music?
Monica: I grew up in a musical household. I always say my Mother was a classically trained musician. She will downplay this, but now that I have been deeply involved in the arts for some time, I would place her right up there with some of the most musical people I have encountered. She taught us to sing as a choir as a family. Also her Mother was a Jazz musician and that is a story in and of itself. My brother is the cantor and a lead tenor in the Orlando Cathedral Choir of St. James and somewhat of a "human audio file" so he has been a big influence in getting us directed towards discovering all of the best recordings of Sacred Music, Palestrina, etc. Then there would be the many Sunday afternoons that my father would take us for a long drive and play us his favorite pieces of Vivaldi, etc at loud decibels! And in between tell us about what he knew, he always went for the history of it all. So actually it was in the home where the education on Sacred Music took place because I don't recall it being much in our parish growing up. When I went to college at Boston University, I would attend mass over at St. Paul's in Cambridge, which I believe has the only boys choir school in America. The parish was one of the first opportunities I had to experience Sacred Music in conjunction with the liturgy in a big Cathedral-like setting. Years later I attended a solemn high Mass and that will always be counted among one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Kevin became interested in Sacred Music when we would attend Mass at the Cathedral in Phoenix, St. Simon and Jude - wonderful sacred music there - Kevin had never really known or heard much of it previously but was very drawn to Gregorian Chant and still is to this day.
The new album is titled Angels and Saints at Ephesus. How is the new album similar to or different from the first?
Kevin: All of the music will have a similar theme from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in that it is music reflective of the music they sing of their Benedictine spirituality. This music is part of their rule of life, they sing the Divine Office eight times per day. For instance, Angels and Saints at Ephesus features music that the Benedictines may sing on different feast days throughout the liturgical year. Advent at Ephesus includes selections of music they are chanting and praying in preparation for Christ's birth. This new album is obviously a broad collection that allows a listener to enjoy it throughout the year and was a response to those who asked for music which could be listened to beyond the Advent Season.
Do you have any hopes that your focus on, and the interest in, sacred music, might lead to further integration of sacred music in Catholic education?
Monica: Absolutely! Our goal has been to try to infuse into the culture the truest form of higher art. Kevin and I have observed that much of the trajectory of education originates in the culture. A Holy priest once told us: you are what you contemplate. When one is listening to the music of Angels and Saints at Ephesus (for example!), it brings one to a contemplative experience of a bit of Heaven. Also there is a deep history to this music and it can be studied for its historical significance - which can bring about an incredible sense of the enormity of The Faith and awe of Our Creator. We have an app which makes available several homilies of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and one that sticks out would be where he is reading from (in his times) the Apocalypse and notes that we can expect Heaven to be what is depicted there - and if we don't begin to prepare ourselves now for that-then we are not preparing for Heaven. Those depictions are laden with all kinds of descriptions of angelic sacred singing etc. So to educate about Sacred Music is to educate about Heaven. The very first school we looked at for our son was run by the Carmelites and they had a sign above the entrance: "Our goal is to graduate souls to Heaven." That made a huge impact on Kevin and me.
What do you make of the attention given to reverent liturgy at many of The Newman Guide colleges, given that some the Sisters of the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles have graduated from those schools?
Kevin: It's imperative. That window of the typical college aged student is a very pivotal one, formation wise. To be away from home and concentrating heavily on one's education is an exciting time but there is much room to get distracted by the whole environment. So to have a reverent liturgy on campus, is going to bring about a sense of maturity on both the natural and Supernatural orders. Additionally reverence towards the Liturgy produces a deeper love for Holy Mother Church which, in turn develops piety and piety produces Saints. I think the least we can do, as so many in our church both past and present have been martyred for the Truth, would be to keep the Catholic faith alive and flourishing through a properly formed next generation. It is what attracts our Protestant and non-believer friends and produces vocations. We have been encouraged by how many vocations have come out of these Colleges which you have featured in The Newman Guide. In the words of Bl. Pope John Paul II, "In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences."
Why did De Montfort Music decide to co-sponsor the Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome this summer?
Monica: Some friends had mentioned the conference to us and the more we read about it, the more we were very excited about what they have arranged there. This was an opportunity to explore the sacred liturgy but also to bring together some of the leaders in our Church who can help to further educate and spur each other on towards courageous orthodoxy in the liturgy and beyond. We are going to be specifically supporting the Sacred Music initiatives to be explored there, but we are very supportive of the entire event. Hopefully there will be a great turn out and enthusiasm resulting.They've certainly done a fantastic job getting the word out internationally.
What’s next for De Montfort Music?
Kevin: We have the great honor and privilege of releasing The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist which will be their debut recording of Sacred Music from their community, which will be released August 13.
Monica: We have had the chance to hear some of the early mixes and it is absolutely beautiful. Beyond that we have other plans in the works and we will see where The Holy Spirit takes us.
Kevin: Thank you very much for taking the time out for De Montfort Music. We are big fans of what you are doing at The Cardinal Newman Society, a much needed apostolate in our world today.
Monica: Yes, thank you so much and God bless you!
We remind readers that The Cardinal Newman Society has partnered with De Montfort Music to host a student writing contest. We'll be awarding five free CDS of Angels and Saints at Ephesus for the best essays from Newman Guide college students on how sacred music and the liturgy have been been integral to their Catholic education. The complete contest details are located here.
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