OC swapped leather for cashmere last week during a quick dip from chilly Milan to mild Tuscany to meet 34-year-old brother tenor Friar Alessandro, the first of his kind to secure a record deal, from Decca Records, for his round, warm lyric tenor.
OC chatted with the brown-robed friar from the Last Supper-fresco refectory of Assisi's Santa Maria degli Angeli in his gregarious, native Italian. Citing musical influences as diverse as Johann Sebastian Bach and Michael Jackson, Friar Alessandro calls his voice, "a gift from God to share with everyone," and sings out of pure devotion.
Read the full interview here on Grazia.it, or if your Italian's rusty, the English translation (and a couple photos) are below the cut!
Santa Maria Degli Angeli
Although Friar Alessandro Brustenghi dresses in the identical vestments as his brothers at Santa Maria degli Angeli's Papal Basilica in Assisi, he's different – his soaring lyric tenor voice has earned him a Decca Records contract. The thirty-four year old Franciscan friar is the first of his kind to sign to a major record deal, and now, the world awaits the October 15th global launch of his debut CD of sacred arias and classical music called "Voice of Assisi". The CD, recorded at London's Abbey Road Studios, is full of inspirational tracks by Mascagni, Bellini, Schubert and Faure, and profits will be donated to the Order of Minor Friars.
Born in Perugia in 1978, Friar Alessandro entered the religious family at 21 and now lives at Porziuncola, the spiritual center of the Franciscan order. His life is devoted to worship through singing the liturgies celebrated in the monastery, just as the 13th century founding father Saint Francis of Assisi had sung.
Question: Friar Alessandro, What's an average day like for a friar?
Answer: Most days are totally varied but the thing that makes them alike is prayer and common acts. It goes like this: The mornings are full of the Lord's prayers and mass. At noon and at evening, vespers and meditation. Lunch, dinner and breakfast are moments in which all of us friars find each other together. Then between those breaks, we have other commitments. Myself for example? I keep myself busy with the animation of the liturgy in the basilica and then reception of the pilgrims. I play music and sing for mass and I run guided tours of the sanctuary. Or else I work in the reception hall, teach singing classes, prepare the details for celebrations such as booklets and leaflets. In my free time, I'm handy with wood and tools so I restore antique furniture.
Question: Do you play any instruments?
Answer: I studied the organ and then the piano, but I didn't take it to the end of my studies. When I was younger, I really loved improvising fugues. I'm a great at counterpoint. Every once in a while, I play the clarinet. My great grandfather was a clarinetist in a local country band. I also like to play the trumpet because it helps with breathing exercises to aid my singing.
Question: Do you also compose music?
Answer: Yes, I compose all different types of music. I write pop songs, songs for evangelism and church music, and also music that's not sacred. I'm a bit of a poet and I love to write stories and tales.
Question: Who are the musicians who have most influenced and inspired you?
Answer: Johann Sebastian Bach and Michael Jackson. I know that they seem totally divergent, but in reality, they’ve got a lot in common. They both recognize God as the source and inspiration of their music. In fact, Bach would write "Soli Deo Gloria" at the end of his compositions and Michael Jackson always explained that the origin of his music was from divine inspiration. That man had a deep spirituality. I had always heard this and I've felt it, too. It was like this that he created a deep connection...and also, there was a part of this type of rhythmic music that could be akin to Baroque, if you will. Because Michael Jackson has a bit of Baroque in his works, like in the universal elements that he added continuously to his work. There's a line and a base and at the base he adds and adds and adds and adds -- it references a Baroque technique. In fact, Bach did the same thing to the compositional structure. And then he extrapolated.
Question: Do you sing more out of a sense of gratitude or devotion?
Answer: I'd have to say that singing is part of an intimate communion with God.
Question: Are you unique or do you believe that you're part of an internal change within the Franciscan Friar order...someone who's designed to reach a younger generation and a more diverse audience?
Answer: I'm not sure exactly what's happening now, but it's likely that God is speaking in this way. So many people say to me, "It's odd -- a friar that becomes famous -- it seems contrary to the vow of humility. But Saint Francis was famous in his time. Many other Friars became famous, too. San Bernardino. San Leonardo of Porto Maurizio. We have loads of brothers who were famous and in the end, they remained brothers. Humility depends on your heart, not what’s around you or how many people you know. It's an instrument of evangelization, to know how beautiful it is to be with Jesus -- the revolution of our life and the passion of every man.