Gregorian is a concept band originating from Germany. The members are not Monks. Look under their hoods and you will not find men who have taken vows of faith and prayer. Gregorian is a group that borrows from Gregorian Chant, but they are not obsessed with authenticity. They use instrumental backing, they sing contemporary pop songs, and their singing is more flamboyant.
Their first album, Sadisfaction, 1991, featured two female lead vocalists, though subsequent releases are in the Gregorian tradition of male choirs. For concerts, the choir wears monk-like robes, but the presentation is more pop concert than church pew. Below is Gregorian’s most popular track, The Sound of Silence, which has 21m views on YouTube.
It is easy to see why the video is so liked. Sound of Silence is a modern classic that is particularly suited to Gregorian-founder Frank Peterson’s desire to create a fusion of pop and choral music, with a sprinkling of new-age mysticism.
Peterson oversees the backing tracks and personally chooses the vocalists from eminent cathedral choirs and classical institutes. Gregorian is still performing. Unsurprisingly, there have been many membership changes over 17 albums, not counting compilations.
Gregorian has its roots in the first Enigma album, MCMXC a.D,1990. This album was the brainchild of Michael Cretu, who got the notion to record a new-age, worldbeat album.
For the project he brought in David Fairstein and Frank Peterson (who would start Gregorian after the completion of the first, highly successful Enigma LP). Significantly, the Enigma record included manipulated samples of actual Gregorian Chants, as can be heard on Enigma’s massively popular first single, Sadeness Pt1.
The first Gregorian album was clearly influenced by Enigma’s approach to highly produced, digitally manipulated pop, except that Peterson used singers, not samples, for the choral parts. This was a good tactic as Enigma was sued by the German choir Capella Antiqua München for the unauthorised use of choral vocal samples. The matter was settled by a pay out.
Sadisfaction, Gregorian’s first album, was followed by a hiatus of several years, until Peterson decided to re-establish Enigma as an all male choir, with a greater emphasis on the choral voicings than before. Thus began the Masters of Chant series of albums, with the first release in 1991.
Over the years, Gregorian has released interpretations of songs by artists as diverse as David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Coldplay, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Carole King, The Pogues and many more. Notably, Gregorian’s live cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, is more than twice as popular on YouTube as their next most viewed video, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which nonetheless has an impressive 10m plays.
The Sound of Silence was an important song for Simon & Garfunkel. The song first appeared on the duo’s debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M, 1964. The album made no impact, and Simon & Garfunkel disbanded. In 1965, the producer of The Sound of Silence, Tom Wilson, noticed that the song was getting played on regional radio stations in Boston and Florida. Tom Wilson took it upon himself to remix the track. He added electric instruments and drums and, in September 1965, Columbia released it as a single.
Simon & Garfunkel were only informed of the remix after the single was out. The single shot up the charts to become Simon & Garfunkel’s breakthrough hit. The duo reformed, and quickly recorded a follow up album, Sounds of Silence, which was released in January 1966 and included the remix of The Sound of Silence.