Composer calls on contemplation - Catholic Courier

Composer calls on contemplation

Gregory Norbet was taking liberties with a music piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff when his piano teacher pointed out that he was improvising rather than playing every note.

The incident was one of the first times he began to create his own music; he honed the skill at the keys of his grandfather’s piano.

For more than 40 years, he has been writing serene, contemplative hymns. Some draw on the 21 years he had spent as a Benedictine monk with the Weston Priory in Vermont and the Gregorian chant that he and other monks performed there, while others glean inspiration from Biblical passages or prayers.

Norbet will present a concert of his music at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at St. Joseph’s Church, 43 Gebhardt Road, Penfield.

A native of the small town of Amenia, N.Y., about two hours north of New York City, Norbet said he grew up attending nearly all of his parish’s events with his family. He recalled the organist planning prayerful, reverential liturgies that included Gregorian chant.

“Holy Week and Easter were celebrated, to me, so beautifully with character,” said Norbet, speaking during a telephone interview from his New Hampshire home.

In that faith-filled upbringing, Norbet decided to enter the Franciscan Friars of Atonement at its Graymoor Spiritual Life Center in Garrison, N.Y., as a postulant and later as a novice.

“As a young person, I felt the desire to give my whole self to God,” Norbet said.

After two years, he decided to enter the Weston Priory, where he began to direct a choir of monks.

“Music has always sounded in my soul, and it was my chance to live that gift from God,” Norbet said.

After some time, the monks were able to expand their music selections beyond chant. But they had difficulty finding music that suited the choir. So, Norbet began writing music for Holy Week in 1965.

“It was like taking the cork out of a champagne bottle,” Norbet said. “It never stopped.”

The monks recorded their first album, “Locusts and Wild Honey,” in 1971. They had intended to simply publish the score for their music, but their music publisher at the time suggested they record an album to show parishes how the music should sound.

Through a connection made by their copyright attorney, an ABC national news crew came to the monastery to film the monks’ music and their lives, which helped the album and 20 others sell nationally. Norbet left the priory to earn his master’s degree in spiritual direction and pastoral studies in Chicago. He began doing full-time ministry for church renewals and spiritual development in individuals in 1987 through the nonprofit foundation he directs, the Hosea Foundation.

He is married to visual artist Kathryn Carrington, who is known for her paintings of sacred icons. She also has worked as a coproducer on several of Norbet’s albums, including his latest, “Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer Volume 3,” which he expects to release in the spring.

“Her art is so uplifting to me,” Norbet said.

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