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When Music Becomes Prayer
By Renzo Allegri (Italian journalist and writer)

They are like the legendary knights errant whose hearts were full of dreams. They roam safely among us, although the world hardly notices them. They travel along solitary or little frequented paths, preferring villages where people have time to stop and chat rather than floodlit big cities. Those fortunate enough to meet them and listen to their stories are fascinated. They soon realized they have encountered true poets, genuine artists whose songs really come from the heart.

These singers, singer-songwriters, groups, choirs and bands are known as "Christian artists". They stand out because of aquality that is almost inconceivable in our modern times: they have a vocation to sing. Light music is one of those activities where, in order to be successful, artistes are often ready to do anything. This can be seen in everyday news items: many singers, whether they be more or less famous, are prepared to change partners, invent flirtatious interest, get married and have legitimate or illegitimate children. They are also ready to fake illness, misfortune, failure or supposed wealth, to embrace religious sects or to profess political ideologies in order to attract the attention of the mass media and the public and sell records. Instead, these Christian dreamers are incorrigible idealists. Their kind of music is marginalized by television, the press, radio, organizational bodies and record companies, but they take no notice. With rare exceptions, their profession offers neither wealth nor popularity, but this is not a problem. They have chosen their path through inner conviction and follow it with surprising enthusiasm and joy.

Today, popular music is frighteningly impoverished. It is subject to the laws of the market and, consequently, banal and monotonous in its inspiration. These Christian poets are the only ones who can sing freely and, taking their inspiration from lofty ideals, they offer products of considerable quality. They are not minor singers who have failed on the club circuits. No, they are talented artistes. Some had already won acclaim in the traditional music market, but then discovered spiritual values; they were called and made a courageous choice.

It is a pity that little is heard of them, even in Christian circles. I discovered them, by chance, on the Internet. I typed in "Christian music" and numerous sites came up, of as many artistes who write their songs taking inspiration from the Gospels, Our Lady, God and our great life values. And with the artistes, there were other sites belonging to organizations, sites listing events, information, festivals - marvelous!

Most of these sites are in Spanish, but many are in English and some in Italian. In Italy, one of the most important sites is that created by Paola Maschio, the wife of Roberto Bignoli who is one of the most well known Christian singer-songwriters. A truly surprising artiste, he has dedicated himself to music since he was a boy and had already made a name for himself in traditional music. Yet, at a given point, having had many experiences, some good, some less good, he re-discovered his faith. In 1984, he felt a great emptiness inside him, an implacable dissatisfaction. He took a trip to Medjugorje and came back a changed person.

A radical change that turned Roberto into a true "missionary" with his new convictions which he spreads through his music. He has brought out eight albums and fifteen international compilations. He has sung before the Pope and he always generously takes part in all Christian musical events. He also wrote the "Ballad for Mary" which has, for years, been the signature tune of "Radio Maria". Bignoli is now famous, a singer-songwriter of international renown. He has won prestigious awards but continues to sing only, as he often says, in order to "make God and God's love known". And there are many other marvelous artistes like him.

Roberto Bignoli's wife, Paola, who naturally wholeheartedly shares her husband's convictions, has chosen to work with him "making known" "Christian music" through the new means of communication, and particularly the Internet. She has created a site, www.informusic.it, that gives information on events, programs, appointments, concerts and festivals. She has put together a series of biographical details on 109 Christian artistes. Reading them, you are astonished by the enthusiasm and self-denial with which these artistes have chosen to "sing for God". Incredible! It seems almost impossible that there are people among us, especially young people, with such marvelous ideals. GOD'S

SINGER-SONGWRITERS An article entitled "When music becomes prayer" appeared in our last issue. The article spoke of a phenomenon that for some time now has also become more widespread in Italy: religious music or music inspired by religion. Singers, singer-songwriters and groups who choose to give their musical activity a spiritual direction have become more numerous, creating songs that are genuine expressions of prayer.

The article was well liked. Through the email tam-tam of sites dealing with topics of this kind our article reached various parts of the world. We even received emails from Japan discovering that the phenomenon of Christian music is very widespread, even though such music is systematically ignored by the usual information channels.

In the article, we took the example of Roberto Bignoli, an artiste who, after varied experiences in the world of light music, "re-discovered" his faith during a visit to Medjugorje and felt the need to give a new direction to his professional activity. He became one of "God's singer-songwriters", as he defines himself, and only writes, with the enthusiasm of a missionary, songs that are inspired by religion. We also spoke of his wife Paola who, involved in her husband's "mission", devotes all her free time to making known the activities of these Christian musicians by means of a web site she has created: http://www.informusic.it/23hobisognodite.htm

These are two worthy people. But, delving deeper into the subject, we realized that the Christian music movement is brimful of worthy people.

I remembered Claudio Chieffo, whom I had interviewed exactly twenty years previously for the Italian weekly "Gente", while I had been working there as a special correspondent. I had interviewed him because he was an outstanding "example". He was an artiste that could have made the 'big time' in commercial light music and earned serious money. Instead, he chose to perform only music he had written himself and which was inspired by Christian values. Consequently, his music was ignored by the mass media "I sing about life", Chieffo told me then. "I sing about loving your woman, loving your children, your family, about loneliness, pain, despair. My songs are born of news stories about everyday life that have been given life by faith and hope." Chieffo already had then a large following. His songs, spread by "word of mouth", instilled hope and lit up those who listened to them. Among his admirers he counted Karol Wojtyla, who was well known in Poland when he was still Cardinal of Krakow. Time has moved on, but Chieffo is still in there. His output includes ten CDs, two books and thousands of concerts. His songs have been translated into 18 languages. This year he celebrates 43 years in the profession. His latest CD, "Come la rosa" (Like the rose), recorded in New York with David Horowitz, is both moving and enchanting.

Claudio Chieffo could be called "the first", chronologically, of the Christian music movement in Italy. Following his example, other artistes have chosen this path in the knowledge that it brings neither worldly success nor money. There are many such artistes today: workers, teachers, professionals, also priests, brothers and sisters. Festivals, events and meetings have been organized around the movement.

There are also artistes in this movement who had already made a name for themselves in the world of commercial light music but then, for mysterious reasons, they discovered religious values, were fascinated by them and did not hesitate to make their choice.

Nando Bonini has a background of top level work with various Italian and foreign artistes, including Vasco Rossi with whom he has made records and gone on tours. In 1995, he was commissioned to make a rock musical on the life of St. Francis and this encounter with the poor man of Assisi changed his life. Bonini discovered other values, other ideals. He now dedicates his personal and artistic life to the service of others in order to make the Christian Faith more widely known. His most recent work "Una donna vestita di sole" (A woman dressed in the sun) is a recital based on the life of the Mother of God. From this he has made a CD and a play for the theatre which, with twelve other artistes, is touring Italy.

Marcello Marrocchi, originally from Puglia, is a well known composer and the writer of some 500 songs performed by Mina, Patty Pravo, Vanoni, Morandi, Zanicchi, Di Bari etc. With his songs he has taken part in the Festival of San Remo fourteen times and in 1988 he won the prestigious contest with his song "Perdere l'amore" (Losing love) sung by Massimo Ranieri. But he too, at a certain point, felt an inner calling and left. In fact, his latest CD is called "La perla preziosa" (The precious pearl) and is dedicated to the Gospel. Marrocchi says, "An honest man of the world feels restlessness in his heart and until he finds something it is worth dedicating his life to, he gives himself no peace. St. Augustine was restless and found God; St. Paul was restless and found God; and I, in my small way, have discovered that the only encounter that brings satisfaction is meeting with God". Not only does Marrocchi work personally to make known 'the precious pearl' he has found, he also often involves his friends. He brought in Amedeo Minghi for the song "Un uomo venuto da lontano" (A man from far away), Ivana Spagna for "Mamma Teresa" (Mother Teresa), which was transmitted worldwide, and Massimo Ranieri for "Il Figliol prodigo" (The prodigal son), performed in the Vatican's Nervi Hall.

Michele Paulicelli, also from Puglia, in the mid 1970s formed a group with Amedeo Minghi called "I Pandemonium". Together with Gabriella Ferri, they featured in a well received television program "E adesso andiamo a incominciare" (And now we are going to begin). In 1981, Paulicelli wrote "Forza venite gente" (Come on, people, come), a musical on the life of St. Francis, and played the role of the Saint himself. The musical was an enormous success, so much so that there were more than 2,000 performances in Italy. Paulicelli "felt" that this was not merely a commercial success but "pointed" to a new direction and he, too, set off along the path. He devoted himself to artistic experimentation with groups of young people who wanted to spread the Christian message through music. After "Forza venite gente", came "Ecologic Rock", "La Piccola Cometa" (The Little Comet) and "Madre Teresa di Calcutta" (Mother Teresa of Calcutta) (see the photo Michele Paulicelli and Giada Nobile in Mother Teresa Musical).

There are numerous examples, all of them extraordinary. As we have said, there are also Associations that direct and organize these Christian musical activities.

One of the most important nationally in Italy is "Il mio Dio canta giovane" led by Don Matteo Zambuto, also a singer-songwriter. As a boy he studied the guitar and piano and, after becoming a priest, he realized that the evangelical message can also be put across through music. Indeed, sometimes the message is conveyed more clearly through music, especially with young people. So he has once more taken up his passion for music turning it into an instrument for his mission.

Note from Medjugorje USA: Previously, Medjugorje USA did interviews with Roberto Bignoli and another interview with Paola Maschio, Roberto's wife. Medjugorje USA has also done an interview with Marco Tavola another Italian Catholic artist. If you would like to read these interview click here>>> 20 Questions (Interview Page)

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