After a successful tour of the United States last year, Br. Alessandro Brustenghi, OFM, of the Umbrian province, is returning to the United States for another set of engagements as “The Singing Friar.”
The Italian Franciscan with a powerful tenor voice will give a series of concerts for 2,000 children from the poorest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore as part of a project called “St. Francis in the Schools.” He will perform on Oct. 10 and Oct. 20 in Washington and Oct. 17 in Baltimore. Following each concert, the students will enjoy a meal, music, games and other activities in an Umbrian Renaissance-style Faire.
Since most of the songs Br. Alessandro performs are in Italian or Latin, actors from “Following Francis” — a play that is part of the “Francis in the Schools” program — will give narrative introductions before each song. Members of the White House Chorale and White House Youth Chorale will accompany the friar. Because most seats will be occupied by children and their chaperones, the performances are not open to the public.
On Oct. 13, Br. Alessandro will sing at the 9:30 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, at the invitation of Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The Mass will be broadcast nationally on Sirius Radio. The public is welcome to this performance.
Over the past few months, Br. Alessandro has performed across Europe at the invitation of friars living in Hungary, Croatia and Ireland. Since July, he has remained in Italy, performing with an orchestra ensemble in Florence and Siena, and appearing in televised events, including benefit concerts for the foreign missions.
The performances of Br. Alessandro are a way of evangelizing, said Br. Eunan McMullan, OFM, who helps Br. Alessandro organize and publicize his singing engagements. “The mission is a typically Franciscan one to spread the Word of God by means of music. This reflects a charism that dates back to our founder, who composed the Canticle of Brother Sun at the very friary where I live. And in the style of our founder, who sent out his friars two by two from the Portiuncula, the friary where Alessandro lives.”
Br. Alessandro entered the Order in 1999 at the age of 21. After withdrawing from the formation process for a few years, he re-entered religious life in 2005. The friars discovered his talent for singing while he was taking a vocal exam to enter the Order of Friars Minor. Br. Eunan met the singing friar when Br. Alessandro called in December 2011 to request legal advice, according to a description in a concert souvenir that Br. Eunan wrote.
A few weeks later, after hearing some of his recordings, Mike Hedges — producer to rock groups U2 and The Cure, amongst others — offered to produce an album for Br. Alessandro in Abbey Road Studios. His debut album, “Voice From Assisi,” was number one on the classical charts in the United Kingdom for three weeks and was nominated for Best Classical Album in the Classic Brits awards last year. Br. Alessandro is currently working to produce a third album for the Universal Music Group in 2015.
Last fall, when the singing friar visited New York City, he stayed at the Province’s friary on West 31st Street.
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province. Jocelyn Thomas contributed research to this story.