Author Interviews

Interview With Julein Chilcott-Monk

Anyone interested in theology and the traditions of the Christian Church will be aware of the works of Julien Chilcott-Monk. His love of theology, as with music, has been the foundation of Julien’s entire life, and his works span sectors of the faith from instructional to devotional – and even fictional.

Following an early education in the Royal Marines School of Music, Julien later formed the Vox Humana and Gregoriana choirs, which have been performing early sacred music for more than forty years. Speaking about his love of music, Julien said: “As soon as I could walk and talk I had a love of music. My father was a professional musician, a church organist and music master. He founded and conducted the Bath Symphony Orchestra just before the Second World War and conducted it until the early fifties. So, my grounding in music was from childhood and, consequently, I decided to audition for a place at the Royal Marines School of Music. I certainly received encouragement from my Father. In those days one could join up at the age of fourteen, which I did in 1960.”

Before he joined the Royal Marines, Julien’s family moved many times in support of his father’s musical work. Something that uprooted him and led to his rarely moving at all in his adult life. “As a consequence of my father’s work and constantly moving, I attended about seven or eight schools! We started in Bath, and then moved to Perth, in Scotland, my father having been asked to found an orchestra there. He founded the Perth Symphony Orchestra when I was about five or six: I remember it very well.”

When Julien was about fourteen years old, his mother expressed the wish to return to Hampshire, where she had originally lived, just in time for Julien to begin his studies at the Royal Marines School of Music in Kent, at the Deal Barracks. But after a while, Julien’s mind turned to his love of the Church and he was released, after two years’ service, to attend theological college. However, far from a career as a clergyman, Julien ended up going into law and managing a Regional Common Law department of a Nationalised Industry for three decades but with his interests in theology and music running alongside his day job. He said: “We would deal with injuries to persons and property caused by the industry’s activities. All these experiences I have been able to use in one way or another.”

In 1975 Julien formed Gregoriana Choir and in 1995 combined it with Vox Humana Choir remaining its musical director for forty-six years. The present pandemic has meant that in all those years the choir has not been able to meet regularly, but, after a year of emails and virtual meetings, practices have resumed once more. Julien said: “It has been difficult to keep everyone together and interested. But you must keep a smile on your face. Humour has been most important – as it is at all times and in all walks of life!”

In 1996, restructuring loomed and Julien decided to apply for voluntary redundancy, which enabled him to make music and theology full-time occupations. Julien began to write and has published with many publishers, about fourteen well-received books so far, which are enjoyed and used as reference materials by Christians of many denominations. The books include Walking the Way of the Cross, which includes a preface by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and a foreword by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and The Path to Sainthood: John Henry Newman.

He is currently editing and completing a book on Newman by the late Jerome Bertram FSA Cong. Orat., and writing How Jesus Laughed (a work of literary fiction based on the Gospels) as well as a portrait of the actor and historian Robert Hardy. Julien said: “They are not the sort of books that rival Harry Potter, but I have done something rather different with the fictionalised accounts of the Gospels and when Robert died, I thought I was in a good position to gather other people’s memories and accounts from his many walks of life. I first met him when I had been invited by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu to provide some mediaeval music for something they were doing to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the monastery there. Robert Hardy had been invited to narrate the evening: my choir was providing music for the interludes. Afterwards, I introduced myself and told him that I had written a script for something we were doing that was ideal for him. I had my fingers crossed at the time so I was surprised and relieved when he asked me to send it to him and he’ll let me know what he thinks of it. It was a script I had written to accompany the twelfth-century The Play of Herod in the character of a Dorset shepherd. Happily, he telephoned three days later: “I loved it – I’ll do it.” We ended up performing it in Romsey Abbey and in the Oxford Oratory. After that, we collaborated on a number of things not least when he performed Gerontius in my musical version of Newman’s great poem for chorus and two actors, which he did four times – in Winchester Cathedral, Christchurch Cathedral, the Oxford Oratory and Beaulieu Abbey. In that and in all the other things we had enormous fun right up until the time he died.”

In the early 2000s, Julien and his wife were received into the Catholic Church. And as with all things in his remarkable life, Julien approached the move with typical wit and wisdom, rounding off with the words: “It was a development of our faith, not an obliteration of all that went before. In life, all one’s experiences are going to prove useful in later life in some way or another. Nothing need be wasted: drawing on my experiences helps me do what I do now.”

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