God & I: Friar Alessandro

April 08 2024 | by

BROTHER Alessandro, what can you tell us about the religious education you received as a child in your family?

I did not receive any religious education in my family because my parents did not yet attend church in those years, but they wanted me to take all the sacraments, perhaps more due to tradition than anything else. So I followed the entire catechism course in the parish of Castiglione della Valle, my medieval-style hometown of 500 inhabitants which is only 18 km from Perugia.


When did you understand that your passion for music and singing was one of the talents that God had given you?

Only after my conversion did I understand that my gift was a talent, that is, something that is given to us for the benefit of the community. Previously, for me, music was a sort of conduit, a language that intrigued me because I couldn’t fully comprehend it. I was very focused on myself, on my intellect, and I held a strongly idealistic and materialistic philosophy; a vision of the world into which music did not quite fit.


Can you briefly describe the most important stages of your artistic training?

I started very young, at the age of 9, because I have an innate aptitude for music. After listening to Bach recordings I wanted to play the organ and become a composer. At the same time, however, I was also listening to Michael Jackson; I was, after all, a child of my time. My parents organized private lessons for me, and after a few years I enrolled in a musical high school in Perugia.

Alongside school I also attended the conservatory, one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Here I started studying the organ and organ composition, with the idea of ​​becoming a composer. Subsequently I also started studying singing.


Around the age of 16 you felt that your life was about to hit a turning point. There was Someone calling you. Could you tell us what was happening?

As I was saying, at the age of 16 I was very attracted to different philosophies. I often retreated into solitude to reflect. I soon fell into idealistic and materialistic, solipsistic thinking. I believed that I was at the center of the universe, and that God was only the projection of my ideas. This concept thrilled me on the one hand, but at the same time it made a very strong anxiety grow within me which eventually became a form of anguish, to the point that life no longer seemed to have meaning for me. This is when the Lord entered my life, when I gave Him “one last chance.” I remember well that I said to him, “If you really exist, give me a sign of your presence because otherwise it is better for me to die.” At that moment I was alone in the middle of a wood and in an instant the Lord made himself alive, present. It was an indescribable, strong, mystical, prayerful experience that made me forget the rest of the world.

Following this experience, my way of evaluating the world and my life completely changed: in an instant I perceived the value of the existence and love of God, in which I felt immersed. My philosophies and thoughts dissolved like darkness with light. I felt something like a voice inside me telling me to seek God’s love in creatures, especially brothers and sisters, where He was especially present. I felt that I had truly entered into a relationship with the “Otherness.”


When did you feel called in particular to follow the Lord according to the rule of Saint Francis?

A few months after my conversion I saw a film about St. Francis, and I said to myself, “I want to live like him!” However, I was only 17 years old and I had decided to become a musician, and among my plans there was also that of starting a big family because I wanted many children, like Bach, who had 20: I wanted at least 10. But at the end of high school, at the age of 19, I continued to be tormented by doubts and so I went with a friend of mine to talk to a friar at the Porziuncola in Assisi. This brother then helped me in discernment. At the beginning he wasn’t very convinced of my vocation because he thought I wanted to escape from the world, and maybe there was a bit of truth in that, so we took our time: it took a couple of years of discernment before I entered religious life in a friary.


Do you think there is any relationship between your love for music and your Franciscan vocation?

Of course, but it’s taken me years to understand it. After my conversion I interpreted music as a channel of communication with God, a tool to stay in touch with him, and also as a gift, a talent. However, upon entering the friary, I had decided not to sing or play any more: I imagined myself living a much more withdrawn, hermitic-type life, also because my true and great passion is working with wood, restoring furniture and various objects. So I had not yet understood the relationship between my musical gift and my being a friar. But one day, one of my superiors (who among other things enjoyed opera) told me, “If you have such a beautiful voice then, out of obedience, every day you will dedicate time to music and singing for the glory of God and the edification of your neighbor.”

By obeying I understood the hierarchical order of vocations: first of all there is the vocation to life and truth; then there is the vocation to love, and only finally should the vocation to one’s talent be followed, because if the first two have not been achieved, the last one makes no sense.


You recorded your first CD Voice from Assisi, at Abbey Road Studios in London, where the Beatles recorded their first album in 1962. What impression did entering that place make on you?

At the beginning it was like a game because they told me that it would only be a week of recording, two weeks of promoting, and then I would be free. In reality, I soon realized that things were much bigger than they seemed at first, and I was very afraid.

Going into Abbey Road Studios was amazing though. It was moving to be in the place where so much music had been made with so many successful musicians doing something beautiful for the world. It was beautiful to see everything behind the music studios, and how the Lord works and continues to work in the hearts of people through art.

However, I didn’t recognize myself in that world. The thing above all that I had the hardest time living with was popularity. I didn’t want it in the slightest, but I had to welcome and accept it, even though I really fought against it for many years. Then, over time, the Lord helped me understand the meaning of it: popularity is uncomfortable and I don’t like it, but in my case, through it, I can be useful in helping people, hearts, who seek God.


You have performed at major theaters and even at the Royal Albert Hall in London. How do you manage to reconcile consecrated life with your activity as a singer?

First, we agreed to sign the contract with the encouragement of the Provincial, our major superior. He then made sure that I was not alone in the mission, but accompanied by an Irish brother, Friar Eunan, a lawyer and expert in Common Law, that is, English Law. Friar Eunan was able to interface very well with the record company, Decca-Universal Music. We both understood that popularity exposed us to dangers, so we sat down and studied a missionary action plan with very specific points. For example: always wear religious habit, even when we travel; this is because it not only reminds others of who we are, but also reminds ourselves. We then chose to never travel  first class, but always  economy or in any case to look for the option that costs the least. Furthermore, we have never stayed in hotels, but we have always asked for hospitality in friaries or rectory houses; this is to maintain fraternal life on a daily basis and to ensure Holy Mass and community prayer.

Other measures that have helped us are, for example, receiving requests only via email, that is, having everything written down in black and white, and nothing by telephone; or never accepting any concert or event without the approval of our superiors, on principle.

With this code of conduct we have managed to maintain a good balance. We must be, as the Lord says in Matthew 10.16: “Prudent as serpents and simple as doves.”


In your opinion, can music be a particular means that brings individuals closer to God?

It certainly is. This is because music is the order of sounds, and the ordered sound par excellence is the word: every word is music. We know that God created the world through his word. The first and eternal word of God is the Son, and we could say poetically that the Son is the song of the Father. Therefore music is the best expression to describe what the Word of God is.

When God speaks through music – the real one, the beautiful one – we automatically come into contact with his re-creative word. This is why we say that music, like other arts, are recreational activities, precisely because they recreate, they re-propose what happened during creation.

Since it is also a human language, you need to know how to use it, because it is not always used for the good. There is music, for example, aimed at disorder, noise, or extravagance, like the ‘contemporary’ music that is ugly and incomprehensible. It is a sin to use something that belongs to God for the benefit of evil, or even just to satisfy oneself.

Therefore it is necessary to educate about music, that is, to make the young understand what is good music and what is not; to make people understand that there is an ethic in music.


Who is God for you?

I would describe God as the beginning and the end of everything. We come from him and we are called to return to him, choosing good every day during this very short period of time that we call “life,” here on earth. God is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.

Of course, you never stop describing God because all the words you use are never enough. Perhaps music is the only valid alternative to words when we think about God.


It is undeniable that Christianity was instrumental in the development of music. In your opinion, which composers came closest to the divine?

Apart from the authors of Gregorian chant, which in my opinion is the pinnacle of the balance of music as being harmony, melody and rhythm, there is Hildegard of Bingen, who certainly achieved a very particular bond with God in her compositions. However, in my opinion the maximum point of connection between God and the human mind was reached by Johann Sebastian Bach because there is a mystery behind his compositional activity, and his music has traits that are typical of God. For example, he wrote at the end of his compositions Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone). In fact Bach composed following a symbolic and theological language which he did not reveal to anyone because it was only for the glory of God. It is amazing to think that we are still rediscovering this language of his, revealed only after his death: God exalts his humility.


For some time you have resided in the Friary of St Anthony in Terni. Can you tell us what this saint represents for you?

After my conversion and after having known the figure of Saint Francis well, through him I began to appreciate the figure of the saint of Padua to the point of feeling this brother particularly close to me.

The thing that struck me about him is his humility and his extraordinary ability to be close to ordinary people, which is why he is so revered. I have been to Padua many times and I entrusted myself to him, asking him to safeguard me from the danger of falling back into an overly complex and philosophical way of thinking, because I prefer to seek simplicity both in ideas and in words. In fact, reading some of Anthony’s sermons, I realize that despite being a great scholar and theologian, he had not lost his simplicity. Now, staying in the friary of Terni, in a certain sense in closer contact with him, is for me like a sort of response to my request for protection. I am discovering him, little by little, closer and closer, because brotherhood is achieved by living together.


FRANCISCAN FRIAR MINOR, Alessandro Giacomo Brustenghi is a tenor who sings religious music.

Born near Perugia on April 21, 1978, Brother Alessandro began studying music at the age of 9, with the desire to become a composer. He began his organ studies at the Conservatory of his hometown at the age of 14, taking part, at the same time, in various choirs and then also starting his studies in opera singing at the same Conservatory. At 21 he entered the Franciscan Order and served for several years as cantor at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, where he also worked as a carpenter and restorer of furniture.

Some of his recordings were presented to Mike Hedges (producer of U2, Dido, The Cure, Manic Street Preachers and others) who, after hearing his voice, offered to produce with him an album of sacred music, both traditional and contemporary, at Abbey Road Studios. Frate Alessandro’s debut album is called Voice from Assisi, and contains the songs Panis Angelicus and Sancta Maria. In accordance with his religious vows, Brother Alessandro donated the proceeds from his CDs to the Missions of the Order of Friars Minor.

Updated on April 15 2024