Nuns' album is now hotter than 'Fifty Shades of Grey'
Posted December 26, 2012
For the past month, the world of classical music has seen fewer shades of grey and more black and white.
Since its release in mid-November, Advent at Ephesus, a collection of a cappella music sung by Benedictine nuns, has topped Billboard's traditional classical albums chart - displacing the companion CD of classical themes for E.L. James' novel Fifty Shades of Grey.
The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, cloistered at Our Lady of Ephesus priory in rural Gower, Mo., have sold 22,000 copies of their collection of hymns, chants and polyphony that celebrates the anticipation of the birth of Jesus. The album has placed as high as No. 4 on the overall classical albums chart, which puts the nuns on track to become 2012's top-selling new classical act.
The sisters follow the monastic rule of fourth-century Christian saint Benedict of Nursia and sing eight times a day in their chapel, led by their prioress, Mother Cecilia, who trained at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music.
"It's not like a group that just gets together and rehearses a few times a week; they're really as one," says Monica Fitzgibbons, co-founder of the label De Montfort Music, which released Advent at Ephesus. "They sing more than they actually speak."
Advent at Ephesus initially topped the traditional classical chart, thanks to a grass-roots marketing effort focused on the faith-based community and the classical-choral audience.
"It's a very specific market," says Paul Foley, general manager of the Decca Label Group, which distributes the album. "We didn't try to be everything to everybody. We just went right to that Catholic audience. Even the radio advertising we did was on Catholic networks."
Once the sisters unseated the Fifty Shades of Grey album, places like NPR's All Things Considered and People magazine introduced their unadorned music to a wider and very receptive audience.
"We knew if we gave people the opportunity to hear a sampling of this, they'd hear something different, something beautiful," Foley says.
Fitzgibbons says the sisters already have begun planning their next project.
"If they were given the opportunity, they'd probably put out two or three things a year," she says. "They're going to keep us pretty busy."
But the sisters haven't paid attention to their pop-culture coup of knocking the Fifty Shades of Grey compilation from the top of the chart.
"They don't even know what (Grey) is," Fitzgibbons says. "They don't read the press. They're praying; they're farming. They're so unplugged, as opposed to all of us who get such a kick out of this stuff."
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