For the fifth week running, an order of monastic nuns in rural Missouri has the nation’s top-selling album of traditional classical music. Most of these isolated singers don’t know that they created a niche hit with their recordings of ancient chants and hymns, or that it’s their second release to reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
“We don’t even talk about it. The sisters might be curious, and I could tell them, but it doesn’t matter,” says Mother Cecilia, head of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, a Catholic priory surrounded by corn and soybean fields north of Kansas City. Most of the 22 nuns living there are in their 20s or 30s, including Mother Cecilia, a former French horn player in the Columbus Symphony. Except for one hour per day when they can converse, they spend all their waking moments in silence or in song, often Gregorian chants more common to monasteries in Europe.
Now at No. 1 on the classical music chart: a group of nuns whose monastic existence revolves around farming and singing in rural Missouri. John Jurgensen has details. Photo: The Benedictines of Mary.
Their releases are distributed by Universal’s Decca record label and have been boosted by low-key online marketing. The latest album, “Angels and Saints at Ephesus,” sung a cappella in English and Latin, continues the nuns’ unintentional rivalry with a splashier release: the musical tie-in to the erotic “Fifty Shades of Grey” novels….
“If we hadn’t recorded or we never record again, it wouldn’t have the slightest effect on our life of prayer,” she says. Still, she adds that album sales chip away at the remaining debt of $1 million, and someday might help finance the construction of a guesthouse and church. Meanwhile, the recordings also let the nuns reach listeners from whom they’re otherwise cut off: “What we’re doing on these recordings is giving others a share of what is ours day after day after day.”
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