Nuns Competed with ‘Fifty Shades’ For Top-Selling Classical Album of 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 04:39 PM

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

As music critics assemble their best-of 2013 lists, another, probably very different, barometer of musical taste has been revealed. Billboard reported this week that the top-selling classical artists of 2013 were the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, a monastic order from rural Missouri.

The sisters' "Advent at Ephesus" and "Angels and Saints" – collections of ancient chants and hymns – were the second- and third-best selling traditional classical albums of 2013 (the traditional classical category excludes crossover releases, according to Billboard). “Advent” sold about 36,000 copies and “Angels” sold just over 25,000; each have been on the charts for about 30 weeks, according to the sisters' label Decca.

In June, the Benedictines of Mary made headlines when they displaced “Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album,” EMI's musical tie-in to the erotica novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. That album, featuring 15 classical works including Tallis's motet Spem in alium, was released in early 2012. But riding a massive marketing juggernaut, it became the top seller of 2013 in terms of individual copies, with nearly 40,000 sold to date.

WQXR listeners showed a similar taste for the spiritual in 2013: “Angels and Saints” was the most-purchased album through ArkivMusic, the station’s online affiliate retailer. Close behind was “Spheres,” a collection of neo-Baroque, minimalist and soundtrack arrangements by violinist Daniel Hope.

Chant is a cyclical phenomenon in the record industry. The current interest mirrors a time in the 1990s when the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos released a best-selling album of Gregorian Chants and Hildegard von Bingen's music was the latest thing. But there’s another, even broader measurement of popularity to consider: When factoring in crossover music, Billboard's most popular classical album of 2013 was Andrea Bocelli’s love song collection, “Passione.”


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Comments [13]

Brian Carter

The MUCH better 50 Shades of Grey type novel is actually "Starbucks Bitches", the controversial book centered around a Starbucks Book Club. Seriously, if you liked 50, this is like 60 Shades of Grey. It is on iTunes, Amazon, etc... ( has this following description:)

Five very diverse women band together to form an unlikely, but unbreakable circle of friends, collaborating and scheming their way to better relationships and better lives. When one of them vanishes suspiciously, the others must work together to find her before she disappears forever.

With a wide range of emotional and complicated relationships that span the highs (and lows) of life, Starbucks Bitches takes the reader on a wild ride that is deeply touching, thought provoking, and intensely romantic.

One of the most erotically charged and overtly sexual novels of the century, Starbucks Bitches is an unprecedented adventure in love, lust, and unconditional friendship.

May. 13 2014 06:03 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Dear Duck, after looking at my response to you, I wanted to be sure you understand I used a bit of "humor", which someone herein once said lack. I do appreciate any dispensation I receive, be it from a mortal or from the deity. At my age one needs all the dispensation one can have. Thanks, God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 27 2013 08:57 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Duck, you have no idea how much better I feel now, totally free, and I am sure I will sleep better now that I have your dispensation. Hope you had a very Merry Christmas, and that you and your family, and all others are blessed with a healthy New Year. Right now I am still surrounded by six grandchildren ages four to nine so my mind is spinning. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 26 2013 09:24 AM

In the spirit of Christmas, I'll take Mr. Fischbein at his word. But only in the spirit of Christmas. God (or other deity) bless us, every one.


Dec. 25 2013 05:37 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Dear Mr. St Onge, I sincerely apologize if I missed the humor in your response, and I truly mean that. As far as self promotion is concerned, I am a private person with no agenda, and have no desire to promote myself. I do look in the mirror daily when shaving, however and all I can see is age creeping up on me. I do have some rather strong opinions regarding right and wrong, but regardless of how I may feel on an issue, I try to think in terms of the other persons position. As I mentioned, acceptance does not mean agreement, and I would never try to abridge ones right to the written word so long as it does not overtly motivate violence.
If you were offended by my response to you due to my miscomprehension of your "humor" I once again sincerely apologize, and of course meant no harm to you.
I sincerely wish that you and your family have a meaningful and traditional Christmas in good health and spirit.
Now, since I was stuck in a hospital for five days last week with bronchitis, it is time for me to brave the Mall and mobs and finish shopping while the Mrs. gets ready for an onslaught of nine grandchildren and twice as many friends and relatives for Christmas breakfast after Mass. Thank you for your response, God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 23 2013 04:07 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

Mr. Fischbein, I once wrote in one of my "usually rather intelligent" posts that you suffered from "humor deficiency" so let me explain: my use of "What a gimmick" was a slight dig at Bernie for his use of the word "gimmick" in relation to the recording activities of the nuns in question. With two nuns (and a priest) in the family, I would never dare besmirch them in any way. And now to quote you from your post to Bernie, "...learn to accept the feelings of others without attacking them." Are you the same Charles Fischbein who asked Fred Plotkin in the post entitled "A Conversation with the NEA's Outgoing Chief" with the less-than-accepting "Fred, don't you ever get tired of self-promoting? I guess I know the answer to that." Mr. Fischbein, do you ever look in the mirror and ask yourself that same question? I guess we all know the answer to that.

Dec. 23 2013 03:30 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Dear Bernie, I sincerely pray that you may soften your heart, and learn to respect the opinions of others. Respect does not mean acceptance, it simply means acknowledging that simply because you may not agree with the positions others take you do not attack them for their ideas/ So long as opinions do not cross over into actions taken against those who you do not agree with, everyone has a right to express themselves.
When lines of civility are crossed and travel down a slippery slope to thought control through bullying (something you apparently know a lot about) disagreement can easily turn into threat. You already have had one post attacking me removed by WQXR management, which I frankly think should have been kept up to help show your own propensity toward bullying those you disagree with.
These nuns are not veneer sir, check you dictionary.
How can you say that people who spend their lives in service of God and mankind, and take vows of poverty and are true to those vows are exhibiting a veneer.
Veneer is an able bodied inner city person living on food stamps, and public assistance buying a pair of three hundred dollar basketball shoes. Veneer is an unemployed man thinking he can have child after child with multiple women as a way to show is manhood, without caring for his children after their birth, veneer is an upper west side New Yorker sending a few hundred dollars to a charity and then thinking his/her commitment to mankind is complete.
I strongly suggest that you consider showing up at a Food Bank or homeless shelter and help people in need over this Holiday season. Televangelists who play the ages old divinity con are both veneer and some may be criminals, but even though I may think they are veneer, it is not my place to make final judgement upon them, nor yours, even from The Upper West Side of Manhattan. You are in my prayers, Have a wonderful Holiday.(Christmas) and New Year, and learn to accept the feelings of others without attacking them. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 23 2013 01:52 PM
Bernie from UWS

Ah, so Mr. Fischbein is now a theologan in addition to being a Southern good old boy. My point is this: Just because one does something every day doesn't necessary make it better in artistic quality. The sad thing is, there are a lot of deserving early-music groups that have studied plainchant and medieval music but are overlooked because they don't have that veneer of "authenticity" that the nuns appear to have.

Dec. 23 2013 12:12 PM
Richard Dumughn from UK

My wife and I regularly attend a Benedictine Monastery in Sussex, England.
The chanting of the monks is wonderfully peace inducing and an encouragement to prayer

Dec. 23 2013 09:16 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Mr. St Onge, while we do not agree on much it seems, your posts are usually rather intelligent. However to say that Nuns who live their chants daily provide a "gimmick" is just factually incorrect.
In Monasteries and Cloistered Religious settings Vespers, and chanting throughout the day is the norm not a gimmick. When I visit the nearby Holy Cross Abby frequently, in Berryville, Va., the Monks and Brothers and Novices refrain from talking unless it is regarding God, or their work in their organic Bakery, or to greet a stranger. They sing and chant throughout the day, and join together to chant vespers in the early evening hours before their retire to their "cells" for the night. Their day begins in communal prayer and song at 3 A.M.
The Abby has a new building where laymen and women can rent a room for up to a week at a time for a respite and live a monastic life away from television, radio, telephones and all electronic gadgets. The rooms have a simple cot, one light and assess to a large library. I try to go for two week long visits every year. The most frequent sound one hears is the singing and chanting of the Religious in the community. It is beautiful how these men, none trained in music can project their voices and spirits when in song and can communicate the depth of their beliefs. A "gimmick, no, an age old tradition.
In the far reaches of Northern Alaska, the Inuit chant and beat drums to call in the caribou during hunting seasons, and to ward off storms, in Africa, chanting and dancing are used in traditional healing ceremonies, of course to say nothing of the thousands of Christian choral music pieces written through the centuries.
Song and chanting are as old as man and to call them a gimmick, simply because someone decided that recording them and allowing people to listen if they wish is basically disregarding music history.
I am quite sure liberals would not be offended by hearing Civil Rights leaders chanting "We shall Overcome" however it seems that the God police are offended when the chants coming from religious are oriented to praise and petitions to their God or Jesus Christ. Is there no end to the hypocrisy in this country especially emanating from New York City, which was far too long ago a City where people were free to express themselves politically and religiously without fear of being told they are partaking in a "gimmick"
Anyone interested in spending a week away from technology, with a chance to get close to nature and a desire for spiritual awakening may want to look at the Web site for The Holy Cross Abby, Berryville, Va. and consider spending a week there at a total cost of less than a Dress Circle Ticket to a Metropolitan Opera Performance. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 23 2013 09:08 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va

Bernie, have you ever heard Monks or Nuns or other Religious chant vespers live sitting and singing with them. If not you have no idea of the peace and joy one can get from this music.
Just twenty miles from my farm is The Holy Cross Abby, in Berryville, Va. run by the Trappist Order, I try to get there at least once a month to hear the Monks and other Religious chant vespers and to join them in song.
There are many people of faith, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, et al who connect spiritually and emotionally to chanting and traditional religious music.
Simply recording and distributing this music is not at all wrong, and enables those who do not have the opportunity to hear it in person and enjoy it, and in some cases to find spiritual growth in it.
As a kindred spirit who apparently attends the Metropolitan Opera I need not have to tell you the power of music on the soul.
Why not simply let the market place decide, if these Religious were toured like a traveling circus I might agree it was in poor taste. It is far better to see that this music being purchased by some than hip hop which stresses drug use, shooting police and terrorizing women.
Talking about bad taste and being offensive, historically I have heard very little said when some 50 years ago when an Orthodox Rabbi,and Cantor, who became a mainstay of The Metropolitan Opera by stressing his religious background while desecrating his Sabbath by performing live on Friday nights and Saturday matinees.
Leave these women alone, and you may even want to download a cut or two from the album and see where it takes you. Have a very Happy Holiday, and New Year, and Merry Christmas, God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 22 2013 08:10 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

There is one essential difference between the nuns and Anonymous Four: Whereas the Anonymous Four prepare their chants for performance the nuns live their chants each and every day. What a gimmick!

Dec. 20 2013 01:04 PM
Bernie from UWS

The whole concept of singing nuns as classical recording artists smacks of gimmickry on the record industry's part. An early music group doing chant would never have this kind of success. But consumers buy into the notion that this is somehow more "spiritual" and "authentic." Ironic that your other article today is about Anonymous 4, who are actually doing chant but without the other trappings.

Dec. 20 2013 06:19 AM

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