The Chart-Topping Nuns of Ephesus

Are you a glass half empty or half full kind of person? I think a good test is what you find more fascinating news story here: That Benedictine nuns managed to knock the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack off the top of the Billboard charts this fall (or that the sadomasochistic novel even has a soundtrack).

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles are cloistered women religious at the priory of Ephesus in northwest Missouri. Their beautiful CD, Advent at Ephesus, was made possible by De Montfort Music, founded by a husband-and-wife music executives who want to produce beautiful sacred music. Monica Fitzgibbons talks about the mission and working with the women of Ephesus.

KJL: How did you wind up in the sacred-music business?

Fitzgibbons: My husband and I have a long history in the global entertainment industry. For many years he worked for SONY and I worked for DreamWorks. In 2007, we founded an entertainment entity called Aim Higher Media and Entertainment designed to encourage artists and to assist with various resources in order to compel uplifting/high quality art to be created and brought to market. We have some subsidiaries under the Aim Higher umbrella, one of which is De Montfort Music which is dedicated solely to sacred music/chant.

KJL: Couldn’t you make more money working on 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack instead, which the nuns just beat on the Billboard chart?

Fitzgibbons: I will leave that question to the bean counters as we haven’t been focusing on a competitive analysis on that one! I can only speak to this project, which has been an overall unique and beautiful collection to work with. There are all sorts of currencies and our labor is one of love aimed at the treasures of Heaven.

KJL: Do you consider that a great accomplishment, by the way — the displacement of 50 Shades?

Fitzgibbons: In media and entertainment in general there is always a hook to every story. The week Advent at Ephesus debuted at #1 it happened to be that 50 Shades had been occupying the #1 chart position for the previous 10 weeks, so there was that contrast there. The press and blogosphere picked up on that and ran with it.

KJL: How did you find these nuns in particular?

Fitzgibbons: Due to our background we have received all kinds of music over the years, and when we heard the music of The Benedictines of Mary we were so inspired that it moved us into taking an action and doing what we could to help their music reach beyond their priory and friends of their community.

KJL: What were they like to work with?

Fitzgibbons: In a rare moment, I am speechless! There is so much to be said about the beauty of The Benedictines of Mary. They are charitable, prayerful, hospitable, disciplined, joyful, talented, smart, energetic and extremely private. The fact that they made themselves available for this music to come out is a rare gift and honor for which we are very grateful.

KJL: Besides making it a little busier, have the nuns influenced your Advent? If so, how?

Fitzgibbons: We did not have in our music library, a collection specifically dedicated to Advent and the specific hymns and songs designed to specifically compliment the season. This has been a great benefit and has brought much peace to the environment, serving to offset a typically busy time of year.

KJL: Is your work with De Montfort Music in any way an indictment of the music industry?

Fitzgibbons: We are grateful for our background and training in the entertainment industry. From a very young age, both Kevin and I were executives and in fortunate positions to be able to learn from some of the top talent in the industry. Taking this step into Aim Higher and De Montfort was the next right thing in our overall journey. It has been incredibly positive, and grace filled, as one might expect to hear from anyone who has branched out and been able to create a new venture. Moreover it has been a way for us to maintain a working relationship with art that we thoroughly enjoy on many levels from the spiritual to the creative.

KJL: What are other projects you’re working on?

Fitzgibbons: We have some other projects that we are working on for next year, some more sacred music and some classical music projects, as well as music supervision projects for film.

KJL: Why is music important?

Fitzgibbons: Music, like all art, has the ability to affect temperaments and inspire great heights in humanity. Music is a great accompaniment to the human experience. It has always been near and dear to our hearts and more recently it has been extremely interesting to go back across the ages and discover some hidden or more lost art from times gone by. It seems perfectly fitting in the sense of sacred music to seek out performances of this music from communities who have an intense respect and grounding in the traditions at the root of this music.

KJL: Have our sacred music been impoverished in recent decades?

Fitzgibbons: If you think of all classical music as being a genre that deals in sacred music on some level then to the extent that it is still around is a good thing. However it can be noted that comparatively speaking this genre is not competing on the high chart positions. It would be a good thing if young people, the dominant consumers of music, had a grounding in classical and sacred music as a baseline for appreciating music, because it takes a high caliber of talent to be able to accomplish a rendition of the works of Mozart, Beethoven, or Vivaldi to name a few. This would only serve to raise the bar on many levels, so we are thankful to be in this market.

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