So, Katrina is in one of her hissing moods, tonight, and I have decided that what she needs is to listen to the incredibly sweet tone of the Benedictines of Mary, whose latest album, Angels and Saints at Ephesus has debuted at #1 on the Classical music charts.
Why am I doing this? Because that’s just the kind of gal I am, and also because “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast”, and for soothing the savage there is almost nothing better than this stuff. I don’t know if it’s because the Prioress at Ephesus was a professional musician (possibly) or because these ladies sing together for six hours a day, day-in/day-out (very likely) but these particular nuns have a tone that is pure and uplifting, without ever being saccharine-sweet.
That these Benedictines are debuting at the top of the charts suggests to me that many people got a lot out of their first release, Advent at Ephesus, which was spectacularly successful, and that they were hungry for more:
This is the second album from the Benedictines of Mary that has reached No. 1 on Billboard Magazine’s Classical Traditional Music Chart. Last November and December, the Sisters’ debut album, ADVENT AT EPHESUS, with De Montfort Music/Decca, spent six weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Classical Music Chart, and the Sisters ended up as the #1 Classical Traditional Artist of 2012, according to Nielson’s Soundscan.
Angels and Saints at Ephesus gives us those glorious bell-like tones on hymns and songs (in Latin and in English) that celebrate, well, angels and saints — which means they are appropriate to any time of the year and any day, and any mood, really. Feeling a bit somber? “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Feeling Joyous? Check out track #7, Jesu Dulcis Memoria.
This album contains one of my top-five favorites of all chants, the ancient and warm Jesu Corona Virginem (Track 16) and it is done to perfection, but I am also very intrigued by “A Rose Unpetalled”, (Track 13) which is the only piece composed by the nuns, set to a poem by Saint Therese of Lisieux. It is so particularly lovely that Christopher S. Morrissey discusses it at length in his very comprehensive review of the album.
The Benedictine motto is “ora et labora” (“pray and work”) — and outside of rising at midnight for Matins (they rise at 4:40!) these Benedictines out of Gower, Missouri live out the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict pretty old school. Benedict’s rule stated that a monastery should be as self-sufficient as possible. Nuns are a lot tougher than they sound while chanting; these Benedictines grow much of their own food, milk their own cows, sew vestments, bake bread and of course record these wonderful albums — but all of those things are peripheral; they are contemplative and prayerful but necessary work meant to support their real work, which is the Opus Dei — “the Work of God” which is the Divine Office — chanted in full solemnity, and to which, says Benedict “nothing is to be preferred.”
Chances are none of these nuns are over-interested in the worldly success of these albums, but the recordings will no doubt be a providential boon to them in their building plans (they hope to build a public chapel). I’m very glad they’re making these CD’s, but even happier to know they are out there, praying for all of us.