After having seen their 2013 album Angels and Saints spend 13 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Classical Traditional Music Chart last year, and finishing #1 in this publication’s Elite Half Hundred of 2013, the vocational nuns of Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles are providing heavenly music just in time for Lent with their third release for the De Montfort Music/Decca Label Group, Lent at Ephesus, a timely, seasonal recording of a beautiful compilation of poignant chants, intricate harmonies and rousing hymns of glory and redemption. The album features 23 tracks, including “O Sacred Head Surrounded,” made famous by Bach’s oratorios; “All Glory Laud and Honor”; the well-known “Adoramus Te Christe”; the etheral “Improperia” from the liturgy of Good Friday; Palestrina’s majestic motet ‘Pueri Hebraeorum,’ plus three original pieces by sisters of the community, whose priory is in the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph.
“We feel like we are stepping out on a limb whenever we record any original pieces,” classically trained Mother Cecilia, prioress of the community, told the Catholic News Agency. “In a way it is difficult, because the hymns we write come directly from our hearts, and lending them to a larger audience always costs something.”
EPK for Lent at Ephesus, the new album from Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles
Lent at Ephesus has been greeted with the same, if not greater, magnitude of praise from secular and religious media outlets as did the sisters’ previous two albums (Advent at Ephesus, which spent six weeks at #1, was their acclaimed 2012 release). Out of the box, album sales dwarfed those of competing new albums. In his Slipped Disc column of February 19, cultural omnivore Norman Lebrecht marveled that Lent at Ephesus had sold 8,160 copes the previous week, and its predecessor, Angels and Saints, had racked up 1,670 in sales, both dwarfing the number two and three classical albums, pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s Bach (360 in sales) and violin virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers’ Vivaldi (with 345 in sales). “Those Decca nuns from Missouri have just gone through the convent roof,” Lebrecht crowed.
Lent at Ephesus is getting a little extra boost in that PBS will be showing Lent at Ephesus, a special about the making of the album, on selected stations in March and April. Filmed and edited entirely by De Montfort Music and the sisters themselves, the program offers a rare glimpse into the music making and monastic life inside the Priory of Our Lady of Ephesus.
The program will air on stations including Kansas City’s KCPT on March 2, Chicago’s WTTW on March 16 and New York City’s WNET on April 6.
AUDIO CLIP: Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, the sisters’ original song ‘Divine Physician,’ from Lent at Ephesus. Ezekiel 33 is the starting point for the lyrics.
Mother Cecilia added that while popular demand prompted the recording of Lent at Ephesus, the nuns also have “long desired” to make a Lent recording. “The hymns and chants during this holy season are some of the most beautiful and expressive of the whole year,” she said in an email to Catholic News Service.
According to Mother Cecilia, the success of the previous albums has been somewhat of a surprise for the nuns, “but at the same time, it is undeniable that there is a great desire in all souls for what is good and beautiful.”
Mother Cecilia believes this album has the potential to reach even more people than either Angels and Saints or Advent at Ephesus, since people will be observing Lent and avoiding obstacles that hinder their faith.
“Sacred music enables people to draw closer to God through beauty, aiding them in a deeper level of understanding of the immortality of the soul and its ultimate end in God alone,” Mother Cecilia said.
The recording process has become “quite smooth and painless,” Mother Cecilia told CNS. Detailed pre-production work on the album begins a month before the producer and engineer arrive and requires several hours of work each week.
The nuns spent approximately 16 hours total in actual recording over the course of three consecutive days with Grammy Award-winning classical producer Blanton Alspaugh. Even when recording sessions are scheduled, they still participate in the daily eight hours of chants, along with barn chores, cooking and laundry.
About working with the sisters, producer Alspaugh said: “Their singing has a very pure and yet sophisticated style. It certainly earns its place in the international arena of classical music. Their talent is as remarkable as their sense of charity. To record them at their priory was one of the highlights of my career.”
AUDIO CLIP: Palestrina’s ‘Peuri Hebraeorum,’ by Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, from Lent at Ephesus
“We pray,” Mother Cecilia said, “that through this music, many souls will be inspired to look deeply beyond the materialistic and secular culture in which we are immersed, in order to contemplate the truth of the marvelous supernatural realities that exist.”
“To encounter this music is to be invited and included in a very special expression of love from the depths of the human soul as they devote each breathtaking and heartfelt note to their Divine Spouse,” said Monica Fitzgibbons, co-founder of De Montfort Music. “With a perfect transcendent purity, The Benedictines of Mary lift us through a heavenly journey of the ultimate expression of His love and mercy for mankind for the season of Lent. We are incredibly grateful that the Sisters have agreed to share Lent at Ephesus with the world!”
The album features a 12-page booklet with original artwork and all the lyrics in English (Latin songs are translated in English, as well). The booklet also is available digitally with the album on iTunes. The sisters derive the most benefit from their albums being ordered directly from the priory website. Follow this link to the Lent at Ephesus page, which includes song samples, a complete list of tracks, a flyer that can be downloaded as a pdf and distributed to others, and special rates for orders of 10 or more CD