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The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

As music critics assemble their best-of 2014 lists, another, probably very different barometer of musical taste has been revealed. Billboard has reported that, for the second year in a row, the top-selling classical artists were the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, a community of nuns from rural Missouri.

The sisters’ Lent at Ephesus and Angels and Saints at Ephesus – collections of ancient chants and hymns – were the first- and second-best selling traditional classical albums of 2014 (the traditional classical category excludes crossover releases, according to Billboard). Lent at Ephesus sold about thirty-four thousand copies this year and spent thirty-eight weeks on the chart. Angels came in second place with twenty thousand copies over forty-five weeks. Billboard’s rankings are based on sales data for the year’s top sellers compiled by Nielsen Music.

While interest in chant and spirituality has been a cyclical phenomenon in the recording industry – and almost entirely separate from the classical concert world – 2014 saw interest in this category grow. Other top-selling sacred albums included the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s He Is Risen, an Easter-themed collection (no. 4 on the traditional classical chart); Rumi Symphony Project: Untold, by classical Iranian composer Hafez Nazeri (no. 10), and Mater Eucharistiae, by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, a monastic order outside of Ann Arbor, MI (no. 11).

Billboard’s top 15 list (which is behind a paywall at Billboard.biz) also included mainstream classical fare including Anne Akiko Meyers‘s recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and an all-star pairing of Yuja Wang and Gustavo Dudamel in piano concertos by Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. New recordings of Bach by mandolinist Chris Thile, pianist Simone Dinnerstein and violinist Joshua Bell also made the top 15. The surprise entry, at no.7, was Hilary Hahn‘s 27 Pieces, a collection of encores by twenty-seven composers that the violinist commissioned.

There’s another, even broader measurement of popularity to consider: When factoring in crossover music, Billboard’s most popular classical album of 2014 was Shatter Me by the pop violinist and YouTube sensation Lindsay Stirling.

Brian WiseWQXR