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Nuns replace 'Fifty Shades' atop classical albums chart

| Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

For the past month, the world of classical music has seen fewer shades of grey and more black and white.

Since its release in mid-November, “Advent at Ephesus,” a collection of a cappella music sung by Benedictine nuns, has topped Billboard's traditional classical albums chart — displacing the companion CD of classical themes for E.L. James' novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, cloistered at Our Lady of Ephesus priory in rural Gower, Mo., have sold 22,000 copies of a collection of hymns, chants and polyphony that celebrates the anticipation of the birth of Jesus. The album has placed as high as No. 4 on the overall classical albums chart, which puts the nuns on track to become 2012's top-selling new classical act.

The sisters follow the monastic rule of fourth-century Christian saint Benedict of Nursia and sing eight times a day in their chapel, led by their prioress .

“It's not like a group that just gets together and rehearses a few times a week. They're really as one,” says Monica Fitzgibbons, co-founder of the label De Montfort Music, which released “Advent at Ephesus.” “They sing more than they actually speak.”

The album initially topped the traditional classical chart thanks to a grass-roots marketing effort focused on the faith-based community and the classical-choral audience.

After the sisters unseated the “Fifty Shades of Grey” album, places like National Public Radio's “All Things Considered” program and People magazine introduced their unadorned music to a wider audience.

The sisters haven't paid attention to their coup of knocking the “Fifty Shades of Grey” compilation from the top of the chart. “They don't even know what (‘Grey') is,” Fitzgibbons says.

Brian Mansfield is a contributing writer for USA Today.

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