Nuns storm classical charts as ancient plainchant strikes a chord in pandemic times

15 January 2021, 16:37

'Light For The World' was released by The Poor Clares of Arundel, a convent based in Sussex
'Light For The World' was released by The Poor Clares of Arundel, a convent based in Sussex. Picture: Chris O’Donovan

By Sian Moore

The Poor Clares of Arundel are using their beautiful voices to provide light in these darker times...

It might come as no surprise that the ethereal sound of nuns’ traditional plainchant has resonated with listeners across the globe in 2020, with many of us in need of a beautiful moment of music amid rather turbulent times.

But this community of 23 nuns living in the south of England have found themselves unexpected recording stars.

Their spiritual album, Light for the World, took the No.1 spot in both the Classical Artist Album Chart and Classical Specialist Album Chart after its release in October.

And now, more than 800 years since they were founded, The Poor Clares of Arundel have become the UK’s best-selling classical artist debut of 2020.

The album’s welcome reception comes as the biggest surprise to the Sussex convent’s sisters. The contemporary production is their first foray into recording music, their debut album comprising pieces that have been a constant source of healing and reflection for them, and now for many others too.

Read more: French Benedictine nuns release 7,000 hours of Gregorian chant >

The Poor Clares Of Arundel - Light For The World (album trailer)

The sisters live in a rural community of 23 nuns, who live, work, laugh and pray according to the form of life drawn up by St Clare of Assisi in 1253.

Chanting plays a huge role in their lives, which in turn brings them “deep joy”. And now their meditative music is providing a moment of solace for listeners across the globe, amid the challenges the world continues to face during the pandemic.

Read more: School choir sings spiritual ‘Down to the River to Pray’ from hotel balconies >

The album features writings from St Clare and St Francis, which are set to music by composers James Morgan and Juliette Pochin.

The pieces include Latin hymns and medieval texts with a “unique 21st century production”.

The Poor Clares of Arundel is a community made up of 23 nuns
The Poor Clares of Arundel is a community made up of 23 nuns. Picture: Chris O’Donovan

The music has struck such a chord with some listeners that co-MD of record label Decca, Tom Lewis, revealed some have broken down in tears on listening to it.

“We heard of people stopping their cars in tears having heard the music and message of The Poor Clares,” he said. “Their music clearly contains a magical musical balm that people need right now.”

To celebrate their extraordinary success, the sister are now releasing a new digital deluxe version of their album, which combines traditional plainchant with added beats.

Speaking to Classic FM, Sister Gabriel Davison revealed how overwhelmed the Sisters have been by the response their album has had. “It is a great joy for us to know that during this difficult time for so many, our music is helping people to cope with the stress and anxiety of daily life,” she said.

“The recording of our album, in our monastery chapel over a period of several months, was a great adventure which we entered into wholeheartedly.

“We hope that all who listen may find a sense of calm, peace and serenity which lies deep within each one of us.”