Secluded order of nuns signs record deal behind closed doors

Contract with Lady Gaga's label is slipped through grille to singing sisters who have no TV or radio
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The Independent Online

Members of an order of nuns so secluded they are rarely seen in the outside world have found a new vocation as recording artists with the record label of Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse and Eminem.

The Benedictine nuns of Abbaye Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation, near Avignon, France, signed a "major deal" for an album of their songs, and did so in a fittingly modest fashion. Since no visitors are permitted to enter the convent, the sisters had to be passed the contract through a grille, through which they posted it back signed.

The Benedictine order dates back to the sixth century and is traditionally self-sufficient. The 40 or so nuns of Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation count a plumber, an electrician, an engineer and a dental nurse among their number. Their seclusion means they will have to shoot their album cover and accompanying TV advert themselves. The Reverend Mother Abbess said: "At first we were worried it would affect our cloistered life, so we asked St Joseph in prayer. Our prayers were answered, and we thought that this album would be a good thing if it touches people's lives and helps them find peace."

The nuns' new career originated in Decca's search to find the world's best female singers of Gregorian chant after a company executive was charmed by an old recording he discovered of nuns singing. The Avignon nuns, who sing together eight times a day, beat off competition from more than 70 convents worldwide. Tim Lewis, head of A&R at Decca, said: "When you hear them chanting, it's like an immediate escape from the stresses, noise and pace of modern living."

The album, called Voice: Chant from Avignon, will be released on 8 November. The nuns, who have no access to newspapers, TV or radio, now have their own Facebook page and feature in several YouTube videos.

Decca is hoping to repeat the success found when it signed the Cistercian monks of Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria, in 2008. The monks, who won the deal to record an album after uploading a video of their singing to YouTube, sold a million copies of Chant: Music for Paradise.

Singing monks and nuns are nothing new – in the Sixties a Belgian nun known as Soeur Sourire (Sister Smile) found international fame with her single "Dominique", and a group of Spanish Benedictine monks sold 16m copies of their album Chant in the 1990s.