ONKS' HIT MUSIC NOTHING SHORT OF EN-CHANTING

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MADRID-They wear black, sing in Latin and are Spain's biggest musical sensation. Now, the Benedictine monks of the Santa Domingo de Silas monastery are out to preach to the world the power of Gregorian chants.

The monks last week announced the worldwide introduction March 15 of their album of Gregorian chants, catchily renamed "Chant" for the U.S. The collection will be released in Latin America, Europe, Asia and the U.S.

In Spain, the somewhat longer titled "Las Mejores Obras del Canto Gregoriano" ("The Best of Gregorian Chants") has shown unprecedented success for classical music, with sales equal to those of the biggest pop and rock singers. In Spain, more than 300,000 copies of the double compact disc have been sold to date for $21.

The new CD, oddly enough, is a compilation of four earlier releases by the monks. It wasn't until last year, however, that EMI Odeon, Madrid, the monks' label, recognized the cumulative sales of the music had reached 170,000. In classical music, sales of 25,000 are worth a platinum record.

EMI set out to capitalize on the phenomena, devising a strategy to capture the fancy of the press and public. The company held a news conference in November at the monastery in the north central province of Burgos.

There, EMI delivered the monks' six platinum records and announced the current recompilation.

Since then, the monks have sold another 130,000 copies, making the album No. 1 on both the classical chart and the overall pop chart, staying there for six weeks to beat out secular singers Gloria Estefan, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra. As of last week, the chants were No. 5 on the Spanish pop chart.

Its rise is nothing short of miraculous.

"Never before has a classical album entered the pop and rock lists," in Spain, said Ana Garcia, international division manager, EMI Odeon.

The news conference was followed up with a three-week TV-only campaign, created in-house, on national and regional TV. Spots showed the Spanish album cover with monks rendered in stained glass with the theme line "A good adventure."

For "Chants" international debut, each EMI division where the record is being introduced will handle marketing, either in-house or through an agency. Ms. Garcia wasn't sure of all the countries' plans, but Europe and the U.S. at least will have TV campaigns, she said, along with strong merchandising displays.

EMI expects results to be heavenly. The "conservative" estimate is 500,000 CDs worldwide, Ms. Garcia said.

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