what ep is
essential prayers, a musical project conceived, composed, and produced by the irrepressible Kitty Brazelton, redefines, defies, and yet embraces the tradition of prayer.
It acknowledges that prayer, like music, is a way to connect with forces outside of and greater than ourselves.
Well-known, much-loved prayers sung a cappella by seven singer-songwriters in lush, original harmony, essential prayers is a uniquely moving, entertaining, and engaging concert experience.
Natural, unplugged, and easy to stage, essential prayers takes the listener on a spiritual journey without the tariffs, tithes, and tolls imposed by institutional religion.
Audience: anyone who has ever uttered a prayer in the past or will in the future.
House concerts have always attracted me (Kitty) because they are personal. The music is made in the house because it is wanted, invited. The listeners expect to have direct impact on what they are listening to---as they should---and are not disconnected by a veil of anonymity, that so often gets borrowed from our screen-generated culture in public music venues.
When EP music director Michael Chinworth and I began to think about concertizing the new incarnation of Essential Prayers Project in fall '19, we decided to sidestep all the questions of genre—
- is it religious music? [no]
- Then why are you singing prayers? [because they're beautiful and true, and they allow freedom of interpretation]
- If you're a cappella, why aren't you singing barbershop---or Beach Boys---of Whiffenpoofs? [We just sing prayers]
- Why don't you sound more like a church choir? [because I don't think people listen to the words because the singers don't pronounce them the way they would say them---which is why I chose singer/songwriters, because they sing words they say]
- it's a band but it's not rock. [it's all acoustic. So if you need to choose one of those metatag categories, maybe choose folk? But it's not---the words are traditional but the music is newly composed. Try NOT choosing a category.]
- It doesn't sound like "new music," i.e. new classical music. [Nope.]
If we play at someone's house, we're just us and they're just them. And we make this music together. Radical.
Essential Prayers hopes to build a community one house at a time. If the community gets big enough, we can play in a big gorgeous concert hall with great golden acoustics. And we will still, all, make the music.
Let us know if you'd like to host a house concert for Essential Prayers.
we pass the hat
We don't charge admission. Instead we hope you will contribute what you want, after you hear us sing.
We hope further that
- what we are doing will seem as important to you as it does to us,
- and that some of you will choose to give further.
how ep began
My good friend Chuck died in '06 and I wanted to make a setting of the Serenity Prayer that his friends, who didn't read music, could sing at his funeral. I made memorizable patterns in each part. We sang for Chuck.
I've been writing songs, and opera, most of my life. And singing them. For singers, words are our clothes. Singing "naked" (without words) is fun but tough for most of us to sustain.
I began to wonder what it would be like to use words that were so familiar everyone already knew them. Instead of having to grasp words and music all at once, you could actually listen to what the music was saying about the words.
You don't pray for something you don't care about. Prayers, the well-known ones, are contracts between humans about what is important. And well-worn, they're simple, shorn of lacy extras. After an initial bow to the deity, prayers get down to essentials: our daily bread, this day, forgiveness, temptation—or loving-kindness, happiness, peace, health—we agree on these.
Essential Prayers Project began in a motorcycle garage in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in winter 2014. I asked my one-time composition student Trevor Wilson if his band might be willing to sing some prayers. TWVE (Trevor Wilson Vocal Ensemble) agreed. And we met in the unheated garage their bands were using for rehearsal, now called "Ft. Briscoe," to start.
Members of TWVE involved in EP included Ethan Woods (Rokenri), tenor, Alice Tolan-Mee, soprano, and Trevor Wilson himself, baritone/bass and alto. In addition, early EP was graced by songwriters Jude Shimer (The Sneaky Mister), soprano, Will Stratton, tenor, and Cal Folger Day, alto, who often sang with Trevor's band. Kitty Brazelton sang alto with Cal. Alice conducted.
I should maybe mention that Michael, Maia, Alice, Trevor. Ethan and even Will were all ex-students. Maybe you were wondering what a 60-something woman composer was doing rehearsing in a motorcycle garage in Brooklyn with 20-somethings? Maybe you weren't. I was having the time of my life, is the answer. Still am.
It was very cold in the Red Hook garage the January evening Kitty's friend guitarist Hui Cox came out to shoot what he called "Kitty Capers."
By May of 2014, this first incarnation of Essential Prayers Project had solidified into a septet:
- sopranos: Alice and Jude
- altos: Maia and me
- tenors: Michael and Ethan
- bass: Trevor
We then rented out composer Sandra Sprecher's eclectic Brooklyn music venue The Firehouse Space, and Hui Cox and his goddaughter Epifinia Kathie Solhir, a film student, video-ed us while Caley Monahon-Ward live-Pro-Tools'd us.
We recorded the 8 prayers in two batches:
- May: BARUCHA, CAROL, IRISH FAREWELL, MANTRA
- September: OUR FATHER, PSALM 23, FATHER MYKE'S, SERENITY PRAYER
Scroll up to near the top of this page and watch the videos!
They're pretty great. You can feel the band connection and the student-mentor connection (which, believe me, goes both ways).
My plan was to make videos of the prayers and post them online along with scores for free download.
In September, I thought we should "warm up" the recorded performances by gigging just before we recorded. So we booked ourselves a show at Bennington College where everybody but Jude was an alum, and I their teacher, and played.
The reception stunned me.
I'm still posting the scores, but not for free (store). I hope to fundraise so that EP can play house concerts throughout these United States and beyond. I wouldn't mind singing the prayers on Mars if someone gets a house there.
Then life took off in another direction and I got whirled away. Went back to teaching—which I love!—but it consumes me. Won awards for two of my operas, and had to orchestrate another two. Got a commission to premiere at the Library of Congress. Lovely stuff. But there's only one of me and I had to Essential Prayers on the shelf til now.
Here is the 2019 band:
- sopranos are still Alice and Jude—yay!
- altos: me and composer Christina Campanella (who, amazingly, went to Bennington—but before I could have taught her
- tenors: Michael alone, for now
- bass: John Rose, who is actually a bass
Michael is now Music Director. So he and I run the band together. We decided we wanted to play house concerts. We share the vision: small, knowable, no invisible wall between listener and performer. Personal.
Here's what we sounded like at our first house concert ever.
If you enjoy what you've seen and heard, please help me help us get it out there.
Host a concert. Get your ±30 friends over. Cook some food. We'll come and pass the hat to cover our expenses if you're not too far away from NYC.If you're further away, we'll need to do some finagling. But we'll come. We'll find a way.
And/or you can donate to the Essential Prayers Project via my Fractured Atlas (non-profit, tax-deductible) individual career development page.