Essential Prayers Project plays its first house concert in N. Bennington

ONE WEEK AGO, on a beautiful clear Saturday morning in Vermont, the Essential Prayers Project realized its dream to debut playing house concerts.

We want to play for smaller audiences. We want to see everyone’s faces and talk afterwards like we did something together. The old 4th wall of music, where everyone sits quietly and listens then leaves, is outmoded. There is an imbalance of perceived roles and their importance. To attend a live concert is a magnificently generous thing to do. To listen and respond from within, to show on your face that response, to breathe in sync with others in the room (because that is what happens)—these actions become huge in the face of our increasingly screen-based lives. User-friendly means that a machine has been programmed to resemble the depth and detail of human response—but still imperfectly. Nothing beats the grace and finesse of actual human interaction!

And this audience delivered. They listened so intently we could hear them listening. They carried us when we got nervous and made mistakes with the newness. Some people even cried. Wow. We felt it all. Exhilarating.

This is a passage from Kitty Brazelton’s re-setting of a 15th c. plainchant hymn “Puer natus in Bethlehem: Alleluia” celebrating the birth of the christ child. "Hic jacet in praesepio" means "lying in a manger". Joyful and rowdy. Christian version of the festival of light. Winter is coming. Fight the dark. Sing out against depression.

We were well partnered in this desire for connection: The Magsamens welcomed our music into their beautiful home on a hilltop in North Bennington overlooking the western flank of the Green Mountains. The home was originally a humble farmhouse dating back several Vermont centuries.

The Music Room where we sang, had its own history. The room itself had once been part of the mansion a few doors across on another magnificent wooded hilltop. That mansion belonged to the Park-McCullough family: built by John McCullough who moved to North Bennington in 1873 after marrying Eliza Hall Park, daughter of Panama Railway president Trenor Park. His father-in-law appointed McCullough vice-president of the distant railway. Through the 1880s McCullough rose to run not only Panama, Chicago, Erie Railroads but Bennington & Rutland Railway which built many of the neighborhoods of North Bennington. He become governor of Vermont from 1902 to 1904.

Esther McCullough and Stell Andersen read a music folio together

Esther McCullough and Stell Andersen read a music folio together

But his youngest daughter Esther Morgan Park McCullough fell in love with a woman, international concert pianist Cora Stell Andersen. Esther was a novelist but played the violin. They became lifelong partners. The Park-McCullough parents moved the music room (see video) above in one piece, adding it to the farmhouse, so that the couple could live in privacy.

The acoustics were amazing. The audience members were gorgeous. We broke fast on homemade quiche and sat and talked for almost twice the length of the concert we’d just given. Marvelous. Just what we’d dreamed of.

Sandra Magsamen’s flyer

Sandra Magsamen’s flyer

Kitty Brazelton

Composer, performer, bandleader, curator, teacher = musicmaker