Published in Berkshires Week on September 24, 2014
Original article: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/berkshiresweek/ci_26596672/riffing-prayer
Starting this Friday evening, a group of young musicians will be returning to Bennington College, their alma mater, for a weekend of harmony, prayer, and just a little bit of rock.
The weekend centers around a collaboration between Bennington College composition professor Kitty Brazelton and Trevor Wilson, a former student of Brazelton’s who now fronts the New York-based vocal group Anawan, who have joined forces to present renditions of various prayers sung a cappella. The project, titled “Essential Prayers,” is designed as a digital experience — the recordings will be uploaded to the internet for free streaming when the project launches in spring 2015.
In advance of the launch, Brazelton, Wilson, and the other members of the eight-piece chorus recruited to sing the prayers will be performing the project live on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 4:15 p.m. in Bennington College’s Carriage Barn.
Brazelton said she planned the concert as a way to make the project a tangible and exciting event, rather than just recordings on YouTube, and her collaborators agree that the live performance will allow the audience to experience it in an important, powerful way.
“I think it’s one of those things that works best when it’s live, and you can become really immersed in it,” said Trevor Wilson. “It’s very moving, and when you stand back and hear it from start to finish it’s really quite epic. It’s like Noah’s ark or Lord of the Rings; it takes you on a journey, and I think people will take a lot from it.”
The performers for “Essential Prayers” include Wilson and his Anawan bandmates Michael Chinworth, Maia Friedman, Alice Tolan-Mee, and Ethan Woods, as well as Brazelton and soprano Judith Shimer. Brazelton explained that she was excited to be able to use the bandmates of Anawan as part of her chorus for their natural sound and chemistry, which she explains as more of a singer-songwriter feel than a choir.
“They had this rapport that is just so gorgeous,” she said. “I’ve had the good luck to have my work performed by some magnificent choirs, but they’re so smoothed out. They’re gorgeous and unified, but I wanted that different sound where there is still that rapport, but you can hear the people singing to you.”
Brazelton explains that even though she isn’t religious in the traditional sense, she has become interested in the power and function of prayer.
“The first one I picked was the Serenity Prayer. I definitely use that to calm down, and it works,” explained Brazelton. “And then you get to the 23rd Psalm, and I think that prayer is about being afraid, and that it’s going to be ok, no matter what. It says ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,’ but it’s so clear to me that of course you’re afraid. But to say “I fear no evil,” it’s so comforting. It’s an affirmation.”
Other prayers included in the project are the Irish Farewell, the Loving-Kindness mantra from Buddhism, and several other prayers from Christian, Jewish and even Atheist traditions. Brazelton explained that she was also attracted to this project by the idea that the texts of the prayers are well known, so audiences could know the words ahead of time.
“Even though there are a lot of Christian and Jewish influences, it is quite secular at the same time,” said Wilson. “I think it allows for a lot of that spiritual introspection that is sometimes only reserved for when you’re in church or temple or wherever. But for someone more secular, you can connect to the spirituality of it and not feel alienated.”
Before the Prayers concert on Saturday, the visiting musicians will be performing their own music in their usual incarnations at Bennington’s student center at 8 p.m. on Friday night. Both concerts are free and open to the public.
The concert will open with Sneaky Mister, Judith Shimer’s solo project, before Anawan members Alice Tolan-Mee and Ethan Woods take the stage with their own projects, respectively called True Lucy and Rokenri.
The group will reform as Anawan to close the event, showing off their 5-part harmonies over sparse acoustic guitar, synthesizer and bass accompaniment.
“It’s pretty folky and experimental. I’m hoping it will be interpreted as almost a modern day Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,” described Wilson. “We make music that I think has a lot to do with spirituality and community, and we just try to keep it real and stay grounded and be good humans, and the music is a byproduct of all that.”