“[Miller’s] focus [in Guide] is rather on the relationship between the special aura of a particular musical act (usually involving highly expressively charged materials) and the processes of capture: not merely through recordings but through memory and transcription. […] Her work is about the way we make these objects our own, about how we love things and thereby change both ourselves and them. Never are her repetitions simply alienating, nor is the focus primarily on allowing us to ‘hear inside’ the sound-object by stopping the onward flow. They may do both of these, but they also function as quasi-mantras, wherein repetition serves to intensify and heighten the experience: both the vertical and horizontal dimensions (the canons and the loops) of Guide thus amplify the original to emotionally overwhelming effect.” – TEMPO, Along the Grain: the Music of Cassandra Miller, 2014

Commissioned by EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble

When James Weeks asked me to write a piece for EXAUDI, I knew right away that I would attempt to write a piece about “the feeling of freedom one gets from singing”. EXAUDI can make anything at all sound like freedom, it’s true – but I wanted to write something specifically to amplify this feeling, a piece about EXAUDI.

My first task then was to find which sound exactly exemplifies this singing-freedom. Eventually I remembered a hymn sung in “lined-out” style, that I listened to as a kid on one of my mother’s folk music albums: “Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah” as recorded by Maria Muldaur in 1968. The song is Muldaur’s imitation of a recording she had heard of an anonymous singer from Kentucky – a melody full of swoops over a large tessitura that, more than anything, sounds like it feels good to sing.

From there, I asked the singers of EXAUDI to first memorize the Muldaur recording, as if following an aural tradition. I then gave them a quasi-neumatic score with further instructions such as starting pitch, tempo, and repetitions.

The particular way in which the repetitions function (between three groups somewhat independent of each other) is inspired directly by Bryn Harrison’s “Eight Voices” written for EXAUDI in 2012. The first time I heard EXAUDI in person, they were in rehearsal sight-reading an early version of “Eight Voices” – it was a seminal moment, and has greatly influenced the course of my musical imagination.