Performances:

April 2, 2016
Principal Sound, St John’s Smith Square, London
EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble
May, 2014
Tectonics Glasgow
EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble
October 22, 2013
Only Connect Theatre, London (premiere)
EXAUDI Vocal Ensemble

Notes:

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.