Know what is above you was written in a little over a week in April 1999. It is scored for 3 sopranos and 1 alto and is in four sections. First the melody is sung by sopranos 1 and 3, it then goes immediately into canon with sopranos 1 and 3 singing against soprano 2 and alto 1. The canon is repeated again in somewhat longer rhythmic values and is then repeated a third time in still longer values coming to a cadence in G minor where it began. The singing is accompanied by 3 small tuned drums similar to the drums used in my earlier Tehillim.
The text is taken from Pirke Avot, a small tractate of the Mishna (the earliest part of the Talmud, edited into final form in the second century) which deals with ethics. It has become so popular in traditional Judaism that it is reprinted in all Prayer books. The text may seem ‘judgmental’ to our contemporary sensibility. For much of the last century, the scientific world view has viewed us only as molecules of various substances electrically charged for a shorter or longer lifetime. In contrast, this text suggests that we are not alone, that an Eternal being cares about us, that our every thought, word and deed has its effect on our character, our soul and on the souls of those around us – and that it all really matters.
Steve Reich, 1999