by Heather Ernst ’14
Among the chorus of duetting birds deep in the canyons of Southern Utah, a new duet is echoing off the red sandstone walls. Nicholas Miller ’14 and Camille Backman ’14 have traveled hundreds of miles to be here, on sacred land, and their purpose is a special one: to make music.
This pair’s story began nearly 12 years ago, when Nicholas joined the Rowland Hall community as a middle schooler. Since then, he and Camille have developed a deep friendship around their love for Southern Utah; their shared interest in activism and volunteering, which was nurtured during their time at the school; and their predilection for playing music, sometimes together (when the stars, and their schedules, align).
From a young age, both Nicholas and Camille have had an infectious passion for music. Nicholas found that love playing the guitar, mainly focusing on jazz, but he’s no stranger to experimentation: he’s done everything from play in rock bands to study the sitar in India. Camille, a classically trained violinist, has spent a great deal of her life dedicated to mastering her skills and perfecting her sound. Both have found a great deal of joy in collaborating together and with other musicians, something they’ve done since high school.
“We actually played a duet together at graduation,” revealed Nicholas. “That was the first formal time that we played together.”
After graduation, both continued their study of music, Nicholas at the Lamont Jazz School at the University of Denver and Camille at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Although the pair has been hundreds of miles apart—most recently on two separate continents, as Camille is now working on her master’s degree in Brussels, Belgium—they have always maintained their relationship as friends and musical partners.
“I would say each year that we’ve met up since high school we inevitably have some sort of jam session,” laughed Camille. “It’s so natural—when we spend time together, usually music is somehow being made.”
In fact, their musical connection is so natural that they managed to create their new album, For Other Waters Are Ever Flowing, without even knowing it, while traveling together through Southern Utah in summer 2020.
“I didn’t actually know that we were recording an album when we did it,” chuckled Nicholas, but the creativity flowed and “it ended up being an album’s worth of music.”
For Other Waters Are Ever Flowing consists entirely of improvised music between the violin and guitar, as well as the natural sounds of each location Nicholas and Camille visited during that trip. “Our aim was to find places in Utah with acoustic qualities that we were interested in,” explained Camille.
It became clear to the pair that this project could be a way for them to help spread awareness about the importance of the sacred indigenous lands that spread for miles across the desert of Southern Utah.
Location was a key aspect of this project. Both musicians had previous interest in Southern Utah after having traveled there numerous times growing up. And as they returned in summer 2020 as young adults and spent more time exploring the area’s spaces—rappelling into canyons with their instruments and recording materials strapped to their backs—their interests expanded from acoustic qualities to the history behind those spaces. It became clear to the pair that this project could be a way for them to help spread awareness about the importance of the sacred indigenous lands that spread for miles across the desert of Southern Utah.
“Part of sharing this album is a way that we can protect indigenous lands while also making them accessible to people,” explained Camille. “Regardless of where you are in the world, you can listen and connect to Utah.”
As the pair explained, they were “trying to communicate with their roots and grapple with homecoming, leaving, returning, and belonging” through this music. Upon entering these wild spaces that mean so much to them, the music allowed for moments of connection with the ecological and cultural histories of the places. Listeners of the album have this experience too. It begins to feel as if the instruments are speaking to you: with each strum of the guitar and bow of the violin, you can feel yourself moving through the canyons, developing a new sense of consciousness and connection to those who lived there before. The abstract blending of sound, ecology, and activism make for an album that speaks to the history of the space in which it was recorded. And the most interesting part of the album is that it cannot be recreated—and it’s not meant to be.
“The music on the album can only happen in certain locations, in the moment it was created,” Camille explained.
Looking back on her musical career, Camille credits Rowland Hall for giving her the space to build strong relationships. “Rowland Hall does an excellent job of allowing you to develop your interpersonal skills with your mentors and peers,” she reflected.
Both Nicholas and Camille also credit their mentors from Rowland Hall in preparing them for life’s challenges. “I would definitely have to shout-out to Kody Partridge and Dr. Hickman,” Nicholas said. “Both of their classes made me a better thinker, which has connected to art and creativity for sure.”
Nicholas and Camille will continue their creative pursuits: Nicholas is currently applying to graduate programs, where he will further his studies in music, and Camille is in her third and final year of her master of music program in Brussels. Looking forward, Nicholas and Camille are anxious and excited to be back on the same continent where they can create more music and collaborate on future projects.
After many hours of collaboration, as well as editing from two different continents, and with the help of Anthony Peña (mixing) and Bridget Hartman (album artwork), Nicholas and Camille are proud to share For Other Waters Are Ever Flowing. Those interested in buying the album can do so through BandCamp, and 50 percent of the proceeds will go to Utah Diné Bikéyah, an alliance between the five native tribes of Utah who strive to preserve and protect the cultural and natural resources of ancestral Native American lands to benefit and bring healing to the people and the earth. The album is also available on Spotify, YouTube Music, and Apple Music.