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A River out of Eden merges two accounts of the creation of the earth, one from the 6th century BCE (The Hebrew Book of Genesis, in William Tyndale's English translation of the 1520s), the other, written by the American author Annie Dillard and first published in 1974. Dillard's account is an excerpt from her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. What links these two versions, other than their millennia-wide differences of perspective on the same concept? This anthem was commissioned to celebrate the long service and leadership of Sid Davis and his wife Cindy at St Luke's United Methodist Church, Houston, a music ministry that gave the US premieres of both my Eternal Light: A Requiem and Invictus: A Passion, and when I first met in person the Davis family, in New York City in November 2016, I was able to thank Sid face to face for his unwavering championing of my work in the USA, whilst he gave me a copy of Annie Dillard's beautiful meditation on the natural world, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book that had provided him with solace and guidance for many years. It is part journal, part poetry, part metaphor. Which, in a sense, could be said of the Jahwist source of the Book of Genesis that Tyndale beautifully carved into English from Erasmus' Greek translation in the late 1520s, a historic achievement for which he was executed a few years later, since both monarch and pontiff at that time feared what people might do if they discovered and understood the Bible for themselves.
For me, the two texts shed light on each other, and in music we can provide them with a new home in which they co-exist. Dillard's dramatic, scientific, bursting forth of life and energy sits aside the Jews in Babylonian captivity's idea that the whole magnificent show was for the benefit of the humans who were soon to populate the newly-made world. Richard Dawkins borrowed the phrase River Out of Eden for his 1995 summary of the landmark research on evolutionary biology and genetic development that made him world-renowned, re-telling humanity's emergence from that original 'garden', emphasising that the water flowing through it was all-important, a fundamental he shares with Tyndale and his sources. For the desert-dwelling tribe of the Old Testament water was, literally, the difference between life and death. As my musical setting unfolds, the chaos of creation is replaced by the joy of the spring of life, and we switch from Dillard to Tyndale. Now that we live in a garden besieged and endangered on all sides, whose plenty and abundance is in ever shorter supply, we can appreciate all of these complementary reflections on our creative origins, since they all emphasise our dependence on, and our origin in, the natural world.
I have preserved Tyndale's 16th century spellings but all his words should be sung as if in their modern form, thus rever is sung river, spronge is sprung, sprynge is spring, bewtyfull is beautiful, erth is earth, maner is manner, middes is midst, euell is evil, and so on.