Early this year I introduced BioLogos Forum readers to the choral music of composer and performer Toby Twining as an example of how, in both art and science, one of our fundamental responses to the created order is representation: taking what we find in the world and re-presenting it, adding our own associative, creative powers to see and make something new, even if what’s “new” is a more careful and true picture of what we thought we already “knew.” In that first case my focus was on the way Twining’s highly interpersonal music reflects and reforms complex material relationships by representing beach and ocean waves via the human voice. This week, I’d like to call attention to a second piece from that same album that serves as a reminder that another primary response to the given world is and ought to be one of joy.
Like “Playing in the Waves,” “Yes! Yes! Yes!” was written as the accompanying music for Sarah Ruhls' Eurydice as produced by Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater in May 2008, and the complex sounds in the piece are created by only five human voices over a foundation of a single cello—the entirety of the Toby Twining Music ensemble. Within the play, the song acts as wedding music for Orpheus and Eurydice as they confess their love and pledge their lives to each other, but the exuberance and joy of the singing here speaks of a more essential and thoroughgoing love than just that between characters in a stage drama. Partly, this is evidence of the kind of intimacy and care for each other (as well as the music) required of musicians singing such work. But it is also a reflection of Twining’s own sense of God’s goodness and affirmation of His creation, and of the creation’s response of worship.
Again in this piece there are echoes of the waves that play on and just off the shore where the scene takes place, and the mixed hums and tones and syllables that alternate with percussive and overtone singing give an impression of a playful rapture that is either pre- or post-verbal—of human joy intermingled and sharing the stage with joyful expressions of the earth itself. It is as if the waves join Orpheus and Eurydice in their song of betrothal, while they, in turn, borrow freely from the language of love and praise that the creation is always already singing to its Maker, even in the midst of death, decay and delay of its ultimate consummation.
Though a few will complain that any attribution of such feelings as joy to the material world or to the creatures with whom we share it is misplaced, and some will even complain that our sense of confidence in and hope for a physical and spiritual redemption of the world is misguided, precisely these beliefs are the basis for the distinctive role Christians can play within the sciences, in addition to that of being champions for the dignity of all human beings as being made in the image of God. We rightly recognize and lament the pain and hurt and seeming futility of much of the way the world works, but we can nevertheless also see the creation as a pointer to God’s glory, and seek its shalom even as we seek the shalom of the entire human community. That is, the practice of science can be seen not merely as being about instrumental control or efficiency, or even the pursuit of a “pure” knowledge, but about seeking to recognize and promote the way God has ordained the world to be good and fruitful, our own role as cultivators within it.
To return to the relationship and words that define Twining’s composition, then, this vision of the why and how Christians ought to be engaged in contemporary scientific work reminds us that the Church is the Bride of the coming Christ, called—but also joyfully desiring—to prepare ourselves and our household for the coming of the Groom. We eagerly await the day of His return, when we will join with all of creation in a complicated, intricate, and resounding chorus of “Yes!”
Raised in Texas, with family roots in country-swing and gospel, Toby Twining has traveled musically from playing for rock and jazz bands to composing and performing experimental music for voices. In 1987 he began working in New York, initially writing his new choral music for modern dance choreographers; since 1991 his ensemble Toby Twining Music has performed in music halls and festivals across the United States and Europe. His recordings include Shaman (SONY, 1994), The Little Match Girl and Emily Dickinson’s Birthday Pizza on A Prairie Home Companion 20th Anniversary Album (Highbridge, 1996), Chrysalid Requiem and Eurydice (Cantaloupe Music 2002 and 2011). Twining’s instrumental music has been recorded by pianist Margaret Leng Tan and cellist Matt Haimovitz. He was a 2003 Pew Fellow, co-founder of Arts on the Edge Wolfeboro, and serves as Minister of Music at Community Congregational Church in Short Hills, NJ. Twining is also a 2011 Guggenheim recipient. Samples of the ensemble’s other work may be found here.
The musicians on the recording are: Eric Brenner, soprano; Liz Filios, alto; Steve Bradshaw, tenor; Toby Twining and Mark Johnson, bass, and Flora Shapiro, violincello.