Little River Grace
instrumentation: string quartet
duration: 8 minutes
written in: 2014
commissioned by: Tenth Intervention
This is an homage to the beautiful Appalachian song "Down in the River to Pray". The exact origin is unknown. Research suggests that it was composed by a Black American slave.
The song has various titles, including "Down to the River to Pray," "Down in the Valley to Pray," "The Good Old Way," and "Come, Let Us All Go Down".
In some versions, "in the river" is replaced by "to the river". The phrase "in the river" is significant, for two reasons; The song has often been sung at outdoor baptisms. Another reason is that many slave songs contained coded messages for escaping. When the slaves escaped, they would walkin the river because the water would cover their scent from the bounty-hunters' dogs. Similarly, the "starry crown" could refer to navigating their escape by the stars. And "Good Lord, show me the way" could be a prayer for God's guidance to find the escape route, commonly known as "the Underground Railroad."