Ere Sleep Comes Down (2019)

text by Paul Laurence Dunbar

TTBB men’s choir

6 min.

Ere Sleep Comes Down takes its text from three verses of a poem (Ere Sleep Comes Down to Soothe the Weary Eyes) by African-American writer Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906).  While the poetic imagery is vivid— encompassing the range of emotion and intensity of a fully-lived life—I was drawn to the sense of calm and peace found in the final verse.  The soul finding a sense of peace is something I think is we hope to find at the end of any long journey.  The music reflects this sense of calm, with its gentle 12/8 meter, as well as a sense of yearning with its harmonies inspired by traditional gospel and blues. 

Ere Sleep Comes Down was composed for Chor Leoni Men’s Choir (Vancouver, Canada), in early 2019, in response to a call for new scores, and the piece tied for first place in the Chor Leoni’s national Canadian Choral Composition Competition. Elizabeth Knudson received a Barbara Pentland Award for Outstanding Composition (presented by the Canadian Music Centre) for this work. Ere Sleep Comes Down received its premiere on May 10th, 2019 by Chor Leoni Men’s Choir, directed by Erick Lichte, at the Orpheum Annex, Vancouver, Canada.


"Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes, 
Which all the day with ceaseless care have sought
The magic gold which from the seeker flies;
Ere dreams put on the gown and cap of thought,
And make the waking world a world of lies--
Of lies most palpable, uncouth, forlorn,
That say life's full of aches and tears and sighs--
Oh, how with more than dreams the soul is torn,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes, 
Where ranges forth the spirit far and free?
Through what strange realms and unfamiliar skies
Tends her far course to lands of mystery?
To lands unspeakable-- beyond surmise,
Where shapes unknowable to being spring,
Till, faint of wing, the Fancy fails and dies
Much wearied with the spirit's journeying,
Ere sleep comes down to soothe the weary eyes.

When sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes,
The last dear sleep whose soft embrace is balm,
And whom sad sorrow teaches us to prize
For kissing all our passions into calm,
Ah, then no more we heed the sad world's cries,
Or seek to probe th' eternal mystery,
Or fret our souls at long-withheld replies,
At glooms through which our visions cannot see,
When sleep comes down to seal the weary eyes."

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)


Sheet music is available through the Canadian Music Centre.