Go Down, Death

December 31, 2011

More than ten years ago, I began work on a new choral work based on a poem by American poet James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) entitled Go Down, Death. This year, I got the chance to finish up this five-minute piece.

Written in concerto style, this piece is for a cappella choir with a soprano soloist. I was captivated by the text, which begins and ends with these heartbreaking bookends:

Weep not, weep not,

She is not dead;

She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.

Heart-broken husband–weep no more;

Grief-stricken son–weep no more;

Left-lonesome daughter –weep no more;

She only just gone home.

In between the bookends, a beautiful narrative spins, a story of God dealing with a grief-stricken woman (partially excerpted here):

Day before yesterday morning,

God was looking down from his great, high heaven,

Looking down on all his children,

And his eye fell of Sister Caroline.

Then off to the races with an adventure:

Call Death!–Call Death!

And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven

Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,

Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.

And Death heard the summons,

And he leaped on his fastest horse,

Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.

Up the golden street Death galloped,

This piece, which has not yet been performed, follows the form of the original poem exactly, with a somewhat dissonant reflective introduction, and then a series of episodes at medium and fast tempos as the story unfolds, concluding with a return to the introduction to cap off the piece. In the faster adventure sections, I spent a lot of time writing the highly rhythmic inner lines to create minimalistic pulsing textures to propel the movement.

The score of this composition is available for purchase for $9.99, which includes unlimited reproduction rights for one choir/conductor/director to perform the piece in a season. The first page of the score to Go Down, Death can be previewed for free by clicking the thumbnail to the right. If you are a choral director who would like to peruse the score for evaluation, please use the Contact page.

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