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Stopping By Woods…

December 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm UTC

Want to hear something weird? Here’s Sleep with the original text.

It’s actually very difficult for me to listen to this – not because the Frost estate denied me permission, but because I didn’t set the text very well. To my ear it sounds clunky and forced, disregarding prosody and a lot of important vowel changes. (You’ll also notice that I changed a few notes here and there, for the better). Charles Anthony Silvestri not only replaced the poem, he saved the piece. He actually made my music much, much better, on every level.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: my dear friend Charles Anthony Silvestri is a genius, through and through.

  • Jon Fisher

    WOW! Even though I love the “newer” version better, this still sent chills down my spine. I love the original text, and when I heard it match up with the notes so well, it still gave me the shivers. Incredible difference between the original and the new one though! I see what you mean about the clunky and forced sound, Eric. Thanks for sharing this! (Sleep is STILL my favorite work, ever!)

  • Dan

    Thank you so much for posting this! I guess it’s true you can find anything on YouTube. At first I was torn because “Stopping By Woods…” is my all-time favorite poem. I have to admit it was a thrill hearing it set to the melody that you composed for it.

    But after several listens I must agree wholeheartedly that it “works” much better with Silvestri’s text, both as a whole and line-by-line. As a layperson it’s hard for me to put my finger on specifics but it just “resonates” more. Genius indeed!

    It’s hard not to feel a sense that it was all meant to be though. Without the original commission of the Frost poem you might never had the inspiration to compose this masterpiece. Without Mr. Silvestri we might never have had the chance to hear so many fantastic choirs perform it (or perform it ourselves). The fact that Mr. Silvestri not only saved it from semi-permanent obscurity but actually improved upon it just underscores the point, and ensures this piece will outlive you both. Thank you!

    I read this in the YouTube comments, but maybe you can confirm–this is the Concordia Choir under Rene Clausen singing, right?

  • Raz

    Just to piggyback off of Dan, not to mention that without the newfound success Sleep now has had with Mr. Silvestri’s genius, it wouldn’t have been featured on the Virtual Choir 2.0! Nonetheless, this version sounds hauntingly beautiful.

  • Mariah Mendoza

    I’ve been waiting YEARS to hear this with the original text!
    It just proves that the text of a piece can give a completely different take and effect on a specific melody. The phrase “But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep” just makes me weep, just as it did when I sang “As I surrender unto sleep” on stage! (Whoops!)

    Mr. Whitacre, you have given me so much faith in the past few years that no one else has been able to. Much to the dismay of my family, I am a freshman in college pursuing a degree in Music Education. I often doubt myself and my actions, but then I put on my headphones and drown myself in the sounds you’ve created and i’m once again assured that i’m doing the right thing with my life.

    Thank you for being you.

  • Andrew Orlowicz

    I think the original text sounds fine, but I definitely agree silvestri’s text works for sleep much better than frost’s.

    Even though the frost estate wouldn’t let you use his text, I’m glad they didn’t. Otherwise I don’t think sleep would have been quite as breathtaking as it actually is!

  • Joseph Spence

    It almost sounds like it’s in another language. Or maybe I’m so engrained in Sleep that it’s totally foreign to me.

  • Anika Goslen

    I’ve always wondered what Sleep would sound like with this text. I’ve even attempted singing it myself to hear what it sounds like, and it just never felt right. Even though the poem is beautiful, the song and the poem just don’t mesh. I definitely agree that it’s a good thing they didn’t let you commission it with that poem. Sleep is the song that introduced me to your music, and I still love it! Sylvestri’s words just flow with the piece, especially at the sleeps at the end, where it sounds just like when your eyelids get heavy and you just can’t keep them open. Thanks for sharing! And for not giving up on the song.

  • Charles Anthony Silvestri

    “The only other sound’s the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake”

    are still two of the coolest lines of sound ever written. These lines were my favorite part of the original piece, and the part I had the most trouble with. I worked and reworked these lines until I gave up and retreated into the English words I love the most. “Cloud” and “dream” are among my favorites. In fact, I think “dream” sounds great in any language. Then there is the cheesy smokescreen of the “s” alliteration of “surrender… sleep… second sight”. I knew the final effect would be cool, but I felt a bit dirty messing with such beauty.

    I have written before about my difficulty with “These woods are lovely, dark and deep”. In this instance I retreated into Shakespeare and Frost himself, with “What dreams may come, both dark and deep”. I had to keep “dark and deep” because of what Eric had done with the mens’ parts underneath.

    I am honored by all of your comments and I am glad my words have meant so much to many of you.


  • Sydney Easton

    As a high school student, doing this piece was one of, possibly THE most unbelievable and soul-changing experience I’ve ever had. I was a Soprano 1 so I’m very sensitive to those higher harmony lines, I must say I love the change you made between this original and the published, new version with the alto (or maybe it’s the mezzo) line right before the ‘climax’ of the song. Still excruciatingly dissonant, but more fitting with the text. Still, what a perfect piece of music, all you did was enhance flawlessness.

    Thank you for bringing tears to the eyes of a high school junior in the middle of choir rehearsal.

  • Curtis Azevedo

    This is good, but I prefer the version we all know today as Sleep. The moments during the last two stanzas in the choir seem emotionally out of place. For example, in the second-to-last stanza, He gives his harness bells a shake…that eeriness in the chorus was perfect for If there are noises…, but not here. Noises are eerie. Harness bells aren’t. And for the final stanza, the woods are lovely, the music grows beautifully, but again, out of place. You feel joy with the chorus when they shout gloriously, I finally surrender unto sleep. Trust me, I’m sure you’re actually thankful that they denied you access to their poem. Great job, Eric!

  • Amy Daniels

    I’ve often wondered about this original text. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to agree that ‘Sleep’ is the better for the Frost-estate-palarva… & the genius of Charles Anthony Silvestri!

  • Joe

    It’s so exciting to hear the development of Sleep!
    Now it’s so obvious how those harmonies come into play, with the original text. But with the ‘Sleep’ text, the music just transcends into another world of meaning that goes beyond the music and the text altogether. (Although I would have loved for ‘Stopping by Woods’ to work out better; Frost is a hero here in New Hampshire.)

    It’s as if the music and the new text were just star-crossed lovers…I don’t think I can ever listen to the original ever again (it’d be like cheating).