Choral work based on Robert Frost poem repurposed after copyright problems

Boing Boing pal Andrea James writes, "Interesting backstory. The original choral work "Sleep" was set to Robert Frost's 'Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.' Then came the legal tussle. Eric Whitacre explains..."

After a LONG legal battle (many letters, many representatives), the estate of Robert Frost and their publisher, Henry Holt Inc., sternly and formally forbid me from using the poem for publication or performance until the poem became public domain in 2038. I decided that I would ask my friend and brilliant poet Charles Anthony Silvestri ... to set new words to the music I had already written.
"So," Andrea writes, "Silvestri created a poem with the exact cadence of the Frost work. The result is this. I always love these kinds of crowdsourced art in response to these kinds of creative disputes!"


  1. This is one of those ideas that when I heard about it, I thought would be total crap. But it’s lovely and moving. It must have been quite some effort to synch up all 2,000+ tracks, but the effort has paid off. It’s much better than the previous one. There’s no denying the power of the human voice.

    And fuck Frost’s estate. I’d like to think the man himself would have marveled at his poem receiving a treatment like this.

  2. It’s sad to see Frost’s heirs trying to take such a lovely poem out of our culture and hide it away where noone will experience it.

    On the other hand, it’s wonderful that even such idiocy leads to the creation of new culture for everyone to enjoy.

    What’s that, youtube? “This video is not available in your country”?

  3. The poem was published in 1923. In a sane copyright regime, it would be public domain already. (Granting from death of author is just a bizarre notion).

    1. in a sane copyright regime, it would have passed into the public domain no more than 28 years after first being registered… 14 years, plus ONE extension of 14 more years…

  4. On stopping by this blog post on a not-snowy afternoon

    Whose cadence this I think I know,
    but meter’s free to copy, so
    you will not hear me kneeling here
    to give Frost’s pallid shade a blow.

    My poet’s pen would think it queer
    to write with unrhymed lawyer’s ear,
    and worry ’bout litigious flakes
    today, or any other day, this year.

    I give my head a rueful shake
    and ask if there is some mistake,
    that we still treat ourselves like sheep
    and do not simply steal and take.

    Our culture’s lovely, writing’s cheap,
    and we have liberties to keep,
    and rights and freedoms strong and deep:
    so fuck off, you rent-seeking creep.

    1. @kityglitr: Whitacre explains in the post that there were at least 20 works released around the same time in 1997 based on Frost, so he thought they would be OK with his as well. While I love the Frost poem, I love Silvestri’s creative response to the legal problem just as much!

      @Tdawgg: nicely played, my friend!

    2. Wow, comments like this make me think BB needs a “comment of the year” contest.

      I purchased a rather sharp derby merely to tip it to you, sir.

    3. One more standing O for Tdawwg. Boingboing comments really do need a +1/like/fave/props/This./reboing/thread over/Put a Hercules Ring On It/GOOOOAAALLLLLL/canonize button.

  5. OMG! They admitted to stealing Robert Frost’s cadence! They must be held liable for this infringement. How are dead poets supposed to be incentivized to write more poetry if they know just anyone can steal their cadence?!?

  6. I’m surprised no one mentioned that this particular poem by Frost is ALREADY a choral piece. Look up the Frostiana Suite. I remember singing it in the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra & Choir as a high schooler. It was absolutely lovely.

    1. I do have to point out that Frostiana was written with Frost’s own permission before his passing. (I sang the suite, too!) I think estates and heirs tend to be more uppity than the actual author or creator.

  7. And yet it’s “not available in my country”. Way to make a point about copyright law :D

  8. Frost himself would not have approved: “From [rhythm and meter] rises what we call this tune that’s different from the tune of the other kind of music. It’s a music of itself. And when people say that this will easily turn into — be set to music, I think it’s bad writing. It ought to fight being set to music if it’s got expression in it.”

  9. In 2018, when Congress passes the Lars Ulrich Copyright Term Extension Act, you’ll have to wait until 2058.
    Then in 2038, when Congress passes the Justin Bieber Copyright Term Extension Act, you’ll have to wait until 2078.
    Ad infinitum.

  10. I don’t know where they’re getting 2038 from. If the poem was published in 1923, the US copyright should run out at the end of 2018, when the current 20-year copyright freeze finally ends.

    But perhaps the rightsholders are already thinking ahead to the next extension they hope to enact.

  11. Interesting TED talk about the creation of the Virtual Choir here:

    It’s also useful to compare this performance to that of a more traditional venue, say The idea is excellent and has potential, but it’s got a long way to go yet. They had to add in massive amounts of reverb added in to cover up the poor blend, and the articulation of the consonants is as diverse as the geographical locations of the singers.

    I expect it will be necessary to do this in real-time, so the performers can hear each other and make the adjustments. I’m excited to see the technical and logistical solutions that develop to make that possible.

  12. I realize I may be biased as I’ve loved “Stopping By Woods” since I was a young child (Frost is my favorite poet), but the “Stopping By Woods” text is so much more powerful than the “Sleep” text.

    This whole thing is silly considering the Whitacre setting is no doubt ten times better than the “Frostiana” setting. I sang the “Frostiana” version in high school of “The Road Not Taken” and didn’t like it at all. Am kind of glad I didn’t hear the “Stopping By Woods” setting if there is one. You know how you’ll feel some musical settings ruin a text? It was like that.

    Eric W., any time you want to write around anything at all that I’ve written, go right ahead. All I could hope is that my words would even remotely live up to your music.

    Tdawwg….thank you. :)

  13. I can haz iambic pentameter? Or is it only iambic pentameters about sleep that are really owned by the dead hand of Robert Frost, sleeping these long years in R’lyeh? (Sorry, wrong Robert.)

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