Heidelberg graduate Ben Lupo wanted to commission a choral work for his a cappella choir at Bryan High School in Bryan, Ohio. Ben was one of those students who lived for a challenge and I knew that his choirs would be trained the same way. Whenever possible, I encourage the folks who are commissioning a new choral work to suggest a text for my consideration. Ben came up with several possibilities at first, but he was especially interested in a Robert Frost poem that was now in the public domain. Frost’s The Lockless Door is a poem somewhat based on a childhood memory of the poet; it presents a tale that is atmospheric and a bit bizarre! What (or who) is behind the lockless door? The narrator is afraid of finding out and does what he can to avoid facing reality.
At times, the poem suggests a touch of Edgar Allan Poe, another famous American writer. My setting is influenced by both of these artists, a dark, dramatic presentation for a poem that invites the imagination along with a touch of anxiety and dread. Ben and I started this collaboration in earnest during the spring and summer of 2019. We talked about the text and its possible meanings; I eventually provided him with a final draft of the score so that rehearsals could begin in the fall of 2019.
Ben’s choir was not unlike a number of other high school ensembles; lots of sopranos and altos, with tenors and basses somewhat harder to come by. The balance wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough! Ben’s work and the dedication of his students made the piece come to life. The Lockless Door made its premiere at a Sunday afternoon concert in Bryan in March 2020. I invited them to sing on my upcoming Heidelberg Faculty Artist Recital in April, but unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic prevented that program from taking place.
Despite this disappointment, I am so happy with Ben and his fine students. Our collaboration made its goal: a group of dedicated students became better, more seasoned musicians by taking on a piece of music that no one had performed before.
Photo: Carl Albert Research and Studies Center, Congressional Collection / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)