Click to enlargeIf (Rudyard Kipling) (SATB a cappella)

I have often thought that the task of the choral director in a public high school in the United States must be the most daunting of endeavors. Most of the really great choral music written over the centuries has come from the church, or at least from a religious perspective, and it is therefore a tightrope walk to try to teach good choral singing without running afoul of the "separation" crowd. Of course, there is more and more secular choral music all the time, but most of it has lyrics that are complete drivel.

I recall fondly my high school choral experience, and find that much of the lyrical content of that music is with me today, more than a quarter-century later. So it is critically important that the lyrics that young people are taught actually contribute to good character. Teaching love songs simply does not do much for building character. And so I thought I might try to make a contribution if I happened upon the right lyric.

I once attended a speech given by John Richards, head of Citigroup Asset Management, and possibly one of the greatest financial minds of our time. John is an incredibly compelling speaker with thoughtful commentary on our past, present, and future as a people.

In concluding his speech, John told the story of an extended convalescence in his pre-teen years. His mother, not wanting the time to be wasted, taught him, among other things, a great poem about strength of character written by one of the great authors of the English-speaking world. John Richards, much to my astonishment and delight, then proceeeded to recite, from memory with expression, and without pause or hesitation, the following words:

* * *

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:


If you can dream- and not make dreams your master;
If you can think- and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools:


If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings- nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And- which is more- you'll be a Man, my son!
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And- which is more- you'll be a Man, my son!


* * *

The last part of this poem, John recited with a bit of a tear in his eyes. I expect he, as I, was thanking his mother for placing this gem in his mind at an early age.

Perhaps some young people will be similarly gifted if given a chance to learn this anthem.

MP3 sound sample: Entire piece (synthesizer/midi).



IF, with lyric by Rudyard Kipling and music by Tom Kirkland, for SATB a cappella choir, comes in a PDF file of 622K that contains an eleven page full score plus a license page, twelve pages in all. Performance time should be around 4:30.


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Last update: 8 February 2017