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Garrison: Thanks tons for the

December 16, 2004 |

Thanks tons for the snippet of Oley Speaks's "Road to Mandalay." It IS a contagious melody! I first saw it in a stack of sheet music at a neighbor's house when I was a kid. Once in awhile a student sings it in the weekly recitals here in the music department at the University of Toledo. But of course, neither they nor Thomas Hampson's recording of it use all the politically incorrect verses of Kipling's original poem — I'd love to hear the one about the Burma's girl's "whackin' white cheroot" and so forth.

Speaks was from Canal Winchester, OH, SE of Columbus, but lived around NYC most of his life. A colleague who did doctoral work in music at the same time I did at Ohio State wrote her voice performance document on him after sitting at the Speaks archives (a couple filing cabinets, I think) there in his home village,
presided over by some fussy older ladies who volunteer there.

Ed Duling
Bowling Green, Ohio

Ed, it just isn't possible to explain the power of Mr. Speaks's music to anyone who hasn't lifted his or her voice in "The Road To Mandalay" — the verse is artful but the chorus actually sings itself, it comes roaring out of you against your will. I wish you could have seen the faces of the VocalEssence Choir as they sang it — they were transported! Most of them had never heard of it (nor "Juanita") and they, being a serious choir, are of course well-practiced at singing the unsingable — the whole miserable glop of modern choral composition — and here was a song that made everyone feel like an opera star. I once wrote northern Minnesota lyrics to it and sang it as "On The Road To Grand Marais" and that was okay. There are verses in the Kipling original that, if I sang them on the air, would cost me my job and force me to work for a living and maybe teach (yikes), so I stay away from those. Freedom of expression is fine by me but I don't intend to give up this cushy sinecure so that you can hear about white cheroots.

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