Boots (Infantry Columns)


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Poetry by Rudyard Kipling.

TTBB with snare drum and marching.

Here are my composers notes from the premiere performance by the Canadian Men’s Chorus.

Rudyard Kipling who penned this wonderful poetry was no stranger to Africa. He
apparently holidayed there in the winter for many years and at one point worked there as
a newspaper correspondent during the Boer War. Kipling is viewed today as a rather
controversial figure due to his staunch support of British troops during a time of British
colonialism yet this poem also reveals his great distaste for war and his compassion for
all that lived its horrors.

I was lucky enough to come across a reading of this poem by a fellow named Taylor
Holmes recorded in 1915. It is rare to find poetry that when read aloud has such a
profound effect on the listener. Holmes reads the poetry at march tempo and, patiently at
first, gives us glimpses of the frustration experienced by the men as they soldier on. But
as the poem progresses his reading becomes less and less that of the narrator and more
that of a character experiencing the ordeal. So suited to a musical setting, the poem and
the reading both have a wonderful crescendo that build incessantly. The slowly
disintegrating timbre of Holmes’ voice reveal the frustration, anger, and eventual
madness that many men endured. They were trapped both physically and mentally by
their ordeal, a fact wonderfully alluded to in Kipling’s repeated chorus “There’s no
discharge form the war”.

Often setting poetry to music can take a great deal of time to do justice to the intentions
of the poet. During the summer in which I wrote this piece I also set about writing a piece
called “ Last Night of Stars”. “Last Night…” in a way has taken me years to write since
the chord progression has been in my ears for a very long time but during the summer I
probably worked on it off and on for 2 months. For “Boots” I was so informed and
inspired by Holmes reading that the melody immediately came to mind followed quickly
by the harmony and within 10 days or so I was finished the piece. Please search out this
wonderful reading on the internet and see if you are as moved by it as I was.

The piece was performed in 2019 by the Vancouver based Chor Leoni Men’s Choir, directed by Erick Lichte, in their annual remembrance concerts.