Sing Out, Mr. President: Teddy Roosevelt 'Pulls His Weight'

The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight. —Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt i i

Theodore Roosevelt's humor and vigor come through in his words. Wikimeda Commons hide caption

itoggle caption Wikimeda Commons
Teddy Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt's humor and vigor come through in his words.

Wikimeda Commons

The assassination of our 25th president, William McKinley, in September 1901 thrust Theodore Roosevelt into the presidency.

Only 42 when he became president, Roosevelt brought youth and vigor into the White House. Before he was elected governor of New York and then vice president, Roosevelt drove cattle, wrangled outlaws, hunted big game and served as lieutenant colonel of the famed Rough Rider Regiment in the Spanish-American War.

As the embodiment of what he called "the strenuous life of toil and effort," Roosevelt felt that all Americans should be able to contribute vibrantly to the betterment of the nation.

"The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight," Roosevelt told an audience at a New York state Chamber of Commerce banquet in 1902.

The quote didn't immediately grab composer Thomas Cabaniss, who was asked by Judith Clurman to set it to music for her Mr. President project.

"I had a little hesitation at first," Cabaniss says, "because, although the quote is about self-reliance and self-control, in the context of the times and politics of it, I thought: is this the most inspirational message from a president that I would want to set?"

But then Cabaniss did some research. He read the Edmund Morris biography of the president and listened to old tapes of Roosevelt speaking, as Roosevelt was one of the earliest presidents to record his voice.

"He just sounded great," Cabaniss says. "I got a sense of his humor, and also how straightforward and rhythmic his speech was. Since I'm primarily a theater and dance composer I just need to get into the character of Teddy Roosevelt, and I should be able to get him to sing what he said."

That was ultimately Cabaniss' task — to try to get the music to feel like it was coming from Roosevelt.

"Tom did his homework," Clurman says, "and did his homework so well, that I don't just have an octet singing this. But I have 28 other singers joining the octet. I really wanted the mob to be 'good citizens' on this piece and come together and get a big sound."

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