Saturday, April 11, 2015

J is for Jackaroe, Jack Monroe, or Jack Went A-Sailing

I have a confession. If I ever get a ton of money and time on my hands, (and coffee, and a bit of extra concentration and brain power), with nothing else I can do but sit and study, I would study musicology, or more specifically, I would be a musical folklorist. I would sit around tracing all the historical folk musical traditions, starting with northern Europe and then just expanding every which way. I would write long blogs about it that would completely bore 99% of everyone I know. So, this blog post will too, unless you are a total music history geek like me.

How did I get such a weird fascination? Back in 1996, when the twins were toddlers, I started teaching preschool music. It all began with the training to teach Kindermusik, which was a multi-day conference back then. I later looked at other programs, such as Musikgarten, then added my own finds while teaching music at a Montessori preschool and Kindergarten. I often traced the music taught in these programs to children's music I picked up from the library, such as Ruth Crawford Seeger's book, American Folk Songs for Children. I realized I was connecting modern children with songs sung by children through centuries, their musical lineage. *Thud*

As the twins grew up my folk music passion just increased, leading me to artists such as Keith and Rusty McNeil's Music to supplement our homeschooling, and eventually to more grown-up books like the collections of researchers like Francis James Child. Of course, this passion is in the middle of parenting, homeschooling, various music businesses, including a full time band, and did I mention parenting? In other words, I almost NEVER get to sit and indulge, but when I do... bliss!


When we were trying to put together our last CD I wanted to stuff more of these wonderful finds into the mix and seriously considered adding the song that inspired today's letter - J is for Jackaroe.

As a reminder, 99% of our audiences would find it desperately boring to hear me stand there singing Jackaroe. They want the flashy, sparkly, glitter. I kind of like the flashy glitter too. It's just the brainy part of me that wants to sing Jackaroe, then go on and on and on about the history of the song and versions in front of an audience that sits and tries to be polite by not yawning too loudly. So... it didn't make the cut.

My favorite version of the song is performed by Joan Baez, (sorry, not the Grateful Dead). When still considering it, I did hope I could record it without running into licensing issues, since it's traditional after all, but sadly, Baez has a couple of very slight changes in the notes from this version from 1908, with further versions dating back to 1818. I suppose in big music biz-land, such a small change among hundreds of small changes means you can now own your awesome version and get paid if someone else wants to sing it. Strike 2 against recording it, at least this version.


I suppose cannot begrudge Ms Baez her rights to having pulled off a fantastically simple, yet thoroughly compelling Jackaroe. Though normally a rather long song and perhaps maybe a touch redundant in the presentation, I am drawn in to her smooth, clear voice as it tells me the story of a young woman who fell in love with a man, and after he goes sailing off to war,  she enlists herself under the name Jackaroe. Eventually she finds him wounded, brings him back to health, and they are married.

More traditional (and longer) versions explain that it is the girls father who forcefully sends him to war, she refers to herself as Jack Monroe, sometimes describing more dramatic battle scenes and trials to get to her true love, but in the end, they generally always get married and the song is then used as a proposal saying if they got married, why shouldn't we?

Whew! After hearing other songs like Barbara Allen, Two Sisters, Three Ravens, and pretty much 90% of these old song-stories, I could have sworn he would die right in her arms!

You can learn more about the history and different versions at this link. Lots of wonderful music can be found with notation at the Traditional Music Library, and there is also always the fabulous site of the Contemplator. I can always find a good discussion about the music on mudcat.org, too.

If this bores you terribly, no worries. I will go back to sparkly, shiny, glitter stuff in the coming posts, including some "guest bloggers" in the bus who have all picked a letter!

1 comment:

  1. My favorite sort of music too. great post, not boring at all! And thanks for the links!

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