I like to write sea songs. Jolly Sailors is a jovial glimpse into the life of a sailor. I had fun playing with words that either repeated or that had similar structures such as the captain who is a “jolly jolly soul”, the cook who makes a “yummy, runny stew” with “funny, bumpy lumps” and the tribulations of sleeping in tight quarters with “comfy cosy bunks” where “loud and snorty snores” can be heard throughout the night. On a ship, one must make the best of it as there isn’t anywhere else to go! I wanted to keep the sailors happy with their lot in life and they do decide that “adventure is our job” which sounds pretty exciting. I originally envisioned a brass quintet kind of vibe for this song, but as it went along, it turned out to be more of a jolly “oom pah” kind of sound. As a composer, one of my tasks is to shape a song and sometimes that means changing my preconceived ideas of how it should be and letting the song develop its own path. This was a fun song to write and it is also fun to sing! We included it on our Donna & Andy CD A Jolly Bunch are We (released September 2023) and had the pleasure of including our studio musicians as the sailors working the ropes on the ship with a gusty “heave ho” or two. They really got into the spirit of the task and their exuberant vocalizing is an entertaining part of the recorded track.
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Jolly Sailors supports young singers with developing voices.
- Jolly Sailors is a three-verse song, making it most suitable for young singers who have had previous experience.
- A short re-intro is included between each verse providing a bit of “breathing space” and the opportunity to prepare for the upcoming verse.
- Vocal range of an octave (D4-D5) with most of the song well placed in the mid range and only one short reach into the upper range.
- Jolly Sailors is a great length for use at a summer music theatre camp or for teachers looking for songs that are a bit shorter to use throughout the year.
- The three-verse structure can work with younger students in group classes, assigning different verses to different combinations of students within the group.
- Encourage singers to read the lyrics out loud before learning the melody.
- Discuss the story of the song.
- Discuss which words the singer will emphasize to create an expressive performance.
- Add dynamics or other musical contrasts to sing the song expressively.
- Jolly Sailors is a high energy, humorous song. Have fun with it!
Understanding the meaning of the lyrics helps the students when they are presenting the “story” of the song.
- Have students read the lyrics and find any words that they do not understand.
Tongue Twister warm-ups
Jolly Sailors has some tricky lyrics to master (check out bars 6 and 10).
To help your singers warm up and have some fun, try the tongue twister:
Seven sassy sailors sailed the seven salty seas.
(This is included with the PDF download.)
Say the tongue twister using crisp consonants.
Sing the tongue twister warm up.
- Add actions to enhance the theatrical presentation of Jolly Sailors. Remember, the musical presentation is still the focal point of the performance. Actions need to support the song, not “take over” or detract from the singing.
- When presenting Jolly Sailors for a recital or school performance, add a few props or costumes to add visual interest to the performance.
Other Performance Options
- Younger students may sing Jolly Sailors as a unison group performance. Assign each student one of the verses to learn to be the “anchor” for their verse, although all students will sing all verses.
- Singing the entire song with a small group in unison may be enough support for younger students to manage the lyrics for all three verses.
- Add hearty spoken “Heave ho’s” to the performance. "Heave! Ho! Hey, heave ho!" fits in the first two bars of the musical interludes between verses and before singing the final two bars.
Composer, Elementary Music Specialist
Donna Grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, where no matter where you are, you are never more than 56 kilometers (approximately 35 miles) from the ocean! This might be why Donna is inspired to use the ocean as a theme in some of her songs. Jolly Sailors is a great example of the high energy, humorous songs Donna enjoys writing for upper elementary school singers (age 8-12). Over her 37-year career as an elementary music educator, Donna has written many songs in this style which have been premiered by her Grade 4-5 choir. Adding costumes and a few props and letting the students bring their unique energy to the presentation, creates a fun performance for both the singers and the audience.
Donna has written over five hundred songs including repertoire for solo singers, choirs, and school groups, as well as songs for recorder, violin, handbells, piano, and organ. Donna’s music has found a place in the hearts and music libraries of music teachers and students around the world.