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This version of the folk song Darling Johnny O is based on the unaccompanied mixed-voice choir arrangement found in my Four New Zealand Folk Songs arranged in 1999. The original version is found in Neil Colquhon’s collection Song of a Young Country: New Zealand Folksongs published by A.H. and A.W. Reed. Both the words and music are anonymous.
New Zealand is too young a country to have a true ‘folk’ tradition and much folk music is really variants of earlier British songs, often with local names and places substituted for the originals.
This version was made at the request of conductor Kieth Stubley who was seeking a folk song arrangement for a competition. Specifically he was keen to have something using a slower tempo.
In this version the choral parts have been simplified and a piano accompaniment added (often taking the role of the lower voices in the original arrangement).
Darling Johnny O is in the tradition of love ballads. A young woman sings of her love who, having signed onto a ship, has not been heard from for a long time. She sings proudly of her lost love and vows to travel wherever necessary to find him.
The song begins:
My Johnny signed on board the Dragon,
Bound for some place I don’t know,
But true it is I have had no letter,
From my darling Johnny O.
Written at the request of conductor Kieth Stubley
Based on the unaccompanied mixed-voice choir arrangement in Four NZ Folk Songs
25 Oct 2009: Performed by The Three Mezzos - Margo Knightbridge, Lynne Anderson and Barbara Lynch at the Rotorua Museum, as part of the Sing Aotearoa Conference in Rotorua
16 Nov 2014: The Three Mezzos: Homespun Harmonies