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Category Archives: Root-Thomas

Minnesota native Thomas Root is the Director of Bands and Professor of Music at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.  His 23 published compositions, including 1977’s Polly Oliver, are played by bands around the United States.  See more about him at Weber State and Grand Mesa Music.

Sweet Polly Oliver is an English folk song that tells the tale of a young woman who dresses as a male soldier to follow her true love off to war.  The lyrics, from Wikipedia:

As sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
A sudden strange fancy came into her head.
“Nor father nor mother shall make me false prove,
I’ll ‘list as a soldier, and follow my love.”

So early next morning she softly arose,
And dressed herself up in her dead brother’s clothes.
She cut her hair close, and she stained her face brown,
And went for a soldier to fair London Town.

Then up spoke the sergeant one day at his drill,
“Now who’s good for nursing? A captain, he’s ill.”
“I’m ready,” said Polly. To nurse him she’s gone,
And finds it’s her true love all wasted and wan.

The first week the doctor kept shaking his head,
“No nursing, young fellow, can save him,” he said.
But when Polly Oliver had nursed him back to life
He cried, “You have cherished him as if you were his wife”.

O then Polly Oliver, she burst into tears
And told the good doctor her hopes and her fears,
And very shortly after, for better or for worse,
The captain took joyfully his pretty soldier nurse.

An anonymous band plays Root’s varied treatment of Polly Oliver:

English composer Benjamin Britten also composed a treatment of Sweet Polly Oliver for voice and piano.  Here it is with Britten at the piano and tenor Peters Pears: