The Rowan Tree

The Lifework of Marjorie Edgar, Girl Scout Pioneer and Folklorist. With Her Finnish Folk Song Collection, Songs From Metsola. Joyce E. Hakala. St. Paul, MN: Pikebone Music, 2007. xviii + 345 pp. Includes appendices, notes, photograph acknowledgements, bibliography, and index.

As the title suggests, Joyce E. Hakala examines the life and work of Marjorie Edgar, an often-overlooked folksong collector whose achievements finally receive substantial attention in this volume. Born in 1889 to an upper-class family in Minneapolis, Edgar was one of those rare people able to combine two seemingly-divergent passions into a unique career for herself. Her involvement in the developing Girl Scout movement combined with her love of ethnic folk songs and in her life’s work, these two interests intertwined frequently.

The first section of the book is a biography of Edgar, detailing the forces that led her to become an early leader in the Minneapolis Girl Scouts and to gain an abiding appreciation for ethnic folk music. Her early travels with family, through which she was first exposed to different musical cultures, mirrors her travels with the Girl Scouts, including her 1920 trip to England and her many trips to northern Minnesota.

From the late 1920s through the 1940s, Edgar was a consummate folksong collector, finding her niche with ethnic Finns in Minnesota’s Iron Range. Introduced to the enchanting sounds of Finnish language and music at a Girl Scout performance, Edgar recognized the risk that further Americanization posed to immigrant musical traditions. She made important friends in the region who helped her to collect songs and to better understand the culture from which they came.

She also published scholarly articles, bringing her into contact with professional folklorists including Alan Lomax and Sidney Robertson. Edgar’s relationships with these fellow collectors were complicated because she feared that these professional song collectors would overtake her work as their own.

Edgar intended to publish collected songs in a book she called Songs from Metsola. This previously unpublished work forms the second part of Hakala’s book, and includes sheet music for collected songs as well as commentary from both Edgar and Hakala. Edgar categorized these songs by theme or genre, including “Ballads,” “Laments,” “The Forest,” and “Occupational Songs.” 71 songs are presented with both Finnish and English lyrics.

The subsequent appendices are equally valuable, with a particularly wonderful section featuring biographical sketches of the musicians, Girl Scouts, and others who helped Edgar with her work. This section also includes detailed information about the repertoires of Edgar and her informants, notes and bibliographic information about songs, and a timeline of Edgar’s life, among other things.

This book holds incredible value to a number of people, including folklorists, Girl Scout historians, and Finnish ethnic musicians. More poignantly, Hakala does great honor to Edgar’s many informants; descendents may read this book and cherish further the memories of their ancestors. Vividly written with an incredible amount of research behind it, this book brings to light two things that have until now remained in the shadows: the story of Marjorie Edgar and the collected results of her life’s work in folklore.

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