William Kemp

by youyezeng

So far we have already looked at many different music styles: Gregorian chant, High Renaissance, Madrigal, Opera and many more. While these different styles have very distinguished characteristics, it’s hard to say which one is my favorite. However, as I listen through the accompanying CD, one short song really stood out from others and caught my attention: it’s called “Kemp’s Jig”.


This song is not included in our weekly listening assignment but it’s worth listening to – it cheers me up almost instantaneously.

The song was named after William Kempe, an English actor and dancer who was best known for his performance in some early dramas by William Shakespeare. Regarded as a great comedian and the successor of the great clown, Kempe was once one of a few shareholders of the famous playing company – Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which Shakespeare has worked in as an actor and playwright for a long time. However, later in his life, Kempe left the playing company but kept performing and started his tour in the Europe. He alleged to have spent nine days “morris dancing” for more than a hundred miles from London to Norwich, often alongside the cheering crowd. Besides his performance in Shakespeare’s works, Kempe was famous for the performance style called stage jigs, which was a form of stage show that tells folk talks in then popular songs and also features dance.

As we listen to this lively song, we are amazed by the effect that this simple rhythm could generate. The song is only consisted of repetitions of two single phrases with a few improvisations added to the phrases later on and ending on the same keys every time.