Singing this Stuff
Enough people have asked me how I've learned all these songs and how they can get into singing folk songs
and sea chanteys. I keep wishing for a page online to explain it better than my writing down some titles and resources
on bar napkins or limiting my answers to the time between songs.
So, how did I learn all this stuff, and how can you?
Song Swap at the New England Folk Festival
SHORT ANSWER: I learned it by doing it - listening to people sing and joining in when I felt comfortable... for many years.
MORE HELPFUL ANSWER: Go to a sing and learn the choruses to a couple common songs. Then learn two songs all the way
through so you can sing them confidently when there's no one else around. (Two songs, so you have a spare in case someone else sings
"your" song before you get a chance to.) Keep going to sings, join in as much as you're comfortable, build on what you know,
and maybe lead one of the songs you prepared. Jot down the songs that you particularly enjoyed (the title, or some of their lyrics) so
you can look them up online or ask their singer what that song was and where they got it.
There.  Now go find a sing.
Finding A Sing
The Seattle Pub Sing usually happens on third Thursdays at
T.S. McHugh's pub (Queen Anne, near Seattle Center)
Northwest Seaport hosts a monthly chantey sing, usually on second Fridays
There's a shanty sing in Port Townsend, WA on the second Wednesday of each month
The Seatle Folklore Society has a Song Circle most Sundays
In the Northeast
Greater Boston Traditional Song is a facebook group listing Boston area singing events
Northeast Chanteysings keeps a calendar of maritime music events in the northeast (note, this is a yahoo group and you'll need to join to get access to the calendar. You can set it to receive no notifications or receive them only 1/week)
N.E.F.F.A. has it's music festival each April, and other programs throughout the year
Brattleboro, Vermont has a monthly Pub Sing
Other areas of the US
San Fransisco has a monthly chantey sing at Hyde Street Pier
Minneapolis has at least one monthly pub sing at the Merlins Rest Pub
Chicago has a monthly chantey sing and an annual maritime festival
Connecticut's Mystic Seaport has a Sea Music Festival every June and a big chantey sing every January
Washington D.C. has a monthly Shanty Sing at the Laughing Man Tavern
New York has a monthly chantey sing at Snug Harbor
Can't find a sing near you? Send me an email and maybe one of my singing friends will know of one
Some Good Singers of Chantey/Maritime Music
Chantey Sing at the USS Constitution Museum, MA
Some Good Places to Look Up Songs
Some Common Songs
Folk music in general does not have songs that are common everywhere, but sea chanteys do!
Some Common Sea Chanteys
Chantey Sing on board the Virginia V, Seattle
Some Less Common Chanteys That I Wish Were More Commonly Known
- "Chantey Sing", "Pub Sing", etc. Chantey Sing generally means singing songs about the sea, ships, sailors, working on ships docks rivers barges etc., songs that coordinate work, or anything that sailors were known to sing. Pub Sing generally means singing any song that encourages people to join in on a chorus or refrain. Some sings concentrate on a part of the world, or traditional songs, or... Your local sings may vary
- Who gets to sing, when? If you haven't been to a particular sing before, watch the room for a few songs, or ask someone else. For example: At some sings, anyone can sing a song at any time. At some, the opportunity to sing is passed around the room in order (you can always pass - just say no and let it go to the next person). Some have a moderator who picks people to sing (catch their eye, or introduce yourself during a slow moment or a break). Some have leaders who perform a few in a row before releasing it to the room
- General etiquette. The rules change from place to place, but... Don't lead two songs in a row. The version the leader is singing is the correct version at that moment. If you need to talk during a song, talk as quietly as possible. Be extremely nice to waitstaff
- Singing from paper. It's better to sing from memory, but singing from paper is better than not singing at all! Point your voice outward rather than into the printed page. Only the song leader should be using paper - everyone else should be paying attention to the song leader (yeah, there are exceptions to this)
- Singing from an electronic device. Add these tips to the above notes about singing from paper: Before you begin, make sure that the version on your device is the same version you intend to sing (check it completely). Turn off the Auto-Lock/Screen Shut-Off/Screen-Saver before beginning so that you don't have to fight your device mid-song. Scroll as you go so the current verse is on your screen and ready if you need it (let the room sing the last line of the chorus without you if you need a moment to scroll and find the next verse)
- Singing trumps talking - usually. If this is a sing where anyone can start a song anytime (see what kind of sing... above) then you don't have to wait for the room to completely quiet down before you start your song; People will only start listening to your voice once you start using it. Just try not to step on someone's announcement or introduction, etc.
- Closing Songs. Some chanteys are often used as a final song to close out the sing. If you don't know the room then be wary of leading Seaman's Hymn, Leave Her Johnny, or Maui
- Playing an instrument while someone else is leading. Some people appreciate it, some don't care, some really don't like it. Be careful and watch for any reaction from the song leader, from any moderator/person in charge, or simply from the people around you
- The Beat or the Words? There are /many/ ways to group and classify maritime songs, but beneath all that is a very fundamental divide:
- When the RHYTHM is more important than the WORDS. If the purpose of the song is to coordinate work then the rhythm is more important than the words. Forget a word or a line or a verse? keep the rhythm going with la-la-la if you have to. Don't break the rhythm to apologize or wait until you remember the words, just keep the beat going! Get a room moving on a good rhythm and they'll gladly follow you through whatever you do to keep that rhythm going and the energy strong! Sailboat Malarky, Liverpool Judies, Blackbird Get Up, Old Moke Pickin On a Banjo, General Taylor, Maui, Boney was a Warrior, Tilbury Town... they each have powerful beat that drives them along
- When the WORDS more important than the RHYTHM. If the purpose of a song is less about coordination and more about carousing/relaxing/insulting/whatever then the rhythm doesn't need to be constant or rule over the words. Ballads, forebitters, and other types of off-work songs are more concerned with telling a story or setting a scene or making fun of something. Row On, Molly Mauk, Shove Around the jug...
- When you forget or mix up the words. Yeah, that happens to us too!
- If you're only sailing or only singing, you're missing half the story. There're things you can only learn about these songs by working to a steady rhythm, and there're things to learn about work that you only get from singing in a steady rhythm!
- Different versions.  There's always another version out there, another verse, another tune... pay attention to how the song leader is singing it at the moment
- If you need a good kick in the pants to get going.  Most of us have needed that at one time or another. One option is to find an established singer there to back you up, to introduce you, create an opening for you, or simply to throw you out of the nest (you wouldn't be the first)
- Is it "Chantey" or "Shanty"? It only matters when you're not singing
- If this all seems like a lot to deal with. Then ignore it and go find a sing
Sing in Mystic, CT
This page was designed by and belongs to David Kessler -
All Rights Reserved.