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A Musical History of Sea Shanties

Pirate Tunes, Sailor Songs, and Salty Language

A FREE virtual program via Zoom

2021 Event
Tuesday, June 15 •  7:30pm

Join us as we learn the history of Sea Shanties. Technically, sea shanties are work songs - sung to keep a rhythm as all hands needed to haul on a line or heave on a pump handle together to make the ship run. Most have a call-and-response structure like other work songs, and served the additional function of providing a bit of distraction from the tedious but tiring work. They could also be a bit of a pressure relief valve, incorporating some creative group gripes about the less pleasant aspects of the sailor's life. Other sea songs - nautical ballads and 'forebitters' - so-called because they were typically sung by someone sitting or standing on the fore-bit, a wooden structure for tying off heavy lines - provided entertainment, distraction and comradeship for sailors off watch in the days before radio, TV, or even widespread literacy.


Renowned singer-songwriter Stuart Markus, of the folk group Gathering Time, has been performing traditional nautical music since 1998. A lifelong small-boat sailor, Stuart made his first voyage on a tall ship in OpSail 1992 on the HMS Rose, a replica of a British frigate that patrolled Long Island Sound in colonial days. Stuart will explain the history sea shanties and the various types of shipboard work they went with, plus explain many of the words and phrases still in common use that have come to use from the sea. 

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