09 July 2012

Report: Mystic Seaport Sea Music Festival 2012

Another year, another Sea Music Festival. I'll warn you that this "report" is rather self-centered. Not really telling about the Festival, but some of the stuff I did there that might have relevance to this blog of mine.

It was great to see old friends and acquaintances. These included the veteran sea music scholar and interpreter Prof. Revell Carr. Rev was one reason for my rekindled interest in chanties in 2006, when we were colleagues at UC Santa Barbara. He presented the paper, “‘He boatsteerer no hoi au no luna o Reindeer” (‘I am the boatsteerer aboard the Reindeer’): Songs and Ballads of Hawaiian Whalers in the Nineteenth Century,” at the Sea Music Symposium. I also met up with John Minear of Virginia, whom I owe for helping inspire me to get deeper into the historical study of chanties.

I was honored to participate in the academic symposium this year (June 8-9), where I presented the paper, “Twentieth-Century Editors and the Re-envisioning of Chanties: A Case Study of ‘Lowlands [Away]’”. (I've made the paper available here.) The paper actually grew out of a rough song history I had sketched on this blog. And I'm happy to say that there was a large audience and the presentation provoked a lot of discussion. 

In order to put my money where my mouth is, I guess—or rather to offer a realization of the vision of "Lowlands" that I presented in my paper, I thought it proper to sing it, in one of the evening open sessions. That I did, on Saturday night of the festival, but since I don't believe anyone recorded it, I did it afterwards, here:

There are two general highlights, for me, of the Mystic festivals. The first is the nighttime sessions, after the official evening concerts, which are held across the street from the Seaport in what they call the German Club. It's perhaps one of the biggest chanty "sings" one could find anywhere. Individuals simply begin a chanty when they like, and, if it is known enough, get the support of dozens of voices on the chorus. I skipped out on Thursday night's session, in order to rest for Friday morning's symposium (which was in Groton this time). But I was there for the entirety of Friday and Saturday (and dropped by for the after-hours session at Seaport, too). 

Friday I sang "Hooraw for the Blackball Line," with some original/personal verses—something I always aim to do at Mystic. Then I sang the rather "plaintive" "Roll and Go," thinking that most would not have heard it. The German Club sessions are also historically one of the places to "introduce" "new" or little-known songs. New friends Rachel and Jeff (visitors from Key West) captured my performance.

Saturday night at the German Club I sang my "Lowlands," along with this "shout out" chanty early in the night.

The second thing I am really drawn to at the festivals are the "Chanteys at Work" demos. This time, as before, I tried to participate in as manny as possible. Saturday had David Littlefield and Bob Walser as chantymen on the Joseph Conrad. One of the young Chanteens led the halyard haulers with "Serafina"—a bit shocking! In addition to the capstan and halyard demos, they did a cargo hoisting one this time, to such songs as "Lindy Lowe" and "Sun Down Below." I felt honored that the squad let me lead a halyard demo, for which I sang "Stormalong, lads, Stormy." On the L.A. Dunton later, Nicole Singer and Don Sineti led chanties as I volunteered helping heave the anchor with the windlass. 

On Sunday, during a "round robin" on the Joseph Conrad, I sang "Shiny O" with ad libbed lyrics. The working demo that day was on the Conrad with Denise Cannella, David Iler, and Rev Carr. Rev sang the Hawaiian song "Honolulu Hula Hula Heigh" at the halyards, and "Paddy Lay Back" at the capstan.

I enjoyed the gracious hospitality of Rev and his mom in the nearby Stonington Borough, and felt welcomed by the wonderfully brave and talented Mystic squad, including an invite to their cozy squad BBQ.

Being a "participant" of sorts, I was shuffled into the stage area for the ritual closing chanties of the final concert (Sunday afternoon), "Old Maui" and "Leave Her, Johnny." Though locals might not care to admit it, the Mystic culture is rather "closed," relatively speaking. After this third festival visit, I felt like maybe I was starting to break in.

Until next year...hopefully,

Ranzo :{

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