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Sea Shanties and Songs of the Sea

While sea shanties originated on ships of many different countries, they spread throughout the seas. Shanties were used for the hard work aboard ships and sentiments in them were universal. They were not originally in the musical form we find them today, but chanted - with the chanter calling out words and the men calling out the chorus in rhythm to their work.

Shanties: Songs of Work on the Sea

Sea Shanties (chanties): The word "chanty" (or shanty) is probably derived from the French word "chanter" - to sing. Shanties were originally shouted out, with emphasis on a syllable or word as sailors performed their work. Shanties developed separate rhythms for the various chores at sea - for raising the anchor (which was done by marching around the capstan), hauling ropes, etc.

Most songs involved a lead singer and a choral response. The words were called out by a chantyman and the men joined in on the chorus. The words of the chorus usually coincided with a heave, or pull.

Shanties served both as a mental diversion and synchronized teamwork. They also provided an outlet for sailors to express their opinions in a manner which would not cause punishment. The "golden age" of shanties was in the donotuse-nineteenth century.

Types of chanties

Capstan shanties: The capstan was a mushroom shaped object with holes along the top. Sailors inserted bars into the holes and marched around the capstan to raise the anchor. Capstan shanties had steady rhythms and usually told stories because of the length of time (which could be hours) it took to raise the anchor. Sailors would stamp on the deck on the words. This gave rise to the term, "stamp and go chanties."

Halyard shanties: Halyard shanties were sung to the raising and lowering of sails. Sails hung from wooden cross-pieces called yards. With the canvas and wood, sails could weigh between 1,000 and 2,500 pounds. To set sail a member of the crew would climb the rigging to loosen the canvas. On deck the crew would take hold of a line called the halyard (for haul + yard). The crew would rest during the verse and haul during the chorus. Depending on the weight of the sail, crews could pull one (for heavy jobs) to three (for lighter jobs) times per chorus.

Short drag shanties: Very difficult tasks meant crews could pull less. Short drag shanties were used for such tasks - such as trimming the sails or raising the masthead.

Windlass and pumping shanties: the windlass is also used to raise the anchor. Sailors would pump handles up and down, making the barrel of the windlass rotate to bring the anchor chain up. Pumps were fitting in ships to empty the bilge (the lowest part of the ship) of water. Wooden ships leaked, but not so fast that the crew could not pump the water out. There were several different types of pumps, which accounts for the variation in the timing of pumping shanties.

Ceremonial shanties and forecastle songs: Ceremonial and forecastle (the crews quarters) songs were those sung by sailors on their time off (of which they didn't have a great deal). These usually told stories of famous battles, romance or of their longing for home. Ceremonial shanties were for times of celebration, such as when the sailor paid off his debt to the ship or when they crossed the equator.

From the The Folk Music Resource Book, Larry Sandberg and Dick Weissman


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Boarding Party - Fair Winds and a Following Sea (CD109)

Boarding Party - Fair Winds and a Following Sea "An unusual and great sea song record; may it set forth with a fair wind and reach a port full of eager shantymen!"

Our Price: $14.98
    
Boarding Party - Fair Winds and a Following Sea





Boarding Party - Tis Our Sailing Time (CD97)

Boarding Party - Tis Our Sailing Time

Our Price: $14.98
    
Boarding Party - Tis Our Sailing Time





Bob Zentz - HOVE-TO, AND DRIFTING (CD5051)

Bob Zentz - HOVE-TO, AND DRIFTING

Our Price: $14.98
    
Bob Zentz	- HOVE-TO, AND DRIFTING





Dan Milner - Irish Ballads and Songs of the Sea (CD124)

Dan Milner - Irish Ballads and Songs of the Sea

Our Price: $14.98
    
Dan Milner - Irish Ballads and Songs of the Sea





David Jones - FROM ENGLAND'S SHORE (CD508)

David Jones - FROM ENGLAND'S SHORE

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David Jones - FROM ENGLAND'S SHORE





George Ward - ALL OUR BRAVE TARS (CD5052)

George Ward - ALL OUR BRAVE TARS

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George Ward - ALL OUR BRAVE TARS





Gordon Bok - NORTH WIND'S CLEARING - CD-1005 (CD1005)

NORTH WIND'S CLEARING - Gordon Bok - CD-1005

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Gordon Bok - NORTH WIND'S CLEARING - CD-1005





Gordon Bok - SCHOONERS (CD504)

Gordon Bok - SCHOONERS

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Gordon Bok - SCHOONERS





Leaning in the Wind - Cliff Haslam (CD141)

Leaning in the Wind - Cliff Haslam

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Leaning in the Wind - Cliff Haslam





Sea Fever - John Roberts (CD5048)

Sea Fever - Songs of ships and the Sea

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Sea Fever - John Roberts





The Johnson Girls - Fire Down Below (CD138)

The Johnson Girls - Sea Chanteys & Maritime Songs

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The Johnson Girls - Fire Down Below





The Johnson Girls - On The Rocks (CD133)

The Johnson Girls On The Rocks

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The Johnson Girls - On The Rocks





TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE - The Boarding Party (CD131)

TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE - The Boarding Party

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TOO FAR FROM THE SHORE - The Boarding Party







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