News / USA

Century-Old Sailor Songs Delight Crowds

Sea chantey sing-alongs held aboard historic ship

The 1886 sailing ship, The Balclutha, now anchored in California, is the site of monthly sea chantey sing-alongs.
The 1886 sailing ship, The Balclutha, now anchored in California, is the site of monthly sea chantey sing-alongs.

Multimedia

Audio

San Francisco's Maritime National Historical Park is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of life on the high seas.

Located on the city’s waterfront, this unique park features a museum, research library, fleet of old sailing ships and monthly community sing-alongs of sea chanteys.  



Peter Kasin has been on staff with San Francisco's Maritime National Historical Park for 20 years. Like other park rangers, he escorts sightseers and ensures their safety during their visits. But there's one part of his job that sets him apart from the rest.

Once a month, Kasin leads a large enthusiastic group in chantey singing. Chanteys are songs that were created and sung by working sailors over 100 years ago.

Kasin always begins with "Away Rio," a chantey about hauling up anchor to set sail.

"It's a very accessible kind of music," he says. "You don't need to be a trained singer to sing it. So really any voice can just sing it. And the content of the songs is so interesting. The lyrics really tell of so many fascinating stories about sailing life, of sailors. And they really evoke some universal concepts. They sing about bravery or fear or longing for a better life. It's really something that touches one emotionally."

Park ranger Peter Kasin (right) leads a sea chantey sing-along aboard the 1886 sailing ship, The Balclutha.
Park ranger Peter Kasin (right) leads a sea chantey sing-along aboard the 1886 sailing ship, The Balclutha.

The chantey sings take place aboard the 1886 sailing ship The Balclutha, anchored at the Hyde Street Pier, where singer-participants fill the ship's inside shelter deck.

Kasin believes being on board a ship enhances the chantey singing experience for audience members.

"This is where the chanteys were sung and it's another way one gets connected with their maritime history, to actually be on this old ship. And even though you're not out at sea and it's not the 19th century, you can feel the water, listen to the water lap against it-there's a little movement of the ship that rocks gently from side to side. And as you walk around the ship, you could just imagine what it was like for the sailors."

When he’s not singing, Kasin and his staff lead guided tours on the old sailing ships. The docents help educate youngsters about sailing life through historical reenactment. The tours and the chantey singing are part of the park's mission to preserve and promote maritime history and culture. Kasin says chantey singing provides a window into a sailor's life and the daily hardships he faced in the 19th century.

"Chanteys were tools to help them do their jobs. These were songs that set the rhythm for shipboard jobs such as weighing anchor, raising sails, or pumping the water out of the ship," he says. "They're also there to lift the sailors' spirits, because that work could not only be dangerous, it could often be monotonous. These songs would help them take their mind off it a little bit and make it seem a little more bearable."

Chantey singing nearly died out when diesel-driven ships and mechanized boats replaced the old sailing vessels and schooners. Thirty years ago, San Francisco's park rangers were among the first to revive sea chantey singing. According to Kasin, monthly sing-alongs are now held in other port cities around the country, including Seattle, New York and Baltimore.

"I think the chantey singing tradition here is really functioning well. It's being carried from generation to generation. I've seen kids grow to adults at the chantey sings. And it's just such a great form of music and such a fun form of music to sing. It is just so attractive on so many levels. I think singing in public and singing nice and loud with gusto has a way of building one’s confidence."

Judging from the enthusiasm of the standing-room-only crowd, the tradition of chantey singing is not about to fade away any time soon.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs