Just a few hours North of New York City you can visit the Mystic Seaport. Each year, around this time, they hold a sea music festival, and it usually runs over the weekend. This year for the first time I was fortunate enough to make it to some of the Saturday events.
On arrival I quickly made my way to the “Music of the Sea” Symposium to hear three young ethnomusicologists present a variety of sea worthy topics. Gibb Schreffler, “Screwing Cotton by the Day” was just finishing his presentation, and I unfortunately just caught the comments of Craig Edwards from the floor. I did catch all of James Revell Carr's presentation. Entitled "Sailors and Musical Commerce in the late 18th- and early 19th-century Pacific. It was a fascinating journey into the relationships between sailors and pacific islanders. It was extraordinary to hear that the bagpipes were used by Cook to entertain the pacific islanders and some of the melodies have made there way into their own traditional music. The story of Captain Cook's demise and how a dance was used by the Islanders to entertain the sailors to prevent retribution was fascinating.
Robert Young Walser moderated the panel discussion on "The Past, Present, and Future of Sea Music Research,"which I found fascinating. He posed some challenging issues facing researchers today as they now do things online and not in the old fashioned way of rummaging around in the archives. How does one stumble across things now that they are locked away? With the advent of online research the archives have become harder to access was the general view of the panel. James Revell Carr riffed on the difference between singing a source material and researching it, and the importance of breathing life into historical music as the shanty men would have done. The suggestion was made that scholars still valorize texts over performance and individual interpretation. This brought about the conflict between text and context, which is still at the heart of folklore studies.
The weather was beautiful so I made sure that the performances I caught were outdoors and this added to the atmosphere. On board the Joseph Conrad I heard songs of supersition and shipwrecks with Pint & Dale and John Roberts. Robert's sang an uplifting version of 'The Loss of the Ramillies,' A true story of the shipwreck of HMS Ramillies which lost its bearings during a violent storm in 1760 just off the Cornish / Devon coast culminating in the loss of 700 men, while accompanying himself on the Anglo-concertina. I caught John again later singing a bawdy tale of lusty tailor called "The Tailor and the Tea Chest." Later I managed to hear Jeff Warner sing a traditional children's song with a verse that really tickled me:
There was an old doctor and his name was Peck
Fell down the well and broke his neck
Served him right, he was doing wrong
Should have tended to the sick, and let the well alone.
By the time the sun was beginning I made my mind up to come back again next year and hope the weather will be just as fine, as certainly the music was top notch.