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Creating harmonies in sea shanties

The Longshoremen 08 Mar 12 - 06:42 AM
Dave Hanson 08 Mar 12 - 06:57 AM
Crane Driver 08 Mar 12 - 07:11 AM
DrugCrazed 08 Mar 12 - 07:16 AM
Brian Peters 08 Mar 12 - 07:25 AM
doc.tom 08 Mar 12 - 09:01 AM
Steve Gardham 08 Mar 12 - 10:50 AM
Nancy King 08 Mar 12 - 11:18 AM
Marje 08 Mar 12 - 12:24 PM
Richard Bridge 08 Mar 12 - 01:11 PM
sciencegeek 08 Mar 12 - 03:38 PM
Charley Noble 08 Mar 12 - 08:06 PM
Jeri 08 Mar 12 - 08:54 PM
GUEST,FloraG 09 Mar 12 - 04:00 AM
Marje 09 Mar 12 - 04:23 AM
Artful Codger 09 Mar 12 - 04:32 AM
stallion 09 Mar 12 - 07:03 AM
Richard Bridge 09 Mar 12 - 08:54 AM
sciencegeek 09 Mar 12 - 09:20 AM
ChanteyLass 10 Mar 12 - 12:21 AM
andrew e 10 Mar 12 - 01:52 AM
The Longshoremen 10 Mar 12 - 04:18 AM
The Longshoremen 10 Mar 12 - 04:51 AM
Greg B 10 Mar 12 - 03:53 PM
Charley Noble 10 Mar 12 - 05:02 PM
Paul Burke 10 Mar 12 - 06:16 PM
GUEST,mg 10 Mar 12 - 06:25 PM
Gibb Sahib 10 Mar 12 - 08:07 PM
stallion 11 Mar 12 - 05:14 AM
stallion 11 Mar 12 - 05:16 AM
Richard Bridge 11 Mar 12 - 05:49 AM
r.padgett 11 Mar 12 - 06:56 AM
Lester 11 Mar 12 - 06:58 AM
stallion 11 Mar 12 - 07:26 AM
stallion 11 Mar 12 - 07:38 AM
Paul Davenport 11 Mar 12 - 08:07 AM
stallion 11 Mar 12 - 08:37 AM
Charley Noble 11 Mar 12 - 10:38 AM
The Sandman 11 Mar 12 - 01:06 PM
The Sandman 11 Mar 12 - 01:10 PM
Artful Codger 12 Mar 12 - 02:58 AM
The Longshoremen 12 Mar 12 - 03:33 AM
Charley Noble 12 Mar 12 - 07:46 AM
Gibb Sahib 18 Mar 12 - 05:15 PM
Steve Gardham 18 Mar 12 - 05:49 PM
The Sandman 18 Mar 12 - 06:04 PM
Gibb Sahib 18 Mar 12 - 06:27 PM
Steve Gardham 18 Mar 12 - 06:38 PM
Richard Bridge 19 Mar 12 - 04:20 AM
Snuffy 19 Mar 12 - 10:10 AM
Lighter 19 Mar 12 - 12:24 PM
GUEST,Gibb Sahib 19 Mar 12 - 06:28 PM
radriano 19 Mar 12 - 06:54 PM
Marje 20 Mar 12 - 12:15 PM
Charley Noble 20 Mar 12 - 12:35 PM
The Longshoremen 20 Mar 12 - 04:52 PM
stallion 20 Mar 12 - 05:01 PM
Snuffy 20 Mar 12 - 06:45 PM
Marje 21 Mar 12 - 05:01 AM
Charley Noble 21 Mar 12 - 07:54 AM
GUEST,Shimrod 21 Mar 12 - 08:06 AM
The Longshoremen 21 Mar 12 - 02:26 PM
radriano 21 Mar 12 - 04:23 PM
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Subject: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Longshoremen
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 06:42 AM

Hi all, we've just joined the forum. There are 4 of us and we have just formed a group singing sea shanties. The next step in our adventure is to try putting some amrmonies in. We can obviously listen to cd's and try to pick them up that way but we wondered if anyone has any tips or knows of any way to get harmony parts - or do you all just make it up as you go along!


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Dave Hanson
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 06:57 AM

Sailors didn't arrange harmonies when they were pumping heaving or hauling, just let them come naturally, they will if they are there.

Or did you really mean, ' amrmonies ' ?

Dave H


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Crane Driver
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 07:11 AM

Hi guys - welcome to the cat box. Where are you based?

Someone is bound to tell you, sooner or later, that harmonising shanties is "not traditional". Well, "traditional" shanty singers mostly also had scurvy and the clap - you can take "traditional" too far. On board ship, when shanties were used to co-ordinate work, there obviously weren't any formal, "worked out" harmonies, but people's voice ranges differ and there would have been plenty of natural harmonies (and less pleasant noises) as everyone tried to sing together. Most shanty crews here in the UK seem to work mainly on that basis (hopefully without the less-pleasant noises, most of the time). I remember one bass singer with a well-known crew being asked at a workshop to "sing one of his bass lines" and replying that he couldn't, without someone else singing the melody. He just heard the harmonies when others were hearing the tune.

At the end of the day, it's a matter of what works for you and what sort of sound you want to produce. Have fun. If it sounds good, you're doing it right.

Andrew
Crane Drivin' Music


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: DrugCrazed
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 07:16 AM

You can work with the basic music theory (so make sure everyone hits the notes in a major/minor triad), or you can just spend your time making it up on the spot. I prefer that way myself.

Best thing is to find a massive shanty session and just try things out. You'll work out what you're meant to do eventually (especially with shanties).


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Brian Peters
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 07:25 AM

Bass lines are a good place to start, especially on simpler shanties where the bass line can have as few as two notes. Take 'South Australia', and let's say you're singing it in the key of D.

The first refrain 'Heave away, haul away' is on the notes BAA, BAA. If the bassist sings DDD, DDD, that sounds fine.

The second refrain, 'Bound for South Australia' is on the notes F#GAF#ED, and the bassist just needs to sing DDDDAD (the A being the lower alternative).

That kind of thing can become instinctive pretty easily. Obviously there are way more complicated things you could do, but that's at least a beginning.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: doc.tom
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 09:01 AM

Johnny Collins always claimed that the way to find a harmony was to wobble off the tune until you found another note that sounded 'right' - what you then did was put all the right-sounding notes in sequence and hey presto, harmony! and Johnny was one of the most respected shanty-singers around!


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 10:50 AM

Presumably you have practices with just yourselves where you can experiment and it doesn't matter if you make mistakes. With any given shanty agree on 2 of you who are going to experiment while the other 2 stick with the tune. One goes high and the other goes low. It'll come. Don't be afraid to be ambitious.

I'm part of a new 4-part shanty group as well, The Spare Hands, but we've all been singing shanties and harmonies for 40 years so it comes naturally, and we're all musicians which helps.

The Alabama is a cracker.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Nancy King
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 11:18 AM

Back when The Boarding Party was performing, occasionally someone would criticize them for their harmonies, because, they said, harmony was not traditional in shanty singing. But it was pointed out by Eric Ilott -- who of course had been a working shantyman in his younger days -- that most of the sailors had been raised singing hymns in church, and harmonies came naturally to many of them, so of course that's the way they sang shanties, too.

It probably wouldn't do to work too hard at it, though -- you don't want it to sound too "uptown"!


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Marje
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 12:24 PM

I also think the African/Carribean influence on shanties would likely have entailed harmonies, as harmony singing is very much part of African music.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 01:11 PM

I think "Just go for it" is best.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: sciencegeek
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 03:38 PM

If you are located in the northeastern USA, come visit Mystic Seaport this June to get a wide perspective...

otherwise listen to CDs and you tube to get a feel for phrasing. It's more important IMO to be true to the type of shanty or foc's'le song you are singing than worrying about harmonies. Once you understand the job that goes with a type of shanty, then you can get fancy.

I agree that the makeup of the crew had a strong influence on the singing and any harmonies used.

Waiting for Charly Noble to find this thread & add his thoughts.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Charley Noble
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 08:06 PM

What thread?

Nice to hear that a new group is forming. Where are you folks based?

My group Roll & Go once got some frank advice from an experienced shantysinger. We had been together for about five years and some of us were sometimes doing harmony but most were just singing along with great gusto. Our friend said we needed to decide what kind of singing we wanted to be known for, and that in our current "product" our harmonies stood out like so many polished fids amidst a sore thumb or two. There are five of us now and frequently three of us will work out harmonies and the fourth will double the lead on melody, either below or above.

It does take a lot of practice or experience to do this without ragged refrains or choruses, or sheets flying in the wind...

Good luck, and don't forget to have fun!

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Jeri
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 08:54 PM

Some of my opinions:
Sailors may or may not have sung harmonies, but being on pitch wasn't a necessity either. One reason why you shouldn't try to be too authentic.
Nobody likely would have paid to hear a bunch of sailors sing shanties, and the sailors probably wouldn't feel the need to sing them without purpose.
Work out harmonies, but please don't be too precious. Don't be the Four Tenors singing work songs.
I'd say work things out and plan, but leave room for improvisation and a bit of craziness.
As for figuring out the harmonies, listen to lots of harmonies. It's a language that you can learn, if you don't already know it.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 04:00 AM

Longshoreman
You did not say your musical background. Here is a bit of advice i learned from a gareth malone programme.
Start with a lowish note and then all sing one note at a time above it going higher. Stop when you can't sing any higher. That will help you find out where to sing - who sings the low part and who can sing the higher parts.If you do not have a base voice try to get one - become a 5 piece.
You need to be able to sing together; start and end together and each word the same length. Can uou record one person taking the lead? If so, record one song and listen to it for a week, and the next week sing along to get the timing right, and the third week try to put in notes above or below sometimes.
This may sound slow - but the first one you do is always the most difficult.
FloraG.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Marje
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 04:23 AM

I agree with Jeri above that you don't want to get too polished and end up sounding like some formal choral society that has turned its hand to shanties. A certain raggedness and spontaneity has its own charm - think of the Watersons, who were not shanty singers but had this fluid, improvisational feel to their singing. They didn't write it down or work it out formally, they just kept trying until it sounded right.

It did help that they were all related either by blood or by close personal relationships, but unless you all start marrying each other, or each other's partners, there's not much you can do about that!

Marje


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Artful Codger
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 04:32 AM

As the authentic shanty days are long past, a group can choose to do what the majority of the "folk" world is doing--dressing up old songs in modern togs and reworking them till the resemblance to anything traditional is just a faint memory. Anyway, modern audiences have little idea what "traditional" is--you're reinventing it for them.

One group that quite effectively combines shanties with tight, modern vocal arrangements (think "boy band")--and even some electronica--is the Polish group Banana Boat. Hearing them is a "wow" experience.

I find that the biggest failing of most shanty groups is their over-indulgence in affectations--like they're trying to out-Hugill Stan Hugill. Small doses go a long way.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: stallion
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 07:03 AM

best bit of advice i was given ever was the first three notes of Michael Row the boat,
if one stats on note for Mi
one starts on the note for chael
and one starts on the note row - hey presto
ok not that simple, however it is about training your ears and eventually the penny drops, octave doubling is good for some songs, Ron and I have natural pitches an octave apart so it is really comfortable for us
good luck and always make it enjoyable, just sing for the fun of it and don't be afraid in dropping a few bum notes when you search for chord


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 08:54 AM

Listen to Kimber's Men is another way to learn!


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: sciencegeek
Date: 09 Mar 12 - 09:20 AM

Hear hear for Kimber's Men! and the Harry Browns, too!

Spend some time browsing Chanty Cabin & select a few great CDs...

I met Ken & Jan at the Easter Shanty festival 10 years ago - wow how time flies- and since I was from across the puddle- picked a few CDs I knew I wanted & let him select the rest... best move I could have made! Got the best bang for the buck & learned some really great songs from them.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: ChanteyLass
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 12:21 AM

As a "non-musical" fan of chanties, I add my delight that another chantey group has formed. Because I am "non-musical," I can't offer technical advise. Like Charley Noble and Sciencegeek. I get to the Mystic Sea Music Festival annually. However, there are other maritime music festivals around the world, and if you haven't already found one near you, keep checking Mudcat for information about them. Attending the performances there may be helpful, but if you can get to one that has an informal sing like Mystic's late-night after-concert sings, you might get some ideas just from listening to the crowd which chimes in spontaneously in splendid harmonies which sometimes brings tears to my eyes.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: andrew e
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 01:52 AM

The Longshore Men.

Could you name a couple you will be singing, and a link to a sound file or sheet music.

I arrange for A Cappella all the time and would be interested to have a go at one.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Longshoremen
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 04:18 AM

Hi Crane driving men - we are based in Lowestoft. I guess natural harmonies may come along as we gain in confidence


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Longshoremen
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 04:51 AM

Just checked the first thread on my first forum - what a response for you all, fantastic! Thanks for all you advice. I never expected so many good ideas

As I said above we are based in Lowestoft on the East Coast of the UK so unfortunately mystic Seaport is unlikely, although it sound great. South Australia was one of the first ones we tried so will definitely try the 'D' base line idea. We'll try Michael Row the boat and get our range as a group. We do have a shy reluctant, but good base singer so I'll have to work on him. We certainly don't want to sound polished (even if we could!) and fun is definitely what it's all about.

We have also tried, Fiddler's Green (our favourite so far as we think we sing that one best), The Jolly Boys, The Shoals of Herring, The Pump Shanty, Strike the Bell and Pleasant and Delightful. I'll try to attach sound files when I can, but I can't get the sheet music.

Will let you know how we get on.

Thanks again - Mark (The Longshoremen)


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Greg B
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 03:53 PM

"The first refrain 'Heave away, haul away' is on the notes BAA, BAA"...

Get that sheep off the ship!


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Charley Noble
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 05:02 PM

Mark-

Thanks for checking in. You can learn quite a bit from folks here. And usually you can expect a variety of advice. But everyone is also generally supportive.

Love to hear what you do after you get it together.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Paul Burke
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 06:16 PM

Longshoremen: may I recommend "waiting fot the day" as an addition to your repertoire? It's a grand shanty- it's funny (pump you bastards, pump or drown..), and it's well suited to chunky harmonies. And it's east coast UK too.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 06:25 PM

Do you know the Kipling song..In Lowestoft the a boat was made and she was made for the herring trade...

her second stoker's 17..he don't know what the judgement means..

WWI song I think..great words..obviously sung to Amsterdam there lives a maid. mg


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 10 Mar 12 - 08:07 PM

In order to create harmonies in shanties, you have to first sing some shanties. Just sayin'.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: stallion
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 05:14 AM

Ah Gibb stating the B obvious! But I think the sentiment is " just sing them and the rest will follow" a bit like worrying about how to ride a Harley before mastering the Raliegh


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: stallion
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 05:16 AM

just struck me our US cousins might not know a raliegh is an old make of bicycle over here in good ol' GB


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 05:49 AM

I think Gibb Sahib is (rightly) making the point that most of the song choices seem not to be shanties. Personally I would not bother with "South Australia" as it is so hackneyed. Sort of the shanty equivalent of "the Wild Rover".

Another good learning resource for shanties is the recordings of the Keelers. And Collins Knights & Mageean.

If you want slicker arrangements try Pint and Dale although their stuff is usually accompanied.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: r.padgett
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 06:56 AM

Hy Longshoremen

The songs you are learning seem to lend themselves for harmony and are not shanty by and large, but more sea songs I think

The "Young Uns" from Stockton/Hartlepool are a 3 part harmony shanty group and becoming popular here and just over the sea in Holland I think, where shanty fests take place

The Young Uns, as there are 3 of em sing harmony and as such, and this is no criticism, tend to change the joining in part very slightly which can upset the audience joining in expecting the usual harmony

Its up to you and teh material you select of course. There is a Shanty association for England and I believe Easter 2012 has a Shanty event at Ellesmere port

Ray


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Lester
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 06:58 AM

http://www.brasy.pl/


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: stallion
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 07:26 AM

Ray I think the Young Uns may take umbrage being described as a shanty group, they have a wide and varied repertoire, their arrangements are quite their own and may take some adjustment to sing along with but undoubtedly an excellent trio. I think all groups of singers have their own take on the songs, the Shell back chorus sang a lot of what we now consider standards but there were subtle differences, Barry Finn had a unique and powerful delivery of the shanty, I once asked Barry what he thought of our rendition of a particular shanty was   and he said "Nice song.....can't think of any work ya could do to it" and so the Hamster Wheel shanty was born.........e gods I could go on. But what Gibb said is essentially true, just sing the songs, if the motive is just to sing with a group of people for fun then just sing them. If you want to see shanty's at work go to Mystic Sea music festival there is always a shanty session involving actually working to shanty's. If you want to perform to an audience then learn everything and polish up the 'armonies. The real thing is to enjoy yourself.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: stallion
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 07:38 AM

,Out Hugill Hugill! Don't go there!


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Paul Davenport
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 08:07 AM

Interesting thread. The existing fishermen's choirs in Yorkshire sing in unison on the whole. There again, they don't sing shanties either but there may be an underlying principle there. No, the Young 'Uns are definitely not a Shanty group they are in fact, The Young 'Uns. You can join Shanty UK by visiting
http://www.shanty.org.uk
Paul


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: stallion
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 08:37 AM

The fishermen's choirs in Yorkshire sing church music, chapel music, the Fishermens Friends, Port isaac, are really not essentially different except they only sing the occasional Hymn and there are three or four harmonies in the mix


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Charley Noble
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 10:38 AM

Barry Finn and Johnny Collins are, indeed, the gold standard to measure one's efforts with when it comes to traditional style shanty singing. That's not to say that one's efforts have to mirror what they did but they would make a great starting point to develop from.

And has been mentioned many times before, the pace of a shanty for a contemporary audience is typically executed considerably faster than when actual work was expected from the performers. That more rapid pace has the advantage of keeping the audience awake. Oh, and whatever you do, try to avoid "slowing down to lethargy" for chorus or refrain.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Sandman
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 01:06 PM

Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Brian Peters - PM
Date: 08 Mar 12 - 07:25 AM

Bass lines are a good place to start, especially on simpler shanties where the bass line can have as few as two notes. Take 'South Australia', and let's say you're singing it in the key of D.

The first refrain 'Heave away, haul away' is on the notes BAA, BAA. If the bassist sings DDD, DDD, that sounds fine.

The second refrain, 'Bound for South Australia' is on the notes F#GAF#ED, and the bassist just needs to sing DDDDAD (the A being the lower alternative).

That kind of thing can become instinctive pretty easily. Obviously there are way more complicated things you could do, but that's at least a beginning."
at last a sensible post, what Brian appears to be saying[if i understand this post correctly]
is this, the root note of the chord, and the fifth note of chords often work well for a simple bass line, bearing in mind whenever possible contrary motion is better and less predictable sounding than similiar motion,although occasionally similiar motion can sound ok
a knowledge and understanding of chords and of different modes can help[but is not essential].
Finally some experts such as Chris Roche believe it is not authentic to sing harmony and preferable to sing in unison, personally I think both can sound good if the singers are good.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Sandman
Date: 11 Mar 12 - 01:10 PM

longshoremen, there are a couple of good fishing songs from east anglia windy old weather, cod banging, coil away the trawl warp, and a humouros song[ whas the bottom dropped out , singing postman]


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Artful Codger
Date: 12 Mar 12 - 02:58 AM

Let me plug Jean-Francois Blais' weekly podcast of sea songs, Bordel de Mer, now also podcast in an English version. The site hosts an archive of the podcasts going back to the first program. There you can hear all sorts of shanties and sea songs performed in a wide range of styles. Of course, most of the songs are French or French Canadian, but you'll also hear a healthy sampling of songs in English and other languages.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Longshoremen
Date: 12 Mar 12 - 03:33 AM

Just checking before I head off to work- Really enjoying reading this thread, Only 3 of us last night and we focussed on getting the songs tighter. We were talking about the lethargy in the chorus you mentioned Charley and tried to make sure we sounded fresh and up beta each time - I think it went well. Looking forward to checking out some of the sites and songs suggested.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Charley Noble
Date: 12 Mar 12 - 07:46 AM

"And we'll nail it hard with a big ree-taaarrrrrrrd,
Slowing down to lethargy!"

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 18 Mar 12 - 05:15 PM

Just to add some info to the discussion -- This is NOT a prescription of what one should or should not do when singing shanties.

Looked through my notes on sources describing chanties. Their pretty "complete" for the 19th century; some 20th c. sources are not logged (e.g. I can't remember what Hugill might have said, because I don't have the texts of all works like that digitally "logged).

Harmony is mentioned when noting the distinct style of Black chanty-singers.

There are notes to Black boat-rowers in America singing in harmony from 1820 (Charleston, South Carolina) and 1830s (New Orleans).

Gosse, who I believe observed cotton screwing in 1838 before it became the thing to have both Black and White gangs, said

The men keep the most perfect time by means of their songs. These ditties, though nearly meaningless, have much music in them, and as all join in the perpetually recurring chorus, a rough harmony is produced, by no means unpleasing.

Bullen in 1899 gives the song "Sister Seusan" sung by Black stevedores in Demerara ca.1860s-70s, and includes a harmony line.

A reminiscence of ca.1865 (published 1914) talks of the chantying of a barque's crew of Black men from Baltimore and U.S. cotton ports. The officer of this vessel, presumably a White Englishman, makes this comment of his crew:

The negroes were the finest chanteymen. Their choruses were exquisite to listen to…. I once heard a well-known prima donna in Liverpool say that our singing was the finest harmony she had ever heard, and I have seen crowds of people on the dock head there listening to our colored "jacks"' warping out to "Ladies, fare-ye-well" (an outward-bound song), and, as sailors say, "their tears were running down into the dock."

Lomax notes (and of course recorded) Black Bahamian fishermen singing in harmony in the 1930s.

We have 20th century recordings of non-deepwater Black chantymen singing regularly in harmony. Unfortunately the only field recordings of White chanty-singers with chorus that come to mind are those with Capt. Leighton Robinson leading. They are not in harmony.

I would guess that if it was at all typical for White sailors to sing with harmony that it would have been often noted, and they would not have had the need (although this is also rare) to distinguish Black singers as harmonizers. On the other hand, there are no specific notes (that I have seen -- perhaps they are noted or guessed at by later commentators?) which say White sailors did not sing harmony.

The only evidence I see to suggest Whites harmonizing is Harlow's note (in reference to 1870s era) that Whites imitated the "heavy" harmonious chorus of Blacks. Collectors of chanties, however, evidently felt no pressing need to write out harmony parts so this practice perhaps was not so prevalent. Perhaps White sailors most often or only sang harmony while singing along with partially Black crews?

Given what seems to have been a weak tradition of singing chanties in harmony among White singers, when did Revival singers start adding harmony and what were their sources of info on how to form this harmony?


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Mar 12 - 05:49 PM

In the 60s the Watersons certainly sang chanties in harmony and they didn't need any sources other than what they did naturally and very well. Why would they or anyone else in the revival need a precedent?


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Sandman
Date: 18 Mar 12 - 06:04 PM

well Steve, people do have different perspectives, I understand for example Chris Roche likes to recreate what he feels is an authentic sound,that is a perfectly valid approach, if that is what he wishes to do, other people do what they want to do which may be unison or harmony.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 18 Mar 12 - 06:27 PM

Hi Steve

I'm just asking what their sources might have been! Not saying they *needed* a precedent -- as I said, I am not prescribing how revival singers should do things, just interested in noting what has been done. With the info people can make informed choices, rather than saying "Hmm, I'm quite sure people must have done so and so" and then constructing an imaginary thing.

While the Watersons and others needed no historical precedent to do what they did, the harmony they produced most certainly would have had a musical-cultural precedent. No harmony is "natural", unless by that we casually mean to say that someone did what they were used to doing prior in their culture. It's easily possible to argue that the sort of harmony they created was not done in the same fashion as the harmony created by the historical chanty singers. Again, this doesnt mean they shouldnt do it, it's just a point to note that not all styles of harmonizing are the same. One can't suppose people were harmonizing in the past, then create any style of harmony in the present and claim there to be a connection.

The reason why this is relevant to the discussion is that someone is seeking how to learn to harmonize chanties. The end result may be whatever they choose, but it is nice when one is informed what is out there. First is the decision whether to harmonize at all, which, depending on the goals of their group, might actually be influenced by historical evidence. Second is a decision of what style to harmonize in -- a conscious decision, rather than uncritically going what they've heard in recent years. After this they may decide to go with what they've heard from the (largely) UK shanty groups and choirs of recent years, or they may seek a historical style. This choice then determines what sources (e.g. what they might want to be listening to) they'd like to study as examples to imitate.

The "just go for it" approach may indeed be the most expedient way, but the result isn't necessarily going to be something with historical/traditional precedent -- IF that happens to be important to you. (And if it's not important, than I'd hope the performers do not actively represent their material as historical or traditional.)


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Mar 12 - 06:38 PM

Okay,
I'm pretty certain I know the answer. In the revival at the beginning all those who were singing chanties had already begun singing other songs and some of these were sung in harmony so to extend this to chanties just seemed natural. They weren't pretending to be 19th century merchant seamen, they were trying to entertain audiences.

There were plenty of influences for singing in harmony generally, harmony was being used universally in Tin Pan Alley, churches, and there were a few precedents in tradition itself. I would suggest all of this had some influence. The basic rudiments were even taught in school by singing in rounds with such as 'Frere Jacques'.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 19 Mar 12 - 04:20 AM

While modern tempers are slightly artificial, there is a "natural" harmony in multiplication of frequencies.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Snuffy
Date: 19 Mar 12 - 10:10 AM

Isn't there a comment in Doerflinger that he's fairly sure white shanty singers might sometimes have sung harmonies?

He (or is it his music transcriber) states that sometimes where he gives different tunes for each verse, if sung simultaneously they would be a harmony. He thinks that occasionally Maitland, Tayluer etc sang the harmony line instead of the melody.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Lighter
Date: 19 Mar 12 - 12:24 PM

Lloyd and MacColl sometimes sang harmonies in their mid-'50s recordings.

They weren't as fancy as later arrangements though.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: GUEST,Gibb Sahib
Date: 19 Mar 12 - 06:28 PM

There is no universally 'natural' way of harmonizing. In fact if you were in, say, Indian music-culture you might consider all harmonizing to be wrong and 'noise'. Every hear the famous Bulgarian singing? They think minor second intervals sound like good harmony. Style of harmonization varies according to cultural aesthetics/ local custom.

The style of harmony selected by The Young Tradition to sing a shanty, or by a Polish group, or by a choir like Fishermen's Friends, sounds different the style used by The Barouallie Whalers.

Let's leave aside the always available option to sing whatever way you want. Let's say you want your style to be "true to" historical practice. Given that the evidence suggests harmonizing was done by Blacks or by Whites in imitation of Blacks, it seems reasonable to look to African-American harmonizing styles as a model. Again, that is if you want to go about this methodically.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: radriano
Date: 19 Mar 12 - 06:54 PM

There's lots of good advice in this thread.

There are some shanty groups that go for tight, complex harmonies.
Others prefer to keep it simple.

These days we are not singing these songs traditionally because we are not actually working aboard ships.

So do what feels best to you. Personally I feel that some harmony is fine as long as it is not overdone. Of course, that's easy when you are singing in a duet! I (radriano) sing with Peter Kasin (chanteyranger). You can hear some of our songs on CD Baby:

Click here

Click on each of the links and you can listen to some tracks.

Also check out our website: Click here


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Marje
Date: 20 Mar 12 - 12:15 PM

As someone said early in this thread, the British and American seafarers would have been familiar with the harmonies usd in church music. These have a lot in common with the African harmonies, possibly due in part to the missionary tradition that took English church music out to the colonies.

British "revival" singer and their modern successors are less likely to be church-goers than their forebears were, but they are still likely to be familiar with the harmonies that are used in British church music and also in secular choral music of various genres. Harmonies that occur in the tradition, such as those of the Copper Family, are very churchy in their structures and cadences. It wouldn't surprise me at all to find that similar harmonies were used in working shanties.

So if a modern English shanty group wants to sing harmony, I don't think they need to apologies for being un-traditional. It's quite deeply embedded in our culture.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Charley Noble
Date: 20 Mar 12 - 12:35 PM

Marje-

"These have a lot in common with the African harmonies, possibly due in part to the missionary tradition that took English church music out to the colonies."

Are you suggesting that Africans learned to harmonize from missionaries, and were not singing in harmony before contact with such missionaries? I don't think you'll find any support for that position from any contemporary ethnomusicologists.

Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Longshoremen
Date: 20 Mar 12 - 04:52 PM

Some fascinating thoughts from you all. it seems to me that we have a lot to learn. I guess my own feeling is that whatever sounds good has to be right, I suppose many songs were passed down aurally and so there are likely to be as any versions as there are people singing them. We feel we should pick songs we like and suit our voices. I see now the difference between a shanty and a sea song and i get the feeling we will move more towards the sea song

last time we met we tried singing alternate lines and also tried 'copying' some of the harmony lines on some tracks we downloaded featuring fishermen's friends and Port Isaac. everyone is very keen to experiment which is good. we are also picking songs so that everyone takes turns in singing the lead whilst the rest join in with the chorus.

We also sing in a community choir and we are thinking of introducing some shanties or sea songs to the choir as a whole. Could be fun! We will also be tracking down some of the songs suggested.


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: stallion
Date: 20 Mar 12 - 05:01 PM

excellent


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Snuffy
Date: 20 Mar 12 - 06:45 PM

Are you suggesting that Africans learned to harmonize from missionaries, and were not singing in harmony before contact with such missionaries?

I don't think that's at all what Marje is suggesting. More along the lines of cross-fertilisation when two styles of harmonies met. As the words and tunes of certain shanties were formed from the fusion of African and European elements, so also with the harmonies.

I think that when Marje referred to "the missionary tradition that took English church music out to the colonies", the colonies she had in mind might have been Virginia, Carolina, etc.

For a couple of hundred years before the shanty explosion, slaves would have been exposed to the religious music of their white masters, so by 1820 would a purely African style remain intact, totally uninfluenced by contact with Europeans? Or would it have become Afro-American style(s)?


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Marje
Date: 21 Mar 12 - 05:01 AM

I was really referring to all the various places to which English church harmonies were exported. I have heard it alleged that some of the harmony patterns used in African singing are influenced by this - of course I don't mean they'd never used harmony before, but it was an influence in parts of colonial Africa.

And church music was certainly important in parts of the US where both white settlers and their African slaves attended church and sang the same hymns. The same may well apply in areas of the Carribean where the slave trade was prominent.

Musical cross-fertilisation and "fusion" has always taken place where cultures meet, and sailors who crossed the oceans would have been right at the hub of these musical interchanges.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: Charley Noble
Date: 21 Mar 12 - 07:54 AM

Marje-

That sounds more reasonable.

Thanks for the clarification.

Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: GUEST,Shimrod
Date: 21 Mar 12 - 08:06 AM

I used to quite like shanties - but after 40 years of exposure to stentorian bellowers and nasal droners I'm all shantied out!


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: The Longshoremen
Date: 21 Mar 12 - 02:26 PM

Oh dear


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Subject: RE: Creating harmonies in sea shanties
From: radriano
Date: 21 Mar 12 - 04:23 PM

Hey, that would be a great name for a shanty duo, the "Stentorian Bellowers."


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