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'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter


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Steve Gardham 12 May 21 - 03:22 PM
Gibb Sahib 12 May 21 - 07:23 PM
Steve Gardham 13 May 21 - 09:06 AM
Gibb Sahib 23 Jun 22 - 10:15 PM
GUEST 24 Jun 22 - 01:53 AM
GUEST,Dick Miles 24 Jun 22 - 02:03 AM
Lighter 24 Jun 22 - 11:19 AM
RTim 24 Jun 22 - 12:47 PM
Steve Gardham 24 Jun 22 - 01:02 PM
GUEST 25 Jun 22 - 03:10 AM
GUEST,The Sandman 25 Jun 22 - 03:15 AM
Gibb Sahib 25 Jun 22 - 11:13 PM
Gibb Sahib 20 Jan 23 - 03:15 AM
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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 12 May 21 - 03:22 PM

I've been advising a local playwright on the use of chanties in his forthcoming production of 'Moby Dick'. I'll let you know how it goes.
He wanted to know if Hull as a major seaport had any links with chanty singing. I had to confess it isn't mentioned in any chanties with the exception of one of Bert's concoctions. There were no collectors in the area until we came along in the 60s and I just caught the end, recording 3 old salts in the 60s singing their chanties that they recalled from before the Great War, 2 Cape-Horners and one on schooners to the Continent.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 12 May 21 - 07:23 PM


I remember you also mention somewhere that the foreman of the stevedores was also called a 'chanteyman'. Are there more than these 2 contemporary references to the use of chanty in other contexts than shipboard?

Nordhoff is the famous source that gives us "chantyman" prior to chanty/shanty/etc., and calls the songs "chants."

As for the details of how it all lays out (to my knowledge), the best I could say (cogently) is my article about "chanty" etymology. If you don't have a copy and would like it, email or private message me.

My most intriguing argument (if I may say so!) is that "chantyman" may have preceded "chanty" and that "chanty" (specifically) was derived from "chantyman" rather than the other way around.

Another point is that "chantyman" had some overlap in meaning with, well, "stevedore who sings." I argue that it was lingo more employed among stevedores before becoming widely used among sailors. Of course, there was overlap.

Before a rather late period when "chanty" is documented to have much currency (it is documented from the 1850s, but doesn't become REALLY noticeable until 1870s), the songs we recognize were called "songs," "chants," "chaunts," etc.

"Chant," I argue, had both the connotation of 1) a "small" song, relatively monotonous, relatively constrained in tonal range AND 2) an "uncouth" song, something of "the folk" or of "Others." In the case of #2, it often sounded like #1 anyway. Those "others", further, were often African Americans. That is, there was a notable practice of describing songs as "chants" if the singers were Black -- though by not exclusively so. Another dimension is insider vs outsider terms; most of the terminology comes from the outside. Too complicated to rehash here, but just to give an idea that "chant/chaunt" was part of the linguistic landscape, carrying certain connotations, for some time. "Chanty" didn't suddenly spring up as a new idea but rather gained momentum eventually as a mutation.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 13 May 21 - 09:06 AM

That all sounds very logical. I don't think I have that article. I have all those at Academia. Thanks, I'll PM my email.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 23 Jun 22 - 10:15 PM

Should anyone happen to be interested in an update:

I presented my argument about "Shenandoah" meter at the (1st) Connecticut Sea Music Festival's academic symposium on June 10, 2022. It was streamed, the video recording of which is here (though the network lags and mic placement sometimes make parts harder to understand):

Reclaiming Shenandoah

And I "followed through" with a rendition in this "original" meter at the festival's open chantey sing, recorded here:


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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
Date: 24 Jun 22 - 01:53 AM

so what? are you suggesting that the song has to be sung this way. Frankly, from the point of musical pleasure, I prefer the slower less authentic versions.
Musicality in my opinion should always take preference over authenticity.
Your version IN MY OPINION is useful only as a museum piece and as an example of authenticity

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,Dick Miles
Date: 24 Jun 22 - 02:03 AM

The above post was mine

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter
Date: 24 Jun 22 - 11:19 AM

Examples of authenticity are invaluable.

Great performance, Gibb.

BTW, when I was demonstrating folk songs for college students 35 years ago, that's pretty much how I sang it too! I knew the romantic version was far removed from work, so I avoided it.

Thanks for ratifying my intuition!

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: RTim
Date: 24 Jun 22 - 12:47 PM

I was at The Connecticut Sea Music Symposium when Gibb presented his paper..and it was much Better than the video... because we were Not subjected to weird video or audio "Twitches"!!
You could follow everything he did and said, particularly when demonstrating the rhythms using the African bell, etc..

As to Time Signatures used by the various collectors or editors of the Chanteys in the past, that was also a very interesting aspect of the paper.
I would stress that, IMO, Gibb's main focus was on a Chantey used as a work song.....Not to how many sing them today; making particular reference to the Windlass and how 'Shenandoah" was sung while using it in the days of sail (and on The Morgan Whaling ship.)
It was also interesting that the Most accurate notations were made by the Earliest editors....Those who actually had Experience aboard ship!!

Tim Radford

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 24 Jun 22 - 01:02 PM

Dick, don't get so defensive. Gibb is not telling anyone how to sing anything. We all, including Gibb, fully accept that the genre of chanty is now almost exclusively entertainment and therefore fully open to interpretation. However, the rider to that is if we pay no attention to how the songs were originally used then perhaps we shouldn't call them chanties. We have plenty of replica chanties in our repertoire but that's exactly what they are, imitations and that's how we present them.

FWIW and now my opinion. Shenandoah is a beautiful tune however you use it and whatever metre you use. I often play it on my concertina just for that very reason, but make no attempt at any authenticity. However when I sing in the Hull Chanty Crew I like to think we keep as close to 'authentic' as is possible, which is why I try to dissuade anyone from singing Shallow Brown as that god-awful dirge! (IMHO)

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
Date: 25 Jun 22 - 03:10 AM

Gibb sings it well, my point is that there should not just be one way of singing a song.Musicality is more important than authenticity but authenticity is also useful particularly to academics
Steve my post was clearly a question, it was not an accusation or statement, it was a question

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,The Sandman
Date: 25 Jun 22 - 03:15 AM

if you would like to listen to 30 minutes of sea songs and shanties tom lewis merfolk clive and tom

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 25 Jun 22 - 11:13 PM

The answers to ALL of your questions are in the thread discussion and the symposium presentation I linked to. Your question was: "So what"? I don't get it. Do I / we need to repeat everything that was said because you didn't read / listen to it? The paper explains the rationale for the discussion itself, and the context for the "performance" (a sing-around) was an experiment to enact the research (i.e. to go beyond talking about to actually doing, to affect through feeling not just thinking). Since it's not evident where you're getting this strawman about "just one way of singing a song" nor do we have a universal baseline for what musicality or authenticity mean, your point is unclear and feels disengaged from the dialogue that was happening before you walked into the room.

Surely the working sailors were musical, and one of the points in the paper is that, were they to try to sing the modern version of "Shenandoah" with their work it, well, would not work at all. In order for their bodies to be in harmony with the song, they would have to sing it in the rhythm/meter that I have recovered. Thus it's attention to this musicality that allows us to solve the "puzzle" broach by this thread—of how "Shenandoah" has come to appear as a weird outlier among the chanty genre—and the epistemological problem of the paper: How "Shenandoah" was among the ten most attested chanties sung by working sailors while nowadays its chanty qualities are so illegible that most people don't know that.

The modern version is arguably "un-musical" so far as it fails to attend to the sort of rhythmic competence that is required of a "good" aesthetic performance by work-singers. Moreover, the sea music festival, heir to that of Mystic Seaport, is a space with probably the densest gathering of people with knowledge/experience of how chanties integrate with shipboard labor. Participants' frame of reference is composed of the actions they have done/seen done on shipboard and/or performances by such people. This is not a "folk club" culture. In short, the aesthetic is different. Your tuxedo might be aesthetically good at a cocktail party, but wear it to a UAW meeting and see what happens!

It puzzles me why you'd reserve musicality for Sir R.R. Terry's published classical arrangement, which was recorded by classical artists with no knowledge of seafaring culture and then copied naively by popular recording artists.

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Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 20 Jan 23 - 03:15 AM

For those who may be interested and who can access Instagram (I don't *think* it requires registration to see a public posting?), here's a video excerpt of when we sang "The Wild Missouri" while working at the (possibly last existing, functioning, large type) windlass. (Credits are on the linked page.)

The excerpt comes from a documentary I am producing about the relationship between the windlass and shipboard chanties.

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