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'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter

29 Apr 21 - 08:51 PM (#4104018)
Subject: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Let me say up front that I dislike the name "Shenandoah" for this song, but I'm using it because it's commonly recognized.

The curious-minded might have noticed that the METER of "Shenandoah" is mysterious, especially when considered in relation to the song's shipboard application, as a chanty.

Nearly every document of this song, in print representation, has a different meter. Often, it is a mixed meter, moving erratically between 3 beats and 4 beats.

This may be because 1) Singers in practice sang it with no consistent meter 2) Those who wrote it had trouble writing its irregular, yet consistent meter (I think we can rule this out at some leve) or 3) the song wasn't sung in strict meter at all.

I want to rule out #2 for now, having faith in at least a few authors' transcription abilities.

And I want to table #3. I speculate it likely WAS sung without strict meter at times. Recorded performances would give of evidence of this. Moreover, I know how to make songs without strict meter fit certain working tasks. Among these tasks are hauling halyards and rowing a boat. I have done both of these actions in real life while singing chanties without strict meter. Indeed, I have sung the St. Vincent/Grenadines "whalers" version of "Shenandoah" -- which I know from hearing the whalers sing it themselves -- while rowing a whaleboat.

The reason I want to table this #3 is because historical writers called 'Shenandoah" a windlass song. That doesn't mean it wasn't sung at other times (i.e. the Grenadine whalers rowed to their version) but that it was at least sung at the windlass. I'm assuming here the windlass means the lever windlass (which is pumped up and down) as opposed to the so-called windlass which is really a windlass connected to a capstan. At the moment, I don't have evidence organized to support that assumption-- I'm just going for it!

So, the windlass is an action that I believe (again, from my experience doing it on ships) requires a meter -- a regular beat. Beats fall in conjunction with actions of the workers continuously. Further, the operation of such windlasses entailed repeated cycles of 4 exertions. That is to say, a song verse would normally get chopped into four parts.

In an 8 measure song like "Sally Brown" (which was sung at the windlass, too). The first solo would cover one cycle of windlass action, the first chorus would cover another cycle, the second solo another cycle, and the second chorus another cycle.

SAL -ly BROWN was a CRE-ole LA-dy
SAL -ly BR-own was CRE-ole LA-dy

The capitalized parts show the timing of 4 exertions per section corresponding to the rhythm of the melody.

The issue is that "Shenandoah" does not "fall" against the windlass action like this... and like nearly all other "windlass" chanties clearly do. This is curious.

Now, it may just be a fact to live with that "Shenandoah" does not line up neatly. Yet again, as someone who has sung chanties at windlasses, I personally find it jarring. One's body -- at least as I experience it -- gets used to the lines of a chanty falling at consistent times against the windlass' pumping action. That coordination, indeed, keeps everything flowing smoothly. "Shenandoah" may be an outlier, and I'll just have to live with that. It might mean that there is (was) no consistent way of singing "Shenandoah" at the windlass. But I want to suppose that there WAS, and get closer to answering "How?"

I believe the first reliable document of the melody of 'Shenandoah" is in Alden's _Harper's_ article of 1882. He actually give 2 different forms. The second of these has the longer second chorus with which most are familiar. What is remarkable in this (almost the first) printing of the tune is its absolute metrical regularity—in groupings of 3 beats. Subsequent documentations would be in the mixed (irregular meter) or in 4 beat groupings that, while viable, seem to me to distort the timing of the song.

Here I've done an absolutely strict, metered rendering of Alden's two forms - comparing them to an irregular form (mixed meter) that is familiar to many (coming from Terry 1921) and to the un-strict form of the Grenadine whalers.

I will continue with theories, but I wonder what anyone thinks in the meantime.

29 Apr 21 - 09:43 PM (#4104021)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: BTMP

A cappella renditions of songs sometime do not fall into strict meter. I am not that familiar with chanties, but I can see where they could be sung without strict meter when performing work chores like the windlass. The YouTube reference presented excellent variations of the song.

The versions of Shenandoah I have heard all seem to be metered in 4/4 time, especially when accompanied by instruments. When multiple instruments are playing, it is almost imperative that a strict meter is followed.

There are many examples of songs, like ‘Barbara Allen’ that can be performed in either 3/4 or 4/4 meter. This is totally up to the performer.

30 Apr 21 - 01:03 AM (#4104027)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

I agree, BTMP.

For what it's worth, I have surveyed a most of the printings of "Shenandoah" as folk material and found practically no consensus.

Adams 1876 - 6/8, but really screwed up
Alden 1882 - 6/8 and 12/8 meter (which I've re-interpreted as 3/4, but maybe need to reconsider!)
LA Smith 1888 - 12/8 - but copied from Alden
Davis and Tozer 1887 - 3/4
Bradford 1904 - 3/4
Bullen 1914 - 3/4
Robinson 1917 - 4/4
Terry 1921 - mixed (3/4 and 4/4)
Sandburg 1927 - 3/4
Doerflinger 1951 - 3/4
Harlow (2004) - mixed 4/4 and 3/4

And though it might look like there is some consistency from this reduction, within these meters authors start the melody in different places, or add fermata to extend notes indefinitely. Some begin the first measure with SHEN-an-doah, while some others have the first two syllabus as pick up beats to "DOAH" on the downbeat: shen-an-/DOAH! To my mind, there'd a HUGE difference between these two things. If one knows a song, one will certainly know if the strong beat is on "shen" or "doah." This tells me that half these people didn't know the song, like a german audience trying to clap the beat of reggae ;) But which half?

If "Shenandoah" were only known generically as a "folk song" or perhaps as a ballad, etc. then I would probably not ponder the meter too deeply! It's the fact that *usually* a windlass chanty must be in regular meter that raises this issue: Where should one push/pull in the song?

(I do find it often ironic that (today's) singers of chanties will give us an earful of introduction about what chanties were, making sure to emphasize how "they helped sailors keep time." And then they'll go on to sing a chanty without any concept of its timing ;) )

One more historical contextualization bit I want to add:

All of the early references to "Shenandoah" that we have put it in the sailing ship chanty context.

If I'm remembering correctly, it's only the rather puzzling attribution of a "Civil War cavalry man" (sic) mediated by Alan Lomax in the 1930s that points to another context for a traditional source.

In terms of the song's historiography then, we see it again and again in sailing ships in the 19th century sources ... until we see concert performers of the 20th century --based on published chanties-- take it up as a stage item. We then seem to see it filter back "down" (?) in the folk revival.

I am not arguing that the song originated in sailing ships. That I don't know. The common assertion that it started on river boats is completely plausible, in my opinion, yet I know of no direct evidence for it.

By this all I mean to say: An earlier or "original" form of "Shenandoah," depending on context, may have been 1) unmetered or 2) in mixed meter (3+4). Whether or not that was the case and it had to be adapted to shipboard labor, it was a part of shipboard labor that probably required a regular meter.

More later...

30 Apr 21 - 06:01 AM (#4104044)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GerryM

"And I want to table #3."

In American English, to table something is to postpone discussing it, perhaps indefinitely.

In British English, it means the opposite; it means to bring it up for discussion.

30 Apr 21 - 06:09 AM (#4104045)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Howard Jones

Hugill described it as "one of the most popular of all capstan and windlass shanties". I can only conclude that it was sung in a way which suited that work.

The tune he said he used for all his versions (which is the "usual" tune) is marked "Rather slow with emphasis" and written in 3/4. Perhaps it was popular because it was slow!

He quotes Doerflinger who said it was an old cavalry song, Whall who attributed it to Canadian voyageurs, others say it came from the old mountain men, or from the river-boats. None of it very conclusive, but it was (and remains) such a well-known song that it is unsurprising that it ended up with deep-sea sailors and was put to use as a shanty.

30 Apr 21 - 07:54 AM (#4104051)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter

Hi, Gibb. I've seen no contemporaneous evidence that "Shenandoah" began as a cavalry song or a soldier song or a "Civil War song." (The latter seems to be a favorite folkie idea recently - there really was a Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, so obviously....),

The only "army connection" seems to be the verse that says, "He must have been a [number]th cavalry soldier after the line about the baby.

This strikes me as an obvious addition. Presumably one's own unit was specified, so as to humorously implicate (and flatter) oneself and fellow singers.

I've always felt the initial stress should come on "SHEN" after a lead-in "Ohhh!" But then, I've never worked a windlass.

I agree that it seems odd for sailors to sing about the "wild Missouri," which rises in Montana and flows into the Mississippi at St. Louis, far from the sea.

But "voyageurs" seem to me to be anachronistic.

30 Apr 21 - 10:56 AM (#4104075)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

There is much in chanties that has no relevance to the sea. To look for any where it doesn't exist is futile. We are well aware that seamen utilised all sorts of material to use as chanties, and one with an easy, catchy, popular tune would soon be adopted/adapted. Surely a chantyman, and indeed the crew, would experiment with any new material and adapt as necessary, hence the different usages and metres. As many of the chanties obviously came aboard via the river trade into the Gulf, there's no reason to believe this one wasn't among them.

30 Apr 21 - 11:08 AM (#4104081)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter

Hi, Steve.

As usual we can come to no conclusion whatever.

But so much song collecting was done in the Midwest and West that the absence of landsmen's versions of "Shenandoah" outside of Sandburg and Lomax is notable.

30 Apr 21 - 01:38 PM (#4104091)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,Phil d'Conch

Second time in a week for this one. Seán Dagher's (Assassin's Creed score &c) recent Shanty of the Week.

BTMP: A cappella renditions of songs sometime do not fall into strict meter.

'Fiddler on the capstan' is a tired old pop cliche. No lyrics required. Excepting, of course, one is compiling a book of shanty lyrics.

IIRC the the 'crew' on the capstan in the wiki image were paying passengers. The task is then already converted to a form of popular entertainment, at the very beginning of the 'classic' shanty era.

Every generation has its own brand of TikTok.

30 Apr 21 - 03:38 PM (#4104106)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Gentleman, Ladies:

Humbly: Not focusing on song "origin" here. That is elsewhere. I merely evoke those points to satisfy the reader that I've scratched one of his itches before isolating the subject by cleaving the other bits away.

My focus: The meter and timing of "Shenandoah" as a sailor chanty sung at the windlass.

I tend to doubt Hugill having much to say about the song thay he didn't absorb from books. If it was "most popular of them all," and he was supposed to be the great Last Shantyman bringing his authentic shantyman wisdom to practice in the world, where are his performances of "Shenandoah"? Show us how it worked at the windlass, Stan.

This is the thing. Nobody uses "Shenandoah" in demonstrations of shipboard work. They steer far from it when invoking their old saw about "chanties providing the rhythm" because they have no clue about the rhythm. As a rubato, mixed meter or fermata-filled "ballad" (in the modern sense!), no one can envision it as a chanty and we basically have to pound people on the head with historical reference to try to persuade them it was (a chanty).

I've always felt the initial stress should come on "SHEN" after a lead-in "Ohhh!" But then, I've never worked a windlass.
Possibly due to RR Terry's printing being the ultimate source (I guess) of popular/literate versions.

With so many noting DOAH on the downbeat -- and thus saving the first measure from having an "extra" beat -- it can't be ruled out. Maybe we have the whole "Shenandoah" thing wrong (*discussions from elsewhere!), and our getting stuck on imagining it the river/valley/etc name got us disposed to that stress emphasis on the first syllable.

30 Apr 21 - 04:05 PM (#4104108)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,Wm

Gibb, ya need to commission your university's machine shop to build you a one-man demonstration windlass!

W. Roy Mackenzie transcribes "Rolling River" in 4/4 in Ballads and Sea Songs of Nova Scotia, 1928. The singer is Ephraim Langille; I could not find any evidence that Langille had ever been to sea himself, but Mackenzie presents it as a chantey used for windlass and capstan. So perhaps a semi-useful data point at best.

Thread derail: Langille sang two verses; the first is "O if I had a dog, I'd call him Hunter," doubled. In a local 1907 periodical, a man of his name is identified as an outspoken opponent of a wildly popular dog taxation bill intended to compensate sheep owners against losses incurred by the "ravages of dogs." Apparently this was a theme near his heart!

30 Apr 21 - 05:57 PM (#4104118)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

I've never used a chanty as a worksong so anything I have to say is pure conjecture, but could the heaves/hauls be just in the second and fourth lines:

Solo (no pulls) Oh, Shenandoah, I'm bound to leave you
a-a-WAY you rolling RIver
Solo..Oh, Shenandoah, I'll not deceive you,
a-WAY, I'm bound to GO, cross the WIDE Missouri.

It doesn't matter if the pulls are irregular in number as long as the crew all know when the pulls come and are working in unison. The metre of the solos wouldn't be that important.

I imagine it as a chanty for some strenuous work that doesn't need doing quickly, so a long drag.

30 Apr 21 - 08:10 PM (#4104125)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter

Steve, I've had the same thought since I first read that the rhythm was "irregular."

Which seafaring collectors other than Hugill have actually connected "Shenandoah" with the windlass anyway? (He could have uncritically accepted someone else's erroneous information.)

But, as he used to say: "Different ships, different long splices." If somebody felt like using it at the windlass, he could probably have found a way to do it.

02 May 21 - 12:13 AM (#4104265)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,leeneia

I made sheet music for Shenandoah using Noteworthy Composer, and it works in 6/4. There is no pick-up note.

02 May 21 - 04:43 AM (#4104279)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Clark 1867 (first published reference to term "chanty") mentions Shenandoah for windlass use.
Adams 1879 has it for halyards
Alden 1882 has, "One of the best known of the windlass songs was the “Shanandore”"
Dixon 1883 has "The pawls of the windlass rattled merrily to “Shanandore, I love your daughter” "
Boyd 1899 - windlass
Buryeson 1909 - windlass
Bullen 1914 - windlass and capstan

It's impossible not to be in meter, with one's body, while operating a windlass -- unless the speed of the action is so slow because you're "stuck." It naturally creates a duple/quadruple (2- or 4-beat) meter. It's a continuous action. You can't sing a chanty with prescribed time points and pull or push according to your singing. Rather, your singing must follow the timing dictated by the windlass action. A chanty at a windlass does not coordinate exertions, as it does when hauling a line. It just supports your continuous action and the strong beats of the song give an extra oomph to the exertions.

If you need a reminder of how the windlass works, see here:

While it's theoretically not impossible to be moving one's body in meter while singing an un-metered song, it's very awkward and I would find it very unlikely. This suggests to me that there had to be performances of "Shenandoah" in meter.

Less unlikely (sorry for the awkward phrase) is to sing in a meter that is a different meter of the bodily action. The bodily action is in 4-beat meter. "Shenandoah" in 3 beats or in mixed meter (an irregular alternation between 3 and 4 beat measures) would be an example of this.

The latter, mixed meter, is the more awkward as it puts the singer-worker out-of-phase. His emphasized actions will be different each time... irregular. Some individuals (the kind of people we say "have no rhythm") would not be bothered by this, but others surely would.

The former, 3 beat metered song, would cut across the grain of the 4 beat action. The two pieces would go in and out of phase, but it would work out in the end, a sort of polymeter.

One way to avoid any going out of phase with a 3-beat song would be to subsume all of those three beats under one extortion. But this would make the tempo very slow indeed. Too slow, I think.

Most printings of 'Shendoah" have some 3-beat meter in there, whether completely in 3 or a mix of 3 and 4. It's possible we have this mix because solo singers (without chorus) sang for the transcriptions. They may have been trying to keep up the 3-beat meter but, being required also to sing the *overlapping* chorus, they had to stick in an extra beat, thus creating periodic longer measures (that writers subsequently tried to reconcile). We don't have recordings of "Shenandoah" sung by an ensemble.

To summarize so my reasoning so far: 1) "Shenandoah" was sung (not exclusively) at the windlass, and the windlass practically compels one to sing in meter 2) regular 4-beat (or you can call it 2-beat, doesn't matter) meter works easiest. As far as I know, all other windlass songs are in 4-beats (though there may be other problematic songs, like "My Dollar and a Half a Day"). 3) Yet, regular 3-beat meter or a mix of 3- and 4-beat persists in the transcriptions 4) I gravitate towards rejecting mixed meter, leaving me with (regular) 3-beat as a strong possibility as the windlass form of "Shenadoah". This is the meter used by Alden, in two examples, in what would be the earliest reliable transcription we have.

So, I move on to trying to imagine how 3-beat "Shenandoah" would be executed.

This is complicated by the timing or where syllables fall against the meter (i.e what are the strong beats/accented syllables), since these, too, are all over the place in the transcriptions. Writers did not "naturally" infer the strong syllables.

02 May 21 - 11:44 AM (#4104326)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: cnd

I think 6/8 makes decent sense as it preserves the 2-beats per measure while also allowing for 3-beat subdivisions. Here's a rough working interpretation of how it would go.

Oh,       SHEN an DOE--, I LOVE your DAUGH ter
(pickup) 1    3 4      6 1    3   4    6
A a WAY, you ROLL-ing RI-ver
1 3 4    6   1    3   4 6

I put this tune in MuseScore and it didn't sound awful but it is a bit jumpy. Here's how it sounds for anyone who has a hard time following that:

(Ignore the ungodly abomination that is the [lack of] key signature in that transcription, I was mostly focused on the tune)

02 May 21 - 12:15 PM (#4104330)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter

Carter, that's pretty much how I've always sung it.

02 May 21 - 08:22 PM (#4104399)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter

OK, forget the windlass and capstan for a minute and give a look:

03 May 21 - 01:39 AM (#4104418)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Lighter, I always play that clip in a certain class of mine, after playing the Barouallie Whalers' singing, to show how the former may confirm a bias towards a vaguely "Irish" (or "Scots-Irish" people of Shenandoah Valley) perception of the song's provenance.

03 May 21 - 02:20 AM (#4104423)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib


That's plausible, thanks!

The criticism that I have is that you seem to have set the meter then molded the melody to fit it, as if the melody constantly follows a long-short rhythm. Yet it doesn't do that. If it did, I think the song's meter would have been readily inferred consistently and "correctly" by all listeners. I guess where I'm coming from is not trying to imagine how we could fit the lyrics and pitch sequence of the melody to a windlass but rather to deduce how the historical actors did it.

Moreover -- not a criticism, but a counter point -- it makes what feel like very strong points in the verse meter fall on the second beat, rather than the first/downbeat of measures. Specifically, "a-WAY" and "rolling RIV-er". The data from other chanties tells us that "a-WAY" usually sets up a big extortion on "WAY". "WAY" and "RIV", besides feeling intuitively to me like they need to be on these "downbeats," can be seen placed there when the whalers row to the song.

Alden - the source I keep referencing -- has his two versions in 6/8, too! (Well, actually, he has the first in 6/8 and the second, inexplicably, in 12/8. But same thing, right?)
Alden transcriptions
These two are the first in my recorded example:
So here we have the 6/8 that you've helpfully suggested, Carter, but retaining the timing (some long notes, bunches of short notes) with which we're familiar.
Now: When I sang it, I "converted" the 6/8 to 3/4 because I could not get the hang of tapping out the beat to 6/8 while singing that rhythm! Feeling the 6/8 against this rhythm is like trying to perform a West African polyrhythm! I figured that since nothing is heard indicating where the pulse is per se, my "thinking in 3/4" while performing it wouldn't make much difference (correct me if I'm wrong). Alden's rendering in 6/8 also preserves the emphasis of purring "-WAY" and "RIV-" at strong structural points.

you / SHAN-andore (-) i / LONG to hear YOU,
hur- / RAH, YOU rolling / RIV-er (-)

This is why I have been emphasizing Alden so much. It makes the most sense *to me*. If we know the song is supposed to work to this "6/8" then everything is peachy. Folks hearing that without 6/8 time being beaten out (or "shown" through the action of the windlass), however, would likely be confused and unable to infer the singer's internalized meter.

Comparing the West African music again: In one of my classes, I always play (one of) the familiar West African bell patterns without any other points of reference and all the students clap (to show the beat) in a way to suggest 6/4 instead of 12/8.
Then, when I throw in the pulse (where the guy is tapping his foot in the video), the students kind of fall apart.

03 May 21 - 03:10 AM (#4104425)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Here's my try of putting Shenandoah in 6/8, following Alden.

Obviously, I can't prove that this was it, but now at least I'm starting to feel like I'd have a way to sing it at a windlass that doesn't jar my musical sensibilities.

03 May 21 - 03:57 AM (#4104428)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

One last note before I call it a night.

I had said that Alden's transcription(s) is/are the second (I know) in print but the first satisfactory. The first (that I know) in print is from RC Adams' 1876 article and his subsequent re-use of the material in 1879's _On Board the Rocket_.

Returning to Adams: Adams also uses 6/8 to represent the song. No other authors besides he and Alden do this. (Technically, LA Smith 1888 does, but she is just plagiarizing Alden.)

The problem with ALL of Adams' melody transcriptions is that he seems not to have understood what a "barline" is. The rhythm of all is out-of-synch. He drops and adds partial beats to accommodate. In most cases we can guess pretty well what he "meant" to write, based on the appearance of tunes elsewhere, but in a few spots it's hard to know exactly. That aside..

It's compelling that Adams (a sea captain of the 1860s whose very authoritative presentation of repertoire is among the earliest and best, in my opinion) would use 6/8. Why would he choose such a "weird" meter (weird only in relation to the total body of transcriptions that exist) unless it was very intentional? And I see no reason to suspect that Alden copied from Adams, so I think they represent independent evidence. Might we consider both these sources as closer to the "source" of mid-late 19th century chanty singing?

After them, we get Davis (1887), who was a sea captain but whose material is somehow mediated by a non-sailor musician, Tozer. Then we have the landlubber collection of Bradford (1904). Then Bullen (1914), who is an authoritative voice yet he is mediated by non-sailor musician Arnold. Then Robinson (1917), whose transcriptions are by who-knows and show some errors. Then RR Terry, who is mediating. Etcetera -- as time goes on, its people trying to write what they hear others sing (without themselves having experienced working to the song) or else the influence of popular non-sailor renditions is floating in the air.

To reiterate: Might it not be significant that the first two writers, both in my opinion excellent firsthand observers of chanties in practice, have 6/8 as the meter? Was it that later people were stumped to wrap their heads around this, especially without practical experience as a point of reference?

03 May 21 - 07:45 AM (#4104450)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,jag

Here's my try of putting Shenandoah in 6/8, following Alden.

Sounds good. That's hard and seems complicated for a newbie. But would it be so hard if the newbie was on a windlass, experienced on a windless, and the others knew the song that way?

03 May 21 - 09:20 AM (#4104461)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

Gibb, FWIW, I'm completely with you on your 3.57 conclusions. Most of the later publishers were producing material for middle class singers to perform and authenticity was only a secondary consideration. In it's most basic terms they were publishing with 'singing' in mind, not working conditions.

03 May 21 - 09:24 AM (#4104462)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

Just had a look, Gibb, at your performance. I think you've nailed it!

03 May 21 - 11:46 AM (#4104497)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter


The musicality of the tune doesn't come through in 6/8. Maybe that's why Tozer (?) changed it.

In the 1880s, it wouldn't be surprising if by altering the time he thought he was not only improving the song but getting it back to "how it once must have been."

As sung by Capt. Albert H. Rasmussen, rec. by Alan Lomax April, 11, 1955: :

Heavily accented as indicated by italics. Note “Missouree,” not “Missourye.”

Oh SHENanDO’! I have to leave thee!
And aWAY, you rolling river!
Oh, SHENanDO! I have to leave thee!
AWAY I’m going to roam,
‘Cross the WIDE Missouri!

Oh, SHENanDO’, I love your daughter!
And aWAY, you rolling river!
Oh, SHENando’, I love your daughter!
AWAY I’m going to roam,
‘Cross the WIDE Missouri!

03 May 21 - 01:34 PM (#4104520)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: cnd

That's a fair criticism, I did force it into that meter. You are right that sound-wise 6/8 and 3/4 are identical but preserving the 6/8 form helps the beat line up consistently in your mind while singing, whereas 3/4 makes it in the middle of a counted beat.

A minor nit-picking, but 12/8 is functionally similar to 6/8 except because it's longer the points of emphasis change slightly. The end result is that the 7th beat (in my example, the "A" of "A-a-WAY") is not emphasized as much in 12/8 since time signatures emphasize the start of the measure over the middle. However, it's a very minor difference, like I said.

I am inclined to agree that it started life in 6/8 and was slowly corrupted by a combination of people who were less musically-inclined and the folk process over time. Once they found a version that worked for them, they could just stick with it.

03 May 21 - 02:01 PM (#4104525)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: cnd

This may make sense to you, or it may not. I haven't seen the original New York Sun article it was published under, but several papers in November 1886 reprinted a Sun story under the title "Yarns About Sharks: The Old Sailor Is Of The Opinion That Not A Few Of Them Are Untrustworthy".

The whole thing is rather dialectical and filled with jargon (with which I'm not familiar), which impedes my understanding, but the implication to me of the following quote is that Shenandoah may be a tune to a task after the capstan is down?
"... Then we got the end of a spare coil of manila, fit for tops'l halliards aft, turned a runnin' bowline into the end on it, slipped the noose down over the line, and then over the shark's nose by workin' him alongside, and so got the noose around the small of his back, which its where his tail sprouts. T'other end we leads to a tail block in the lee foreriggin', takes it to the capstan', and walks around to the tune of 'Bound away o'er the rollin' river,' which all the men could sing beautiful."(via The Boston Globe, Nov. 7 1886, p. 17)

04 May 21 - 02:13 AM (#4104616)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib


Forgive me, I'm not sure what you mean by "after the capstan is down." Sounds like they are just using a capstan. It could be the anchor capstan at the bow (if there was one) or a smaller capstan in the middle of the ship which is there precisely for these non-anchor jobs. The action of walking around is the same.


What seems clear across all version's of "Shenandoah" is that certain notes in the melody are longer. If the line is "You Shanadoh, I long to hear you," then the long notes are on "-doh" and "you." Anyone hearing the song, no matter how they perceive (or fail to perceive) the "true" meter will grasp that these notes are meant to be longer, and to do otherwise is to destroy the melody. Other, quick bits can be shifted and crammed, but the melody must have those long parts.

If it was in 6/8 a la Alden, these long parts are what would have thrown transcribers (without practical experience) for a loop. The notes *begin* on the weak part of a beat and then are held out "across" the next beat. Some people would (I reason) assume that these long notes began on the string part of the bit. And/or they wouldn't know just *how long* to hold out these notes before following them with the quick notes. This could explain why so many transcriptions go off the rails after either "You Shenadoh" or "to hear you"; the meter shifts from 3/4 to 4/4 or vice versa.

To be honest though, if I hadn't been thinking about reconciling the windlass question, I'd offer a different explanation for why they go off the rails. I'd hypothesize that the song was earlier or often sung rubato or without strict meter, and that the uneven measures were just attempts to capture, in a metered transcription, the length.

This is why I think it's helpful to have a sense of the work actions.

Few people are aware, however, of how the windlass worked—or rather, of how sailors worked, at the windlass.

In a future year, I'm hoping to make some documentary film to demonstrate and test these hypotheses. A few years back I talked to folks associated with the _Gazela_ in Philadelphia, as it is the only existing vessel that I know of with a windlass that could be a candidate.

04 May 21 - 09:17 AM (#4104680)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

Yes, I had conjectured that it started out as a shore song. It is actually a very beautiful tune, and at the risk of sounding prejudiced, it is somewhat wasted as a work song. It is one of my favourite tunes to play freely on my anglo with lots of harmony.

04 May 21 - 04:32 PM (#4104748)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: cnd

Apologies, Gibb, I guess what I meant was that my quote above seems to imply it was a song sung *after* the work involving the windlass was done but was perhaps grouped there by others because the proximity of the jobs? Again, forgive me if I'm causing confusion here by my ignorance on nautical workings.

I think a film like the one you described would be rather useful.

05 May 21 - 02:50 AM (#4104813)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Capstan and windlass are different devices for getting the same sorts of jobs done. For the biggest job to which they are put, weighing anchor, a vessel would have one or the other and it would be located on the foredeck. Having a windlass for that, however, does not, as far as I know, rule out having lighter capstans located elsewhere on the vessel.

Despite it being possible that a vessel might carry either device, this wasn't a random thing. If one confines oneself to merchant ships, one can see that some or other device was more typical for a certain time period. Windlasses were generally preferred in merchant ships. Once the "handspike windlass" was replaced by the newly invented (1830s) "lever windlass" (pumped), things really took off. The (lever) windlass is what I believe we should expect to be carried by most merchant ships from the 1840s until at least the 1870s -- arguably the prime years of chanty development. It was not as practical to have a traditional capstan for such ships/crews, which were big affairs needing lots of hands.

However -- the exact date is not in my head, let's say "as early as the 1870s / by the 1880s" -- the lever windlass was superseded in many cases by a new device that combined the working principle of a capstan, above deck, with a connected windlass mechanism below deck. This device might be referred to as a "capstan-windlass" or, confusingly, just as a "windlass." The capstan-windlass of later years and the lever windlass of the mid-century thus have the same mechanics in terms of where their power comes from, but on the "user end" -- what crew are doing -- they are totally different. The lever windlass of the exact type, a big one, of the mid 19th century would at some point fall out of use entirely (presumably in favor of the capstan-windlass) except in the case of some small schooners and such with little space, which used a smaller variation of the lever windlass -- the action of which is a bit different.

An issue of course, therefore, is knowing which thing an author might be referring to. Sometimes we get enough description to know. When Clark in 1867 (first published use of "chanty" in a sailor account) describes chanties it is clear he is talking about the lever windlass. Other times we can make an educated guess based on what was the more common in the time period. And just as knowledge of the devices' operation can provide clues about the music, knowing what songs were song could provide clues to historians about the devices in use.

Knowledge of working at the classic lever windlass is effectively "lost." I mean, only people alive in the early twentieth century are likely to have seen it, and all others have no reason to think about it. Currently, these windlasses are like unicorns, so the question is rare to come up. People familiar with the newer (smaller) lever windlass assume that all windlasses worked the same. Clues only come in a few chanty discussions; it's the discussion of music that occasions bringing this up at all. Yet since one of our earliest observed "modern" chanties, "Sally Brown," was observed simultaneously with the newly invented lever windlass (1830s), it behooves us to know how the thing worked. I guess that the vast majority of people giving expositions on chanties, saying were "for heaving and hauling" and impressing their audiences with "starboard and larboard" lingo, have glossed over "windlass" whenever they saw it written in a chanty collection. "Collectors" often lumped "capstan and windlass" in a way that makes sense only if that means "not a hauling song". That's why "everyone" talks about the capstan, the capstan, the capstan, and that's why, I think, some people's sense of repertoire is skewed: They imagine an item as central to the repertoire because they can imagine it sung at a capstan—the problem being that practically anything can be sung at a capstan. (If we want to deduce what *I* at least feel to be the most core, characteristic chanty repertoire, then we have to be able to envision it sung either at halyards or windlass.)

Disclaimer: Some of what I've wrote above is stuff I know intimately and some I merely believe I know "well enough" to advance a discussion towards a point. If my lack of intimate knowledge of the latter has led me to misstate/overstate something, I hope someone will come along to correct me!

05 May 21 - 08:41 AM (#4104849)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

As you say, Gibb, there aren't many people alive who could critique what you write. I find what you have to say very educational and interesting. However, there must be a few of-the-period, specialist technical books that discuss the workings of such machines in detail. These could then be placed in the context of the chanty and a detailed exposition should turn up in your next book.

I've seen some diagrams in some of Stan's books, so these could be a useful starting point for discussion.

Here's a question to kick things off. You've already touched on this, but to what extent would heaving and hauling chanties overlap, generally speaking? It would make things a lot neater if there was little overlap. Publishers generally distinguished the 2 types either by just including what they knew of the chanties usages, or actually categorised them into different sections.

I have used your writings to make my own lists of when each chanty was noted year by year, but I'm thinking when I have more time revising this to show which tasks were designated for each chanty. This could then be put on a database and quantified.

Just had a thought: The cotton screw should also be included, as it relates to the technical, historical and musical aspects.

05 May 21 - 04:52 PM (#4104929)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Yes, Steve, you are right, but let me clarify my point:
I know (more or less) how the windlass worked :) What I am relaying is my experience of not encountering that mentioned elsewhere than in the writing of a few people discussing chanties. I looked at diagrams of the mechanics of windlass in detail, but these mechanics of the tool would not say anything about how sailors actually moved their bodies when operating the tool. (Does that make sense?) And people just writing about sailors at sea weighing anchor are unlikely to have found it worth describing the body motions; they took it for granted. Only the timing of music to the work occasioned some people, like Hugill and Harlow, to make these notes. In my presentation at Mystic, on the _Charles W. Morgan_ windlass (2015?) I showed a video of film from the 1920s that shows the action. If you blinked while watching, however, you'd miss it!

So what I wasn't saying is that this information is totally unknown and we need to discover it, but that it is generally not known to people. I don't think (?) the people at Mystic really knew about this before I introduced it -- and those are people who have collectively had their eyes on a lot of maritime writing and film. The sole reason it occurred to me to say anything was that I was trying to match up chanties to their pacing etc. and was therefore forced to consider this issue and spotted the clues in Harlow etc.

Cotton-screwing action is covered in my paper on that subject (yet unpublished, but presented in brief at Mystic in 2019). All the data for it was in a manuscript article I tried to get published, but the journal thought all that techie stuff had to go. The music stuff in the article is considered techie stuff and the mechanical stuff is ANOTHER body of techie stuff, and there's barely an audience that can digest both at once! So I have to revise the article without all the rich data about the cotton-screwing practice that I gathered and, I don't know, maybe get a chance to re-include it elsewhere.

I don't think -- though I recognize I'm strongly opinionated about this -- that "which tasks were designated for each chanty" is the best way to go. Chanties were chanties, and by that *I* mean (here comes my arcane opinion...) that they have a standard form. It's not a form that applies to "short hauls" on braces, for sweating up, for tossing a bunt, for boarding a tack... there are "other" chants/songs for those things. Where I admit that I am weird is that other people will want to group those items as chanties and I don't. I'm 1) fine with *calling* them chanties and 2) not arguing that some contemporary people might also have called them chanties; this is not about language/labeling for me, just about preserving a conceptual distinction.

What *I* reserve as conceptually distinct "chanties" are those that have the form of 99+% of halyard songs. This is a great body of repertoire. By contrast, the short hauls are of different, various forms and *very limited* in repertoire. Practically everyone you mentions buntin ascribes just one song (Paddy Doyle's Boots). Everyone who discusses hauling on a main sheet mentions only two, the practically interchangeable "Haul Away Joe" and "Haul on the Bowline." I think these were chants developed to customarily accompany those tasks and can be partitioned from the great body of interchangeable and flexible repertoire that is the "standard" chanty (if not the chanty itself). The standard chanty, I think, is not about designating songs to tasks. It's a song-form independent of tasks. Two shipboard tasks in particular -- halyards and windlass -- came to be where that song-form could thrive. There is no essential difference between a "halyard" and a "windlass" chanty. There was just that body and style of song, chanty, which actors found applicable to both their halyard and windlass duties. It was the advent to this style/body of song to ships that effected the new ubiquity of worksong singing, layering over the job-specific and hackneyed items like "Haul the Bowline". I don't think "Bowline" and "Sally Brown" were cut from the same cloth. It's only the discursive bringing of them under an umbrella, later, as "songs sailors sing while at work," that throws them together in concept and appears to make them related.

And as the idea of "songs sailors sing while at work" (not precisely the same as "chanties") continues, and the habit of putting song to use for everything continues, the newer capstan comes in. Its a task where you can sing anything. Some people would sing the familiar chanties and some would add other items. A new layer, then lumped by the likes of Hugill -- who threw in everything but the kitchen sink without really indicating that "Merrily We Roll Along" was an outlier.

The funny way to say it, then, is: heaving and hauling "songs-broadly" have some overlap. Their overlap, however, is because some hauling songs (the ones for halyards) are chanties and some heaving songs are chanties. Chanties are chanties. It's only an appearance of "overlap" when we've divided "heaving" vs "hauling", and we've only done that because of the presence of non-chanty items of divergent form and applicability.

Probably need some charts for this, maybe some Venn diagrams, ha.

In short: I think it's self-evident from the song's form if it is a chanty (by my definition). We don't need to know any designation of task. With items not having that form, we can easily pick out the non-chanty hauling songs, as there were only a few encountered again and again. On the other side, there are non-chanty heaving songs, many of which could be applied to windlass or capstan, the tempo being the main factor.

Traditionally, the presence of a grand chorus is a way to identify a chanty (not a heaving song!) sung at windlass and capstan from one sung at halyards. But that is not foolproof because, in a chanty, the grand chorus is an optional feature governed mainly by how long you need to work, not by what work action you are doing.

06 May 21 - 04:37 AM (#4104990)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Sorry for the rambling off topic.

One can see the operation of a windlass in this footage from 1916. At the 11:48 mark (cued up)

06 May 21 - 05:29 AM (#4104996)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,jag

That clip is worth a lot of words. It highlights that the two ends are doing different exertions on each 'beat' but that a shared song must be helping synchronize both. It's not a simple 'all pull together'.

Is it a cycle of four even beats or two pairs of two?

I wonder if a video buff could analyze the timing from the frames and repeat it to get a longer sequence.

06 May 21 - 05:32 AM (#4104997)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,jag

And to add - has the timing been altered by changing the frame rate to meet a new video standard?

06 May 21 - 01:37 PM (#4105057)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

That's all very helpful, Gibb.

I have all of your articles at Academia, and they include 'Grog time o day' and 'Screwing Cotton by the day' which both deal with screwing cotton. Are these different to the papers you now mention?

I need to go off and reread what you've just written so I can take it all in properly.

BTW John Venn was at Hull University when he invented Venn diagrams and one of our bridges over the River Hull near its junction with the Humber estuary is dedicated to him. I go for a walk by it once a week and we are recording some chanties and sea songs near it on Saturday.;-)

07 May 21 - 03:36 AM (#4105112)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Right, jag. Knowing that the windlass works like that is one thing that prompted me to question how on earth sailors would sing "Shenandoah" as modern singers do and keep the coordination. You feel the rhythm in your body so strongly when you do it that I can't imagine trying singing "Shenandoah" all loosey-goosey (as in the modern ballad style) and not feeling confused.

Again, "Sally Brown" -- and "Mister Stormalong" -- present no such confusion, so we were able to simulate them:

Mister Stormalong (our first attempt)
Sally Brown (repeat) (second attempt, better)

There's another glimpse somewhere in the Whaleship Viola video (I just can't find it right now).

When Tom Sullivan recorded his chanty album on UNICORN, the participants sang at the windlass. He says in the liner notes that, for at least one song, having a large number of hands available, they eschewed the two-part action and did just full sweeps of the brakes (i.e. what people do on the newer, smaller windlass). It's not clear to me if it was just for that item... I haven't gone through and analyzed it. Moreover, I don't remember UNICORN having a full size old style windlass, but maybe I remembered wrong. Need to save it for another time though. Not looking for more info on the windlass at the moment; enough is known; trying to know "Shenandoah" in relation to that... and hoping that might open the door to another mystery song: Lowlands/My Dollar and a Half.

Here, by the way, is what the smaller / later windlass looks like:

Here's a rendering of Robinson's (1917) "Shenandoah" variant (concealed under the title of "Sally Brown"). He puts it in 4/4. This is one of the examples of transcribers who put "Shenan-DOAH" with "DOAH" (well, "sally-BROWN") on the downbeat. On paper it works out (e.g. for windlass work). Whether the timing is accurate or just how Robinson squeezed it in to look rational, I can't say.

Steve, I was just saying that the "Screwing Cotton By the Day" paper is just the conference talk-length version. The article manuscript that it was it's condensed from is very long and has all kinds of specifics about the technique of cotton screwing, the profession, the tools, etc. -- but it's a mess now after the journal asked me to cut all that stuff. For the conference paper, I had to cut it for time, but one of the main conclusions is there: Cotton-screwers turned the screw AFTER they were done singing a chorus or verse, rather than in time to a sung syllable. Some are pushing, some are pulling. Having one's song in strict meter throughout is not important.

07 May 21 - 07:54 AM (#4105135)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

The Tgts video is a bit odd in that there are several chantymen and they are actually taking part in the task. I was under the impression one of the perks of being a chantyman was you didn't have to exert yourself.

I would be interested in seeing any evidence for your assertion that the screwing was done at the end of a verse/chorus.

07 May 21 - 09:57 AM (#4105152)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter

Steve, despite the folk buzz, I can't imagine a chanteyman being allowed to stand around and sing while others were working.

What a weird idea! The more hands, the quicker and easier the task.

Gibb, do you know where it comes from and how "common" it was?

07 May 21 - 06:00 PM (#4105207)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

There's no way that a chantyman is getting out of work entirely! I, however, have no way to refute the idea (of which I'm certainly also aware) that chantymen didn't / sometimes didn't / often didn't work. I don't remember where it comes from -- let's keep an eye out.

Among cotton screwing gangs, the chantyman did not labor. He was the foreman. In fact, there would not be any space for him at the screw. I think this suggests the possibility that a shantyman's song as his labor did sometimes suffice.

When on the halyard, the chantyman is customarily at the head of the line and I feel that is an *easier* and more comfortable position. So that's a perk. On the windlass, according to the custom at Mystic Seaport at least, the chantyman is contributing as you see in the video, which I also find more comfortable than the other positions.

My somewhat haphazard opinion is that there could be an attitude that the chantyman could, at times, work LESS. "It depends."
How the nuance of that (i.e. how it depends) was in reality corresponds to what might be imagined from narratives of chanty writers is something I'm not sure about. Probably Hugill again, ha!

08 May 21 - 05:48 PM (#4105326)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

I would be interested in seeing any evidence for your assertion that the screwing was done at the end of a verse/chorus.

The condensed argument is at the end of the "Screwing Cotton by the Day" paper.

We don't have recordings of cotton screwers so we have to reason by comparing various evidence that we think likely to be relevant.

For evidence that I think is relevant, you can start with this performance of Georgia stevedores. The exertion comes following the chorus, causing the length of the song to be extended, and the regular meter is accordingly disrupted.

"Pay Me" led by Joe Armstrong

See also menhaden fishermen's chanteys, i.e.

While these don't say how cotton screwing was performed, they indicate that there existed a method of working to chanties, by Black maritime laborers, wherein one "works" after the chorus.

Can add more later...

09 May 21 - 09:45 AM (#4105389)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

Thanks for that enlightenment, Gibb. By sheer co-incidence my paternal grandfather was a timber carrier in the same fashion on the HUll docks but whether they sang anything I don't know. But I sure am curious now!

10 May 21 - 04:04 AM (#4105461)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Here's another one of the pieces of evidence for my argument about the cotton screwing work.

This recording of a song sung by stevedores in Tampa (on the Gulf of Mexico) is not described as a cotton screwing song (that labor had ended by the time of this recording in the 1940s). However, it is a song about Mobile Bay. We might suspect that the stevedores of the Gulf ports, of which cotton screwers were earlier representatives, kept this song and/or the work method alive.

They stop/extend time after each chorus to "grunt," indicating the place of exertion.

"Mobile Bay" (1943)

10 May 21 - 09:12 AM (#4105495)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

That certainly fits in with the 'Pay Me' recording. Does it say what the actual actions were on the grunts?

In your historical references to cotton screwing do you have any indication as to how the songs were actually used?

BTW I have some more info on 'Haul the Woodpile Down', sheet music by Harrigan and Braham 1887. Is this well-know or is it worth posting on a new thread or on that minstrel thread?

11 May 21 - 04:14 AM (#4105627)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

In your historical references to cotton screwing do you have any indication as to how the songs were actually used?

Here's from the symposium paper:

One may be interested to know how the timing of a song matched the screwmen’s work. We have no recordings of this labor in action, and the scant historical record leaves us without definitive information. Moreover, there appears to have been developments in singing style over the century during which cotton-screwing was practiced. However, with reference to the period under discussion, the mid-nineteenth century, using clues from text descriptions, taking into consideration the nature of the work, and comparing the methods used when singing similar songs in other contexts, I’m prepared to speculate.

One of the great textual clues comes from Nordhoff’s explanation, i.e. “the chorus… comes in at the end of every line, and at the end of which again comes the pull at the screw handles…” As to the nature of the work, operating a jackscrew called for intermittent effort. In other words, all the men had to exert themselves heavily at the same time—but only at short, specific moments. It seems safe to assume that at least some turns of the screw—as those when a bale was reaching its final position—called for effort of the likes that could not be performed with anything but a slower-paced song, or without being very frequently occurring. This is to say that screwmen probably could not sustain a pace of two exertions per refrain. One strain per every, or every other, refrain would seem most logical and accord with Nordhoff’s description. Yet, does this mean the exertion would come on the last word of the refrain? The very last syllable? Or did it come just after the conclusion of the text? The latter seems most likely, when one considers more descriptions of screwmen’s singing and compares the style of some other African-American work-song performances. In these cases, the exertion follows the conclusion of the refrain’s text and is accompanied by a sort of vocal “grunt.”

From the manuscript:

Another source brings both clarity and confusion. The author wrote, in an early (1830) account, “The chorus ‘whagh,’ round goes the screw, crack goes the beams, and in goes the bale.” It was accompanied by a text sample: “Missey berry good lady too. She biley de eggs and gib nigger de broff; whagh!” [Holbrook, Threescore Years, 370.] Remarkably, the refrain appears to be the one word—really, little more than a grunt: whagh! What looks to be happening is that the chanty-man calls out the two-line text and the gang follow this text with a vocalization, a nonsense utterance, in unison with an exertion. The only problem with this reference is that it does not include a halyard chanty type form, i.e. the evenly-balance, call-response form seen in most of the screwmen’s song examples. The writer may have written the song incorrectly or else, more intriguingly, screwmen’s songs of 1830 may have been different than they had come to be by the late 1840s. What this source does offer is the insight that the men did not necessarily perform their exertions upon words of the refrain (as sailors did on deck), but rather may have placed them outside the boundaries of the song’s text—“at the end,” yes, in the sense of after the completion of the refrain.

In the symposium paper, I present another recording:

Take the familiar example of the song “Pay Me [My Money Down],” as heard here. The song-leader, Joe Armstrong of St. Simons island, Georgia, said that he used to sing it as a stevedore loading “heavy timber.” Notice that the added grunt extends the length of the line by approximately one beat, disrupting the evenly metered length that one might expect in a performance.

By way of a final example, one can hear this “disruption” of even meter in the following audio recording of a song that appears to exhibit the genre of screwmen’s songs. [The song is about screwing cotton] The song in this performance looks to have been re-contextualized as a boat-launching song performed by Bahamian singers. [The group of singers, including Abraham Atterly (Rabbit), Jack Delancey, and “Greene,” were recorded by the Alan Lomax-Zora Neale Hurston-Mary Elizabeth Barnicle expedition. The recording is held by the Library of Congress, AFS 378. It can be heard on the website of Florida Memory, beginning at timepoint 19:36. []] What stands out is the metrical irregularity at the ends of some refrains. These deviations from a steady pulse and four-beat phrases, which provide no obvious benefit to launching a boat, are consistent with the pauses argued above to have accompanied the exertion of cotton-screwmen.

11 May 21 - 10:04 AM (#4105673)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

I think what little evidence exists point towards your conclusion, Nordhoff particularly clear. The logical conclusion to me is the chanty is a more complex development of the stevedore method. Let us hypothesise the transfer from shore work to shipboard.. are there any tasks aboard, c1830-1840, that would necessitate a similar exertion to what was happening ashore? Perhaps the rowing songs are closer to chanty form in that more pulls per line?

11 May 21 - 05:58 PM (#4105724)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

Yeah, Steve, I'm with you.

I "wish" the screwing cotton work style was the same as the shipboard work style because that would make a transfer from one context to the other very "neat" in explanation!

However, I personally am not bothered by this difference. In my opinion, the chanty FORM is the same. One just adapts their "performance" of the work depending on the task. That is even the case between the shipboard tasks where (at least as I argue) a "windlass chanty" and a "halyard chanty" are identical (or potentially so) while one simply works to the same song/form differently. Such is the case that *most* cotton screwing chanties and other stevedore chanties and rowing songs and etc (and a lesser number of menhaden chanties) have that same form.

If it only came down to cotton screwing work being different than shipboard work, that would be irksome, but when we consider the range of different kinds of work (and even non-work... or light work like corn shucking) across a consistent genre *form*, then we can make the argument that working one way or another is not embedded in a given song. Rather, the chanty form is a flexible one with respect to work method—hence my earlier rambling about not wanting to categorize songs (at least not firmly) in terms of a work task.
One more suggestive piece of evidence re: cotton screwing working style:

Frank Bullen (1899 published, writing about the 1860s IIFC) gave this description -

"Below, operations commenced by laying a single tier of bales, side by side across the ship, on the levelled ballast, leaving sufficient space in the middle of the tier to adjust a jack-screw. Then, to a grunting chantey, the screw was extended to its full length, and another bale inserted."

"Grunting" is open to interpretation. Could it be that the song had some general "grunting" sound to it? Sure. But it implied more strongly to me that Bullen is referring to the "grunts" at the ends of choruses, as we hear in the stevedore recordings and as the 1830 writer (above) wrote as "whagh!"

12 May 21 - 03:15 PM (#4105824)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

I go with that completely, Gibb. A strong possibility to me is that Bullen was using the phrase 'grunting chantey' to describe a type in the same sense as 'short-haul chanty' or 'halyard chanty', in other words a chanty that contained grunts, rather than the whole thing being grunted, which would be somewhat difficult and unlikely anyway.

Another point worth repeating is the actual use of the word 'chantey' to describe the songs being used for screwing. 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?

12 May 21 - 03:22 PM (#4105825)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

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.

12 May 21 - 07:23 PM (#4105850)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib


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.

13 May 21 - 09:06 AM (#4105894)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

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.

23 Jun 22 - 10:15 PM (#4145212)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

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:


24 Jun 22 - 01:53 AM (#4145217)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter

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

24 Jun 22 - 02:03 AM (#4145219)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,Dick Miles

The above post was mine

24 Jun 22 - 11:19 AM (#4145284)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Lighter

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!

24 Jun 22 - 12:47 PM (#4145295)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: RTim

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

24 Jun 22 - 01:02 PM (#4145296)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Steve Gardham

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)

25 Jun 22 - 03:10 AM (#4145369)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter

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

25 Jun 22 - 03:15 AM (#4145370)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: GUEST,The Sandman

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

25 Jun 22 - 11:13 PM (#4145463)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

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.

20 Jan 23 - 03:15 AM (#4163029)
Subject: RE: 'Shenandoah' rhythm/meter
From: Gibb Sahib

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.