SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
October 26, 2018
Music on board
26 54.1’S x 175 02.3’E
Ship’s Heading & Speed
180, 6.5 knots
Wind NxE force 4, clear, 22C
Last night Christian and I were playing music, struggling through 'Pallet on your floor' on the leeward side. All we had were our spotty memories of lyrics and his fine ear for chords to guide us through. We puzzled out the verse and chorus eventually, but for the life of us could not remember all the words. We half-heartedly attempted to make up our own, but it was getting past 21:00 (sailors' midnight) and we turned in for the night. This morning he came up to me waving a plastic spiral bound (coverless) copy of 'Rise up Singing' saying "I found it! Might be a different version though." Now we've got the words and our made up chords and low and behold! A song to play. Perhaps when our schedules align again we'll pick up banjo and mandolin and try it out again.
While wrapping up from yard period in Pago Pago, and prepping the ship for S282, I was prepping myself for several weeks at sea. One item on my list was getting a few dozen tabs and sheets of music for a variety of Irish and old time fiddle tunes to learn underway. (I am always extremely optimistic about having free time and having the desire to do anything with it but sleep). I aimed for songs I knew or thought I knew, then when those ran out I tried for songs I recognized in hopes others would know them. Now, when I'm inclined to play a jig I must go round the whole ship's company in search of anyone who knows the tune to 'Galway Girl.' Many humming and mumbled singing sessions, from the lab to the galley, I've got a rough idea of the tune (though not necessarily the version I have in front of me). Perhaps if someone else is up for strumming awkwardly on a ukulele or guitar, we can find the tune together.
With my printed sheet of tabs and a tune humming in my head, I make my way up on deck. Playing off of sheet music is difficult in itself with the wind playing mischief among the pages. A clipboard, binder clips and rubber bands secure the sheets, but turning the page requires both hands and an elbow so we mostly make due with single-page songs. Careful not to make yourself look too available, or you may be pressed into some sail handling while on deck.
If Irish fiddle songs are not your jams, there are other options aboard. The ship's intranet has a jumble of ukulele and guitar chords from pop singles to shanties 400 years old. They come in word documents, PDFs, scanned hand-written notes and images of napkins, two dozen compilations and poorly titled folders. Three or four paper books too. A quick foray into the numerous folders yields well over 400 files, one of which is a grand-daddy 68 page word file of sea shanty lyrics. These files are amassed over years on board, with crew bringing lyric and song collections from other ships and lives on land (see the compilation with "The Hog-Eye Man" and "Hot N Cold"). Nearly none have music with them, so you still must find someone who knows the tune. The blend of modern sing alongs and centuries-old work songs is a fitting allegory for our ship at large; a blend of traditional knowledge with modern materials and know-how. We know a hydraulic crane is more efficient, but sometimes a block and tackle is just the thing. And out here, it's all we have.
Today was pretty busy, so no opportunity for music came along. However, I've found myself with a precious five hours before dawn watch, and the full-ish moon is just enough to read a sheet of music by. Sleep or play?
- Farley Miller, Assistant Scientist, RCS