MYSTIC — The 40th annual Sea Music Festival will be held Thursday through Sunday at the Mystic Seaport Museum. Demonstrations, concerts, a children’s parade and other events will be held throughout the day at different venues around the seaport.
Geoff Kaufman, foreman of the sea chantey program and festival director, said the Mystic festival is the only one in the world that has been going continuously for 40 years.
Sea songs and chanteys were passed on from musician to musician until the 20th century and were not written down and recorded until the 20th century, with Joanna Colcord's “Songs of American Sailormen” in 1938. Stan Hugill, whose songs will be performed at the festival, wrote “Chanteys of the Seven Seas” in 1994.
“Luckily we have these published resources,” Kaufman said. In addition, traditional folk songs were recorded by James Madison Carpenter 1927 and 1943 in England and the United States. “It’s exciting that some of these songs are still being dug out,” Kaufman said.
Festival organizers always try to bring in African American performers, and this year Ron and Natalie Daise will present stories, songs and history in celebration of their Gullah Geechee culture, which originated in the Sea Islands of the U.S. Southeast coast.
While there were virtually no women on ships in the great age of sailing — except captain’s wives and the occasional woman who posed as a man --- Kaufman said some of the greatest performers of sea music are women.
“In Gullah Geechee culture, women who were offloading vessels would be singing songs,” Kaufman said. The Johnson Girls, an a capella group that will perform at the festival, “specialize in digging out that material,” Kaufman said.
Erik Ingmundson, director of interpretation at the seaport, said the theme of the festival this year is “looking back and looking forward.” Stuart Frank, who founded the festival and symposium 40 years ago, will be at the festival, and there will be a few newer performers, he said.
Lynz Morahn, 38, a singer and violin player from Ashford, Conn., is one of the newcomers. She became interested in sea music via a former college boyfriend who was in the Coast Guard.
“I also went to a Chantey Blast at Mystic Seaport, and I was just totally hooked on the energy of the music and the community,” Morahn said in a phone interview.
Morahn’s day job is database programming, but she said that music is her “love and passion.” She noted that sea chanteys were work songs that have “different rhythms and cadences for different tasks,” and that sea music instruments had to be sturdy, portable items such as harmonicas, bells, concertinas, banjos, and fiddles.
Morahn will be part of a panel discussion and will also release her first album at the festival, called “Kick It Off.”
“It’s me and a group of friends, and it’s all vocals,” she said.
Performer Jerry Bryant of Amherst, Mass., said chanteys are just one type of sailor song that was sung for specific types of jobs on a ship. “Typically a chantey is a call and response song with a very strong rhythm,” Bryant said. “The chanteyman would sing the first line and the crew would sing the second line. The song would coordinate with their muscle motions.”
“My first love was bluegrass music,” Bryant said. He got into performing sea music, he said, one day when he was “busking” in Boston and it was too cold to play guitar, so he began singing sea songs a capella. “I got way more money than I did with the guitar,” he said, laughing.
“One of the most exciting things is that we can sing chanteys on a historic ship,” Bryant said, referring to the Charles W. Morgan whale ship. “That’s a rare, rare opportunity.”
Daytime concerts, workshops, a “Music of the Sea” symposium, and a final Sunday evening concert are included with museum admission. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening concerts at the Boat Shed require the purchase of a separate ticket.
The symposium is sponsored by Williams College, the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program and Mystic Seaport, and will be held Friday and Saturday beginning at 8:30 a.m.
A four-day pass to the evening concerts is $124 for adults and $90 for ages 3-17. A single concert is $35 for adults and $26 for ages 3-17.
College students with a current student ID will be admitted at the youth price.
For more information, including ticket packages, musicians’ bios, and a schedule of performances, visit www.mysticseaport.org/seamusicfestival or call 860-572-0711.