There is something magic about singing, especially when a group of people relaxed enough to not feel inhibited about not having professional-quality voices, sings happily under a canopy of stars. Such evenings in the cockpit are, well, sort of celestial. But stars aren't required. For several years I was a member of a no-audition choir in Port Townsend called Songlines, and you would not believe the lovely harmonies that can be created by a surprised crowd that wasn't aware that they could sing so well.
Singing opens up hidden direct channels to the joy center, or inner child, or whatever that ineffable interior place is called. Singing makes you breathe, it oxygenates your tissues, energizes you, gets you high. I still sing the soprano parts of those songs to the ocean, in languages from Swahili to Russian. It feels good. Thank you Lawrence, dear friend, for teaching us.
My Jazz Gals buddies Val, Carla, Annie and Heather, plus the band: Sailin', wailin' Herb, George, Ted, Tim, Mike, the peripatetic and sometimes peptic Pete, and stand-ins Rex, Hope and others, plus Mark and the gang at the Upstage, did you know you made another dream of mine come true? I always wanted to be a torch singer. You've given me a cargo of happy memories and a hankerin' for more music when we return one day.
As long ago as 1999 I would fly down from Alaska to attend Port Townsend's Wooden Boat Festival, but one of the things I looked forward to the most was Chantey Night. At first it was an informal thing around a roaring bonfire near the beach, but eventually it got organized by the late, brilliant musicologist Steve Lewis into a wonderful affair attended by a hundred or more.
Often, professional chanteymen (yes, they still exist!) would attend, and we'd sing in rounds, songs picked from Steve's lyric books passed out to and chosen by audience members. We'd start at 7pm and sing well past midnight, blending our voices and finding new harmonies in old ditties. The magic about an evening like that is you go home with more energy than you came with.
In a setting of mustachioed men in period costume (and salty women tall ship crew, who sometimes looked like they'd just stepped off a Cape Horner,) you really can drop all pretense and any doubt that that these people have sailing dreams so vivid they choose to become living anachronisms, bearers of tradition to the rest of us clad in LaCostes, chinos and Nikes. You drop everything but being in the moment, and you go to sea with these people. You sing, and find yourself straining at the capstan, hauling halyards, holystoning decks, complaining of bad beer, and, body and soul, loving every transported moment. You sing, and find yourself admiring (and wanting) one of those slightly soiled neck scarves and admiring the anchor earrings (one ear only, in the side that faced the Horn) and feeling that maybe your own clothes are a little too squeaky clean. You sing, and find your imagination running a little wild... Jeez, maybe I could get a boat... You sing, and it lodges in your brain, that you did something you might never normally do--you put yourself out there--and liked it!
If a chantey sing takes place aboard a ship it's even easier, once you've stepped gingerly aboard, perhaps unsure of your balance, to surrender your 21st century self to the 19th century clack of halyards on wooden spars, the distinctive tar-salt-wood smells, the slight motion on deck, the low hum of the wind through all that rigging. You sing, breathe deeply of a different air, and are happy. The high lasts, if you're lucky, for a few days, perhaps buffering the first report of an overturned Wal-Mart truck on I-5 that brings movement to a halt for five miles in all directions.
This is how it sometimes starts; that conscious knot of distaste in the mouth, for being a cog in a Big-Oil World. A glimpse persists, of how simpler, in-the-now times leave more room for finding your own path.
In the sound and fury of a Monday workaday, things that are "normal"--traffic gridlock, frenetic hurry, social isolation, relentless consumerism--may not feel so normal anymore. We need to be reminded of this, that we still have choices. We need reminding that technology doesn't answer all questions, that not everything becomes obsolete, that communities are still made of people, and that letting go a little is good for us. That's the alchemy of singing.
Sent via Ham radio