South Street Seaport Museum expands its virtual sea chantey programming with the fourth installment of the Sea Songs and Sea Lives webinar series Queer Chanteys, Queer Sailors, featuring a conversation between Lafayette Matthews, Jules Peiperl, Alex Sturbaum, Miriam Rocek, and other guests, moderated by Laura Norwitz, on Friday, June 25, 2021 at 6pm ET. Register for the free event at seaportmuseum.org/queerchanteys.
This month, join chantey singers Lafayette Matthews (he/him) and Jules Peiperl (they/them), as well as sailor Miriam Rocek (she/they), a former deckhand and educator on Seaport Museum's Schooner Pioneer, to explore the history of queerness in traditional sailing as reflected in traditional songs.
Queer relationships during the Age of Sail weren't discussed back home, but that doesn't mean they didn't exist. As much as chanteymen sang about the girls they left behind, they also sang about each other. How are those queer resonances reflected in maritime history? And how do modern queer sailors and modern queer singers find themselves in the tradition? The webinar will cover chanteys where queerness is hidden in plain sight as well as songs of the modern Tall Ship world. Speakers will also discuss how the world of traditional music has become a gathering place for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
"There have always been queer sailors, even if they might have referred to themselves with different words than we use today," said Lafayette Matthews. "So, it's not surprising that modern singers picked up on the queer subtext of many chanteys."
Special guests include singer/songwriter Alex Sturbaum (they/them). The conversation will be illustrated with images from the Seaport Museum's collection, and will include many songs, with lyrics provided so guests can sing along from home. A brief Q&A will conclude the program.
The Sea Songs and Sea Lives webinar series will explore the lives of diverse groups of sailors today and in history through conversations with singers, sailors, historians, and more. During the Age of Sail, ships were made up of crew members from all over the world, and sailors' songs have reflected that diversity. Among the stories included will be sailors of African descent who played a key role in the Underground Railroad, women sailors who still face barriers in their trade, and queer sailors whose lives have only recently been treated respectfully in musical compositions. Each webinar will tackle traditional repertoire while considering the challenges of both song origin and presentation in modern times. Information about the series is available here: seaportmuseum.org/sealives
Seaport Museum's monthly sea-music event Sea Chanteys and Maritime Music – the original NYC chantey sing, now made popular on TikTok – continues virtually on Sunday, June 6, 2021 at 2pm ET. From our living rooms and kitchens, join a round-robin of shared songs featuring members of The New York Packet and friends. Listen in, lead a song, and belt out the choruses for your neighbors to hear on the first Sunday of every month. The event is FREE. Sign up here to receive the Zoom link 24 hours prior: seaportmuseum.org/chanteysing.
The next virtual Chantey Sings will take place on:
After years of meeting in person on the historic tall ship Wavertree, the event moved online in April 2020. Now in its second year of virtual incarnation, South Street Seaport Museum's Virtual Chantey Sing has evolved into the preeminent virtual chantey sing in the world, featuring professionals and amateurs, old salts and new initiates, from across the street, across the country, and across the pond. South Street Seaport Museum actively recruits and supports new and diverse singers for each sing.
"A fine mix of familiar songs and some new ones that should be better known. The fact that performers came from all over, from the Netherlands, the UK, Canada, and across the US, gave a wonderful feeling of this special musical community we all share," wrote one participant.
"This venue draws some excellent, knowledgeable singers and I always learn. Today I came away with four songs I wanted to learn," wrote another participant. "Joy!"
Old-time sailors on long voyages spent months living together in close quarters with no outside entertainment, no new people to interact with, a monotonous diet, and each day pretty much just like the day before. How did they keep their spirits up? Singing together! Work songs and fun songs, story songs and nonsense songs, songs of nostalgia and songs of up-to-the-moment news — all were part of the repertoire onboard. At South Street Seaport Museum, the Chantey tradition lives on.
"Sea chanteys fit in beautifully with the New York tradition," said Laura Norwitz, SSSM's Senior Director of Program and Education. "Sailing ships were a melting pot of languages and cultures, and chanteys and forecastle songs, along with hard work and shared challenges, helped sailors merge into one community. When we sing these songs today — some old, and some updated with up-to-the-moment lyrics — we celebrate our connection with our maritime heritage and also with the community we create enjoying home-made music together."
Each online singalong includes a virtual look at some objects from the Museum's collection related to the songs being sung. Many singalongs also include a virtual visit to one of the Museum's ships and a chat with a member of the crew.
Lafayette Matthews (he/him) and Jules Peiperl (they/them) have been singing together since 2013. They came to New York City in 2017 and have been popping up around the folk music community ever since, including Shanty Sings at the South Street Seaport, the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival, and TradMad. As queer/trans musicians, they are dedicated to honoring the tradition of the songs they sing while making the folk community a more inclusive and welcoming space for all people.
Miriam Rocek (she/they) worked on board tall ships and other sailing vessels as deckhand, educator, and cook from 2006 to 2019, and was queer the whole time. She has a degree in English from Northwestern University, and is currently working on a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at NYU.
About the South Street Seaport Museum
The South Street Seaport Museum, located in the heart of the historic seaport district in New York City, preserves and interprets the history of New York as a great port city. Founded in 1967, the Museum houses an extensive collection of works of art and artifacts, a maritime reference library, exhibition galleries and education spaces, working nineteenth century print shops, and an active fleet of historic vessels that all work to tell the story of "Where New York Begins." http://www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org
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