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South Street Seaport Museum Sea Songs and Sea Lives Webinar Series: Women Sailors, Women’s Chanteys

March 26, 2021 @ 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

South Street Seaport Museum expands its virtual sea chantey programming with the second installment of the Sea Songs and Sea Lives webinar series Women Sailors, Women’s Chanteys, featuring Bonnie Milner, Fern Hoffman, and other special guests on Thursday, March 25, 2021 at 7pm ET. Register for the free event at seaportmuseum.org/womensailors.
This month, join chantey singer Bonnie Milner of The Johnson Girls and sailor Fern Hoffman, captain and chief mate of traditional sailing vessels (and old time fiddler) to discuss the traditional roles of women at sea, the roles of women in the Tall Ship industry today, the treatment of women in traditional maritime music, and the role of women singing songs traditionally sung by men. Women Sailors, Women’s Chanteys will include songs, with lyrics provided so guests can sing along from home, and a brief Q&A will follow the conversation.

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 women’s roles were limited — the sweetheart left behind, the saucy tavern wench, the captain’s wife sometimes brought along. While some women may have disguised themselves to go to sea, we have little evidence of that. Women’s roles in traditional songs were limited as well, and to modern ears the traditional lyrics are often offensive. How do a modern woman chantey singer and a modern woman sailor navigate these issues, each in their way while seeking to keep traditional arts and skills alive?

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 

“Frankly it’s good that a lot of the sexism and violence is less acceptable now, but it’s a struggle to both hold onto the culture and history while also moving it into the present day,” said Fern Hoffman.

“Though the Great Age of Sail is past, women have come forth and broken the glass overhead by breathing new life into these historic maritime work songs,” said Bonnie Milner.

The conversation will be illustrated with images from the Seaport Museum’s collection, including items from the history of Mary Patten, who commanded the clipper ship Neptune’s Car around Cape Horn in 1856, when her husband collapsed during a voyage.

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, April 4, 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:
– Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 2pm ET – RSVP at bit.ly/ChanteyMay2
– Sunday, June 6, 2021 at 2pm ET – RSVP at bit.ly/ChanteyJun6

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 month the Chantey Sing will include a virtual visit to the Museum, showcasing links from the song selections to artifacts in the South Street Seaport Museum Collection.

Fern Hoffmann has been sailing traditional vessels since 2010, including serving as chief mate and relief captain on South Street Seaport Museum’s schooner Pioneer, as well as a variety of other vessels in the Great Lakes and east and west coasts of the US. Fern grew up in Western Maryland and came to traditional sailing vessels through a love of history and hands-on work. After several years doing historic interpretation on dockside educational vessels, she went sailing for a summer as a teenager and never looked back. After graduating from Warren Wilson College with a BA in History/Political Science and a minor in Appalachian Old Time Fiddling she began working full time on sail training ships around the US. When she’s not stomping around and being loud on deck she enjoys playing music, letterpress printing, and fiber arts. 

Born at the highest point of navigation on the 410-mile-long Connecticut River, Bonnie Milner has been singing all her life, most notably as a founding member of the all-woman a cappella maritime group, The Johnson Girls (www.thejohnsongirls.com), and as part of South Street Seaport’s New York Packet. Her curiosity in maritime songs was sparked by hearing chanteys sung at South Street Seaport and Mystic Seaport Museums, and carried further by her acquaintance with the last working chanteyman, Stan Hugill, one of her important mentors. He exhorted her to “keep these ditties alive” and ever since, she has brought her skills and passion for the genre by teaching, performing and delivering presentations on maritime music to audiences of all ages throughout North America and Europe.

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.” www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org
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March 26, 2021
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM