During the 2010 Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival, an otherwise ordinary man suddenly steps into the center of the crowd and starts singing a sea shanty. A shanty is song with alternating solo and chorus, of a kind originally sung by sailors while performing physical labor together. His energy and joy is so infectious that the crowd joins him — men, women, young, old — their voices sound epic! The man in the middle is David Coffin, a Massachusetts-based folk musician who specializes in early music and sea music. And let me tell you, honestly, I never thought I’d enjoy a spontaneous sea shanty, but I found myself loving this more and more.
According to The Pirate King, “In the days when human muscles were the only power source available aboard ship, sea shanties served a practical purpose: the rhythm of the song served to synchronize the movements of the shipworkers as they toiled at repetitive tasks. They also served a social purpose: singing, and listening to the song, is pleasant; it alleviates boredom, and lightens the burden of hard work, of which there was no shortage on long voyages.”
At around 1:50, the crowd begins to add lush harmonies to David’s lead vocal, creating a beautiful, rich sound that fills the Square and creates a powerful sense of community.
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