Celebrate the 4th of July with ‘Sea Chanteys and Maritime Music’ from the South Street Seaport Museum

Founded in the heart of NYC’s historic seaport district in 1967, the South Street Seaport Museum is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of New York as a great port city. In addition to housing an extensive collection of works of art and artifacts, a maritime reference library, exhibition galleries and education spaces, working 19th-century print shops, and an active fleet of historic vessels that tell the story of “where New York begins,” the museum also offers a free monthly event, Sea Chanteys and Maritime Music, every first Sunday from 2-4 pm.

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 a daily routine that remained pretty much the same. One of the ways they kept their spirits up was by singing together. From work songs and fun songs to songs of stories and nonsense, nostalgia and up-to-the-moment news, all were part of the on-board repertory, which lives on at the South Street Seaport Museum.

“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.”

Chantey sing. Photo courtesy of the South Street Seaport Museum.

After years of meeting in person on the 1885 tall ship Wavertree, the South Street Seaport Museum’s original chantey sing moved online in April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now in its second year of virtual incarnation, and gaining increased popularity on TikTok, the livestream event from the deck of Wavertree features professionals and amateurs, old salts and new initiates, from across the city, the country, and the ocean, as the Museum actively recruits and supports new and diverse singers for each sing-along. All the events include a virtual look at some objects from the Museum’s collection, related to the songs being sung. Many also include a virtual visit to one of the Museum’s ships and a chat with a member of the crew.

Airing live, this month’s sing-along will include patriotic songs in celebration of Independence Day, with a round-robin of shared songs featuring members of The New York Packet, established over 30 years ago as the official maritime singing group of South Street Seaport Museum. The July event will be hosted by Deirdre Murtha of The Johnson Girls with The New York Packet, a collection of traditional chantey singers in the New York area.

The event, streaming live on Sunday, July 4, 2-4 pm, is free, but registration is required to receive the Zoom link and password 12-24 hours in advance.

Tall ship Wavertree. Photo courtesy of the South Street Seaport Museum.

South Street Seaport Museum has also opened the permanently moored Wavertree and is offering an outdoor exhibition to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through October 2021, with timed entry from 11 am-5 pm, at Pier 16 (Fulton and South Streets). Admission is free and allows access to the ship’s outdoor areas, including the main deck, raised rear deck, and cargo hold. Tickets can be reserved online.

And the printers at Bowne & Co. will be offering free outdoor printing demonstrations using the Seaport Museum’s working collection of 19th-century printing presses on the steps of 209 Water Street on Fridays and Saturdays, every hour on the hour, from 11 am-5 pm. No tickets are needed, and visitors can take home a printed sample. Mask wearing is required unless fully vaccinated, and encouraged for all.


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