Free ‘Sea Chanteys and Maritime Music’ at NYC’s South Street Seaport Museum

After moving to its digital incarnation during the COVID-19 closure of public venues in April 2020, then evolving into the preeminent virtual chantey sing in the world, South Street Seaport Museum’s monthly sea-music event Sea Chanteys and Maritime Music – the original NYC chantey sing, now made popular on TikTok – continues in-person on Sunday, July 3, beginning at 2 pm, aboard the main deck of the 1885 tall ship Wavertree.

The tall ship Wavertree. Photo by Richard Bowditch.

The site-specific round-robin performance 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 – welcomes singers of all levels, as well as listeners, to lead or to request a song, to join in the choruses, or just to listen to traditional maritime work songs and ballads on the first Sunday of every month. The July event will be hosted by Lafayette Matthews, a queer folk musician with a specialty in the history of queerness in traditional sailing as reflected in traditional songs.

Guests must walk up a few stairs and along an angled gangway to board the ship. Before or after the sing, participants are invited to tour the Seaport Museum gallery exhibitions at 12 Fulton Street, as well as to visit the rest of the Wavertree and the 1908 lightship Ambrose on Pier 16, all free of charge. Each singalong includes a look at some objects from the Museum collection related to the songs being sung; many also include a chat with a member of the crew.

Sea Chantey singers. Photo courtesy of South Street Seaport Museum.

Located in the heart of the historic seaport district in NYC, the South Street Seaport Museum 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, and an active fleet of historic vessels that all work to tell the story of “Where New York Begins.” In addition, on June 18, after the long pandemic hiatus, the Museum announced the reopening of Bowne & Co. Stationers’ brick-and-mortar storefront. Established by Robert Bowne in 1775, the working historic print shop remains New York’s oldest business still operating under the same name.

South Street Seaport Museum. Photo by James Keivom.

By 1900, NYC boasted over 700 printing offices, most located in Lower Manhattan and the South Street Seaport Historic District, to facilitate shipping, trade, and finance. Growing maritime trade industries found themselves in need of printed materials for conducting business, causing the demand for stationery, invoices, advertisements, and other printed materials. Two hundred years after its founding, Bowne & Co. Inc. partnered with the Seaport Museum to open a 19th-century-style print shop in the South Street Seaport Historic District.

Today, in addition to the letterpress printing collection, Bowne & Co. continues the age-old tradition of job (or small batch) printing. Using seven historic presses from the Museum’s working collection, resident printers create individual designs using custom plates or historic fonts. The store is open in-person Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 am-5 pm, at 211 Water Street, so you can stop by before or after the Sunday Chantey sing to see the presses in action, to restock desk supplies, and to step into a little slice of New York’s history. Entry is free.

Sea Chanteys and Maritime Music plays on Sunday, July 3, 2022, at 2 pm, at the South Street Seaport Museum, performing on the tall ship Wavertree, Pier 16, Fulton and South Streets, NYC. Admission is free; advance registration is encouraged but not required. For more information, and to register, go online. Masks are required inside the museum and recommended on the lower decks of the ship.

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