Very often, when we have long travel days and the scenery is a lot of water and not much else, we listen to a variety of podcasts. Some are personal narratives like Story Corps, others are more science-based information like TED Radio Hour and Story Collider and still others are psychology-work stuff like Adam Grant’s fantastic Work-Life podcast. We are always learning something new, which we love, especially when what we learn plays out in what we experience in our own lives.
One recent podcast included an interview with one of my favorites, Benjamin Xander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, talking about how music affects people at an atomic level and that it actually changes us as we listen to it. It is a universal language which all people understand and it can bring us closer in community with each other when we experience it together.
We have experienced a lot of different kinds of music on this trip, man-made and natural (this post got too long so the natural music will have to be a separate post) and both have provided unique experiences for us to change and grow in different kinds of appreciation.
The human music comes from many different instruments, in many different venues and can be produced by solos or ensembles of various sizes and we have experienced a wide variety of them.
The alto sax lifting patriotic strains into the evening in Alexandria helps support a veteran who would rather earn by giving than by taking.
Washington Square in Manhattan is full of kids’ birthday parties, people sunning themselves for the first time in the warm spring air and couples for whom privacy does not appear to be a concern. A sole violinist coaxes sweet and sad notes into being, accompanied by the nearby fountain’s tumbling water. People all around him breathe deeply as if pulling his melody into their very beings.
In Islamorada, a lone acoustic guitar and its cowboy lament against magenta and burnt orange sunset streaks and provide a backdrop rather than a blanket for the conversations bubbling at the cabana bar and beach tables. The songs grow sadder as the sun sets (isn’t that the destiny of most country music?) and contrast nicely with the escalating cheer of the audience.
Drawing near to Grace Episcopal Church, in Charleston, the sweet strains of boys’ voices waft from the doorway and we scurry inside only to be shushed and to have tickets thrust at us and seats pointed out after we pay for them. We tiptoe in and sit on a side aisle, completely awed by the beauty of the church and the music that fills it. White marble walls uphold gleaming arches overhead and every vault is filled with clear notes of almost impossibly complicated harmonies. The voices of the Canterbury Cathedral Choir send shivers down our spines and all who are gathered seem to sit up straighter to catch each and every note, united in sublime appreciation.
In Mystic Seaport Museum, the tiny chapel is all dark wood and hand-turned benches. A carved, marble conch shell sits on a pedestal in one corner, serving as a baptismal font and a foot-pedaled organ sits in the other.
A small group is gathered to listen to songs and stories of whalers and whale boats and the young man sitting in front of the altar has a scattering of stringed instruments around him. His fingers fly almost too quickly to see over the face of a well-loved banjo, with holes worn in its surface hide, reminding me of Willie Nelson’s beloved guitar.
Between songs, the man explains how sea chanteys were used to coordinate and maximize the work of the ship and to keep men motivated by taking their minds off the physical labor required to run a ship, especially after the time of Bonaparte when ships’ crews were slashed to a fraction of their former size (15 men doing the work of 40!). And then he demonstrates the effort expended in raising a sail and how the lines move with halting inefficiency without song and how much more smoothly and efficiently they move when coordinated with the rhythm of a chantey. We actually get to try this out when we are conscripted to help set the mainsail on the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship the next day and singing a call-and-response chantey in unison really does work to streamline our group’s efforts!
The next song paints a picture of whalers being paid at the end of their voyages, which could be 2 years or more, and how that made them easy marks when they got to town. This often reversed the vow of never going to sea again because a sailor who had lost all of his money on wine, women and song had no choice but to sign onto another ship and go whaling once more.
The last song explains that stopping in port could be costly in terms of crew retention. So, whale boat captains often went to isolated places, like the springs on the Galapagos Islands to replenish their fresh water supplies because “if a whaler was going to stop in heaven and hell, and that vessel stopped in hell first, half the crew would jump ship.”
Sorry this is sideways – just listen, it isn’t about the video!
The man’s voice is warm and rich and his eyes twinkle merrily as he changes some of the more salty lyrics to suit the grandmother who has 3 granddaughters under the age of 5 snuggled up against her. You know you are successful, as a performer, when the little ones aren’t squirming and are clapping and tapping along with your music!
We are fortunate to have really special friends who are taking great care of us, even long distance. It has been a blessing to know that even though we are not physically present in Tarpon Springs, we are still maintaining our relationships there through our blog, FaceBook posts, emails and IM’s. We are so blessed to live in this age of connectedness. Some of our friends write newsy letters or texts, other have sent Prosecco for times of celebration; some have made sure we have a way to grill onboard, others are watching our insurance and investment concerns and still others provide work updates or stay connected to us by responding with suggestions of things to do and see as we disclose our progressive whereabouts.
Rotarian, Joan Jennings lived Rotary’s “Service Above Self” motto when she asked if we would like to see the Broadway musical, Hamilton while we were in New York. We immediately made plans to stay an extra day when her contact came through for us. We made a day of it, taking the water taxi from our marina in Jersey City across to lower Manhattan and walking up the 7+ miles to Broadway, stopping to window shop and grab small bites at various places along the way. Living on a boat where there is little space and less desire to fill it, makes window shopping about the only kind of shopping we do other than for groceries.
The atmosphere in the theater was electric as we waited for the doors to open. People had waited eons for these tickets and we felt very humbled to walk in and have the manager of the theater show us to seats in the 8th row.
Neither of us was familiar with the music prior to experiencing it, which made it that much more powerful. The passion, precision and talent of the voices in the cast were unequaled and we were swept back into the history of the time on a sea of music that might be termed a melange of show-tune soul, rap/hip-hop and dancehall ballads. Lin-Manuel Miranda took a theater full of strangers and turned us into comrades, who laughed, cried and jumped to our feet, as one, to applaud this amazing production.
In Greenwich, Connecticut, spring signals the annual Town Party at the harbor.
A huge sound stage is set up near the water and a large tent is reserved for those willing to pay $1500 for unlimited food and adult beverages. The grassy areas around the harbor have towels and chairs set out early in the morning, reserving space for those of not such affluent means. Boats start to fill nearby slips and are rafting together from mooring balls. Pretty soon it is questionable whether there is room to safely fit any more boats in the small basin and yet they keep coming, snaking their way between those already secured and giving those of us watching heart attacks!
Music plays all day, starting with local and regional bands but people are more intent on being seen or partying with friends and family until darkness starts to settle around the harbor.
Everyone has come to hear Eric Clapton play tonight and when he takes the stage, quiet falls and his unmistakable voice and guitar reach out across the water. Between songs, boat horns blare and people cheer each of the favorites that he has chosen to play for this party. Cell phones are raised high to capture sound and sight, preserving it for later. We sit on the fantail of our boat with our dear cousins next to us, in the best seats in the house. Only residents of Greenwich can dock here and my cousin has arranged a slip for us where we are out of the general mayhem and where we aren’t threatened with permanent hearing damage either!
We sip prosecco by candlelight and as the concert ends, watch with bated breath as over a hundred boats try to exit the narrow channel simultaneously, in the dark and mostly under the influence. It is harrowing to watch and at one point we shine our big spotlight on an overloaded john-boat that has almost no freeboard and definitely has no running lights so that the forty-footer bearing down on it will see it and slow down. Seeing the little boat must come as a shock to whomever is captaining the forty-footer because s/he throws the boat into reverse, causing serious consternation to the boats lined up like bowling pins behind and beside him. For now, the 8 people in the John-boat are safe and our evening of music ends on a high-note!
Lastly, before we embarked, dear friends Faith and Tom Trask made a mix-CD of songs, aptly entitled, “Songs for Loopers 2018,” which we play on wireless sound systems provided by BJ Coleman and Kristopher and Rachel Sandberg. The songs bring us closer to younger versions of ourselves and to our family and friends.
And sometimes you just have to dance on a flying bridge while travelling the Loop. How did you all know that and we didn’t?!?!?