Pirate Songs on Leap Year Day

The role of music was very important to the age of sail. Sea shanties were sung by sailors to ease the burden of hard physical labor and the treacherous life at sea. These songs served to both boost on-board morale on long voyages and to coordinate the brute strength of the sailors. A true sea shanty was sung in rhythm to work on the ship and were often shouted out, with emphasis on a syllable or word as sailors performed their work. Shanties developed separate rhythms for the various chores at sea – such as raising the ships anchor, hauling ropes, loading cargo, and adjusting spar elevations on tall ships. Hauling lines could involve several tons worth of dead weight, it was only through the coordinated effort of the crew that made these tasks possible. There were also ceremonial shanties which were used for times of celebration, such as when the sailor paid off his debt to the ship or when a ship crossed the equator. Not only useful, these songs also have always been fairly catchy. In fact, many of these tunes still survive today and have only been slightly modified over the centuries.

Many songs that we often consider to be sea shanties are actually forecastle (fo’c’sle) songs that were sung during the men’s scarce leisure time while relaxing in the fore-ward below deck area. These songs were often ballads of love and loss – they told stories of famous battles, romance, or of their longing for home.

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