We sing traditional songs from Canada, Britain the US and Australia. Like stones that have been polished smooth by centuries of wave action, these musical gems have been passed down to us through generations.
We sing Canadian songs because they are about where we live (see “Songs and a Sense of Place”). We sing three kinds of Canadian songs. The first are those which came to this country with the immigrants from Great Britain and France and have been passed on orally for generations. The second are those which speak of life in the “New World” and have been passed on orally so that their origins are unknown. The third are songs made more recently.
We think of ballads as the unconscious speaking to the unconscious. Some elemental “truth” in songs such as “Lord Randall” or “The Cruel Mother” has caused versions of them to be remembered and passed on throughout the English-speaking world for generations. When we hear these songs of marriage, birth, death, kinship, incest or murder, they speak to something deep within us, and it is our pleasure to sing them and to try to understand why they move us so deeply (see The Ballads).
We live in a less than perfect world and it behooves us to try and change it. The most effective and satisfying way to do so is shoulder to shoulder with others, and what better way to cement our solidarity than through song? We sing union songs, peace songs, women’s songs and other songs of work and struggle on picket lines, rallies, marches and demonstrations and will continue to do so as long as the world remains imperfect.
Imagine a group of people standing close together. A single voice sings a line. At its end the group sings out the chorus. You hardly hear your own voice, you only feel it. Your skull is vibrating with the harmonies of all those voices. This is why we sing shanties. They are ideal for group singing. The interplay between single voice and group is satisfying and the simplicity of the songs makes them accessible to even inexperienced singers. As history buffs we are also interested in the way of life which engendered shanties, but it is primarily the experience of singing them which attracts us.