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September 26, 2011

Chantey Sing invites everyone to join in

San Francisco Chronicle:

Just before 8 on a foggy Saturday evening, national park Ranger Peter Kasin boards the old sailing ship Balclutha, rests his Smokey Bear hat on the bench beside him, and opens his mouth as if to begin a tour.

Instead, without warning or introduction, his voice drops into a deep and thunderous baritone, and the first words out are, "The anchor's aweigh and the sails they are set." It comes as a shock to any unsuspecting visitor, but even more shocking is when the people aboard answer his call with a melodious response of "Away, Rio."

Singers are suddenly pouring through the low doors of the shelter deck and joining the chorus: "And it's away boys, away. Away for Rio. So fare ye well, my Frisco girl, and we're bound for the Rio Grande." The voices are so full and vigorous that you can hear it at the other end of the ship, 301 feet away, down the gangway and out the Hyde Street Pier.

The monthly Chantey Sing is under way, breathing life into the ancient work songs of sailors. Kasin describes it as "an open session where anyone can lead songs," and if that sounds corny and geriatric, it isn't.

Chantey Sing is more of a hip artsy scene than it is a tourist scene, and it may be the most authentic and organic San Francisco-specific thing going on a Saturday night.

There are no written rules, but there is a protocol. The person who introduces the song sings the song. Everyone else sings the chorus and only the chorus. To maintain its allegiance to the seagoing tradition, there are no lyrics sheets. These songs were made for deckhands to sing while pulling on ropes to raise the sails, and those salty dogs did not pass around sheet music.

The songs keep coming for an hour, and people keep pressing in. When the seats are filled, the visitors press along the walls, singing, "Way haul away. We'll haul away, Joe."

The applause at the end of one song barely dies down before someone else starts in from their seat. Time is kept by toe-tapping on the wooden deck, with the Golden Gate Bridge foghorns bleating out the backbeat.

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Posted by acapnews at September 26, 2011 10:32 PM

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