I’m an officer in the merchant navy – it’s no surprise people are turning to sea shanties during the pandemic

There is hope at the centre of many shanties – the perfect antidote to help fight coronavirus-related isolation

Thomas Murray
Sunday 17 January 2021 19:56
<p>Sea shanties have provided a calming influence for centuries</p>

Sea shanties have provided a calming influence for centuries

You feel the walls are closing in around your workspace, yet, time ticks on, creating a sense of vastness. You do not know when this sense of confinement will cease. Your thoughts are your cargo. Where is your destination?

Lockdown is very much like an ocean voyage. Your home, a behemoth of a ship on the ocean waves of Covid-19. The destination? Your old life, free of these virus-induced shackles. Reunited with friends and family.

Confined to your quarters, working tirelessly at your computer, you lose your identity as you become a cog in a machine. Ocean, or Covid-19, is all around you – stopping you from being able to feel or to express. Stopping you from becoming the person you want to be.

Spirits are low, but they can be raised. That is exactly what shanties have been doing for those in isolation at sea for centuries. Of all the times for shanties to trend again, it is fitting that they reverberate at the perfect frequency that our lives are currently at.

Songs have been sung on the waves for millennia, but advances in technology and trade in the 17th century pushed sailors onto the ocean in great numbers.

We needed to find our places within the isolation, with little paper and few pens to record stories or provide amusement. The majority didn’t have the education to do so even if there was.

Humans are social creatures by nature, we value our social idiosyncrasies. We are not designed to be confined and isolated – on stable ground, never mind on ships. We take away those freedoms to punish, that’s prison.

Today we are surrounded by music. But it is big business. Plenty is made to purely line pockets. Every shanty was written to tell a story. They have a purpose. To lift your spirits. To connect with your being.

Shanties resonate within us, particularly the choral chant and emotive lyrics. Now, in a time where things feel chaotic and yet dull – with the removal of aspects of your old life and the limited outlets for something different beyond work – the hums and echoes of their tone calm and soothe the soul.

Music itself is such a powerful, emotive tool. At the base of all music, before any percussive instruments or beat, was the human voice. The purest of all forms.

In times of mourning or protest, we gather to chant and sing, it overcomes grief, pain, hard times – and isolation. Take singing away and you take away unity. Shanties are stories, but stories best told together. We are all in this together and social media provides platforms – like Tik Tok – that are some of the biggest storytelling mediums in history.

There is one overriding emotion that brings all of us all together, no matter your personality, future goals, wants and needs. That is hope. Hope that something better is around the corner, or that a good thing will last. That is true whether you are introvert or extrovert.

Shanties are making waves on our biggest social platforms for that reason. They are providing this subconscious emotion in their rhythms and rhymes.

We may not relate to the content of their stories, but we all can relate to the idea of unity in harmony. The feeling that times will be better when we complete our voyage and reach our destination of a post-Covid life.

Thomas Murray is a navigational officer in the Merchant Navy with 13 years of service

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