Museum hosts summer songs by the sea

Tunes: The Annapolis Maritime Museum's lunchtime series brings people out to experience seaside culture through music.

July 17, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A bearded sea bard sings bittersweet folk tunes that summon salty New England characters aboard whaling ships to listeners assembled on the City Dock in Annapolis, where free noon concerts on Wednesdays are practically a part of summertime.

Geoff Kaufman, 58, a sea folk singer who spent years as a chanteyman in Mystic Seaport, Conn., last week coaxed the crowd into singing a few lines about Old Zeb, a mariner on Martha's Vineyard.

"How many real sailors have we got out there?" the tenor asked during his one-man performance.

With that, some among the 100 or so gathered joined in and sang the lines: "Rosie, get my Sunday shoes ... and we'll take a walk to the sea."

Another crowd-pleaser was a contemporary verse sung about "Mad Jack," a "cantankerous cuss" whose motto goes, "I'll do what is right, or I'm not from Cape Cod."

It was Kaufman's first serenade on the Annapolis waterfront during a travel schedule that takes him to seaports throughout the United States -- including Alaska -- and Europe.

For the lunchtime concert series, bringing a New Englander into the Maryland mix was an exception to what the sponsoring Annapolis Maritime Museum often seeks.

"We usually provide a stage for a group of artists inspired by the Chesapeake Bay," museum director Jefferson Holland said over the sounds of Kaufman shaking his whalebone, a crude instrument.

Holland noted that Kaufman's repertoire included a wealth of centuries-old sounds and songs -- known as chanteys-- sung in rhythmic unison by sailors while they worked on tall ships.

"We're reaching back to the roots of maritime music today," Holland said.

The summer concert series has helped prop up public awareness of a museum still struggling to reopen after damage from Tropical Storm Isabel forced it to close in September 2003.

The informality of singing outdoors on a floating stage -- a traditional Chesapeake Bay workboat tied to the dock -- to those who happen to come along has a wide appeal for a city that also caters to expensive tastes.

The series, which is scheduled to run every Wednesday through Aug. 31, draws people from miles away. Will Russell from Falls Church, Va., said he and his wife, Mary Lee, have attended three concerts this summer.

"This is a standing engagement," said Russell in the shade of a tree by the dock as he listened to Kaufman. "I like this performer's folk singing style."

Goldwin Smith, a museum volunteer, said he had sailed on the Pride of Baltimore, which is why Kaufman's music moved him.

"This is the 1 percent of music that really hits," he said. "This is what schoonering really is."

Kaufman said after the concert that he appreciated the warm reception from a seaport historically known for oystering and crabbing in small boats, not big ships -- giving rise to a maritime musical tradition distinct from New England's.

"I love songs that have that kind of historical context," Kaufman said. "Storytelling is a way to hold on to the past."

Participating in waterfront concerts, Kaufman said, is a way to draw people's attention to what he considers "a critical discussion worldwide -- the health of waterways and the earth."

Later Wednesday, another concert came to the City Dock after the sea folk melodies ended. A group of women's barbershop singers appeared and sang in their Annapolis debut, decked out in bright colors and smiles.

Little did most bystanders know, Wednesday was the first Barbershop Music Appreciation Day. But about 100 area members of Sweet Adelines International were there to tell the people passing by the waterfront.

Passers-by included girls from a Sherwood Forest day camp with their counselors.

Rachel Graham, 11, said she and several friends willingly joined in and learned a few bars of "Lili Marleen" with the middle-aged women and had the best time of the day.

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