Chanteymen Keep Sea Songs Alive at Open Sings

Events Create a Close-Knit Community
The Ship's Company Chanteymen host open sings at the Royal Mile Pub in Wheaton, Md. Top row, from left: Don Stallone, Mike Bosworth, Chip Hixson, Jim Rockwell and Myron Peterson. Bottom, from left: Dallas Valley, Janie Meneely, Paul DiBlasi and Don Kennifick. (Photo by Maryland Newsline's Aleita Johnson; with video of Jim Rockwell leading an open sing.)

Maryland Newsline
Tuesday, January 26, 2010; video added Feb. 2, 2010

WHEATON, Md. - For more than a decade, the men and women of Ship’s Company Chanteymen have been carrying on a boisterous tradition: leading open sings in Wheaton, Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington, D.C., in which they belt out work songs written by and about sailors.

Their goal: to preserve maritime culture and give folks an opportunity to raise their voices - and glasses - in celebration.

The open sings attract an average of 30 people and create a close-knit sense of community, said Dallas Valley, 29, of White Oak, Md., who has been attending the sings at the Royal Mile Pub in Wheaton since he was 17. He joined the group in early 2009.

“We are all friends,” said Jim Rockwell, one of the remaining original members of the chanteymen. “Even if we don’t know each other well, we are a community.”

Members of the chanteymen hail from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and get together during their free time to perform locally in the D.C.-metropolitan area. Rehearsals are held in members’ homes.

“Getting together once or twice a month, you learn how to fit into a group of strong singers,” said Don Stallone, 58, a seven-year member of the chanteymen who has been singing in various groups for more than 30 years. “It’s that opportunity to make up harmonies on the spot, that every once in a while comes together very well.

“It’s revitalizing. It’s a part of who I am.”

Members of the original group, who worked together at the U.S.S. Constellation in Baltimore, held a common interest in music and singing, said Myron Peterson, business manager of the Ship’s Company Chanteymen. They got in contact with friends of friends to form the Chanteymen and have been performing publicly since 1996.

“It’s a really cool group of people,” said Angela Weisse, 23, of Silver Spring, who has been to a few of the open sings at the Royal Mile Pub. “When we know the song, we participate. If not, we just listen.”

The idea to start hosting open sings came from Rockwell, after he and fellow chanteymen Mike Bosworth and Don Kenefick began using the Royal Mile Pub as a practice place.

“We are fortunate that we are able to … create a place where people feel comfortable singing,” Rockwell said. “It warms the cockles of my heart, people enjoying each other’s company.”

On the first Tuesday of each month from 8-10 p.m., the chanteymen lead audience members in singing in Wheaton. Each open sings begins with a member of the group leading a well-known sea chantey. Guests join in, singing along in the chorus.

The leader goes around the room to each table, giving guests the opportunity to pass, sing or request a song.

A hymnal from the Ship’s Company, which includes a packet of song lyrics, is provided to guests.

The songs were originally used to coordinate the rhythm of different kinds of work on board ships.

Today, the Royal Mile Pub, the longest-running host of the chantey sings, attracts the biggest crowd of nearly 60 people to its sessions, with many of the same people returning each month, said Amanda Reed, its general manager.

“It’s great, brings in business, so I can’t complain,” Reed said.

Chanteymen from other local groups, such as Letter of Marque and Pyrates Royale, come to join in, along with Navy and ex-military men, artists and people from re-enactment and renaissance festival events, Valley said.

“You either like it or you don’t,” he said.

The chanteymen are a subset of the Ship’s Company, a nonprofit organization that participates in living history programs, Peterson said.

The Ship’s Company hosts various historical re-enactments, such as the War of 1812, the American Revolution and the Civil War, Stallone said.

The Ship’s Company Chanteymen has been nominated for a wammie, a local Washington-area music award. The group released one CD, Donkey Riding, in 2001, and is working on another record that focuses on the War of 1812 for the upcoming bicentennial celebration.

The Ship’s Company Chanteymen will be performing Feb. 27 at the 9th annual Privateer Feast to Save the Treasured Chest, a charity fundraiser for breast cancer research hosted by the Letter of Marque. The event runs from 6 to 10:30 p.m. at the Earleigh Heights VFC in Severna Park, Md.