Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Below the surface

Copyright Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums
If anything, last Saturday’s song writing workshop at Aberdeen Maritime Museum revealed that the whaling songs collected as part of the whaling project only scratch the surface. Below the surface there is a sea of possible angles to the theme of whaling. The singing of the traditional Scottish whaling songs, the talk by formal learning officer Lynsey Merrick, and the reading of real-life accounts of the 19th-century whalers triggered some surprising new angles to the theme of whaling.

Douglas Watson, who was unable to attend the workshop but sent me his song lyrics by email, decided that he’d let the whaler speak to his wife.

Oh Mary I’ll miss you in the morning
With your red ribboned hair in the dawn
What will you tell all our children
Where is their daddy gone

He’s gone hunting the whale
He’s gone hunting the whale

Grace Banks found the accounts of the hunting activity in traditional whaling songs quite shallow and uninvolved, and decided to write a much more engaging, close-up narrative of whaling inspired by the Scottish sea anthology Glimmer of Cold Brine and Gavin Sutherland's The Whaling Years Peterhead (1788-1893).

Marka Rifat took an entirely new approach and combined her discoveries of what different parts of the whale were used for with her observations of the sound world onboard the ships.

Chorus: Oh the creak of the ropes
And the creak of the boat
And the creak of the ladies’ stays.

Who gives you the oil to light you to bed
Who gives you the grease to spread on your bread
Who gives you the button hooks for your wee feet
The whaling boys of the whaling fleet.

I myself felt intrigued by the fact that whalers encountered an alien world with animal species they had never encountered before and decided to present this in the form of a letter to loved ones at home.

Dear mother and dear father
Dear Jane and John, hello
I’m writing from the Greenland shores
Midst sea and ice and snow

For days we’ve waited for a whale
No right whale to be seen
But ghostlike whites and unicorn nars
Bottlenose and Greenland sharks.

Interesting about last Saturday’s workshop is that the same songs and readings of real-life accounts gave rise to completely different songs. Most of us managed to write a full song within the time given, some even managed to write two. Diving below the surface we discovered a wealth of creative approaches to writing songs about whales and whaling.
(The photo was taken by Aberdeen Arts Gallery & Museums during The Home of the Whale workshop at Aberdeen Maritime Museum on Saturday 8 October 2011.)

If you want to learn more about the whaling song project, you may want to have a look at the following blogs:
With Scott to the Pole
Writing folk songs
Why folk songs?
The home of the whale
The story of whaling

Copyright text Marka Rifat, Petra Vergunst, Douglas Watson and Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums

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