Working to Music

Whether it was moving sails or heaving in the anchor, sailors did most of their work in time to music. It helped them work together as a team so that instead of ten men all pulling on a rope at different times, they could make it one great tug with the strength of ten men behind it. Sea shanties played such an important role on a whaleship that they became as much a part of the ship’s equipment as any other tool on board. Shanties coordinated the men’s efforts and kept their focus on the job while at the same time lifting their spirits. They helped set the crew apart from the officers since they so clearly demonstrated who was doing the work and who was giving the orders and at the same time, it was through these songs that sailors could poke a little fun at the officers, make complaints or say things that they might otherwise have been punished for. Sea shanties helped them accomplish very demanding tasks while at the same time giving them a way of safely expressing themselves.

next page >

image of capstan

Wikimedia Commons