Shall I Sing You a Ghost Story: The Nature and Purpose of Ghost Songs in Maritime Communities of Northern New England and Atlantic Canada
Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
This paper will be discussing the nature of maritime ghost stories put forth in musical narrative. There are two questions that I will be endeavoring to answer. 1) What kinds of changes can occur to a ghost story when it is put into a song and 2) How would the understanding of a folksong’s story change when it crosses boundaries from one place to another? More specifically it will discuss those changes when crossing provincial or national boundaries. The investigation into these questions will involve the use of several written and audio sources. The written sources include titles like the books Maritime Folksongs by Helen Creighton and The Folklore of Maine by Horace Beck. These books each include a different version of the song. Beck’s book also includes a description of the historical event of which the song is based.
To get a true grasp of language and meaning with tone it is essential to hear how one sings a song in the present day along with any older recordings of the same song. The audio sources will be online sources off of sites like Youtube and Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Folklore Archives. The song is sung in different tones, some at faster paces than others. Most of the versions are accompanied by music, but one is sung acapella. Of the audio recordings the acapella version will receive extra scrutiny as it would be more in sync with how the song originally sounded. Songs that were designated in what is called the fo’c’sle tradition on a ship had no accompanying music.
An important thing that will be noted is how superstition helped to determine a sailor’s actions and rituals at sea. Many rituals and taboos exist to those at sea in order to ward off evil and bad luck. In discussing the song I will also analyze how these beliefs affected maritime music. Then endeavor to find any hidden meanings within the language that might differ from the layman’s interpretation of what the sailor’s song is telling us.
Blake, Richard A., "Shall I Sing You a Ghost Story: The Nature and Purpose of Ghost Songs in Maritime Communities of Northern New England and Atlantic Canada" (2019). All Graduate Plan B and other Reports. 1411.
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