SEA CHANTIES & TRADITIONAL MUSIC
A lifelong small-boat sailor, Stuart made his first voyage on a tall ship in OpSail 1992 on the HMS Rose, a replica of a British frigate that patrolled Long Island Sound in colonial days. Then based in Bridgeport, CT, the modern Rose went on to play the part of Russell Crowe's command in the 2004 Fox/Miramax release Master & Commander: Far Side of the World. Stuart has since volunteered at South St. Seaport Museum in New York City, helping restore the Cape Horn Clipper RMS Wavertree and sail her during OpSail 2000.
Stuart's love of sea music grew out of his love of sailing and history, through his partnership with Judith Zweiman in the chantey duo Strike the Bell and time spent at chantey sings in and around South Street Seaport and other maritime museums.
His knowledge and experience as a sailor give him a rare perspective on the music and an ability to place songs in historical context and talk about the sailing life besides singing and leading the audience along. He's also an authority on the many words and phrases in modern parlance that come from the sea.
Technically, sea chanteys are work songs - sung to keep a rhythm as all hands needed to haul on a line or heave on a pump handle together to make the ship run. Most have a call-and-response structure like other work songs, and served the additional function of providing a bit of distraction from the tedious but tiring work. They could also be a bit of a pressure relief valve, incorporating some creative group gripes about the less pleasant aspects of the sailor's life.
Other sea songs - nautical ballads and 'forebitters' - so-called because they were typically sung by someone sitting or standing on the fore-bit, a wooden structure for tying off heavy lines - provided entertainment, distraction and comradeship for sailors off watch in the days before radio, TV, or even widespread literacy.
Stuart also has originated a new program called Four Centuries of Folk Music, a 90-minute program of folk songs incorporating 17th & 18th-century ballads of the Francis Child collection, popular folk songs from the Civil War & Reconstruction era, sea chanteys, labor songs from the 1890s to the 1930s, songs from the 1950s folk revival, civil rights and anti-war songs from the '60s and modern singer-songwriters in the folk tradition.