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During the unpredictable days of the COVID-19 lockdown, something curious happened. There was a sudden interest in sea shanties from, of all places, the social media app Tik-Tok. People were oddly drawn to these catchy work songs: myself included.  This was music ripe for the wind band. So, I began the task of researching some of these songs and arranging them into a suite. While the tradition of whaling itself was and still is utterly abhorrent, it did produce two great works of art. One is the great American novel Moby-Dick, and the other is the body of songs that these men sang while crewing their ships. I hope I may be pardoned for using Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy as a model for the work in both its form and its instrumentation. The result is a five-movement suite of songs from sea-faring traditions around the world.

1.Pique la Balenie

This song, translated as “Strike the Whale,” comes to us from France, and the refrain contains the most stereotypical French lyric ever penned - “oh-la-la”. This arrangement brings in elements of swashbuckling and high adventure as we set off on our voyage.

2. The Cruel Ship’s Captain

In a complete change of styles, we move to the darkest song of the suite, and indeed one of the darkest songs I’ve ever come across. This song, like movements 3 and 4, is not a sea shanty, but a ballad. This English song tells the story of a ship’s captain who takes a boy from St. James’ Orphanage (who is not there because he was an orphan, but because his parents were too poor to keep him). One day, the boy annoys him, and the captain strings him up to the mast where the boy eventually dies. This song features the woodwinds with prominent solos from the Baritone Saxophone and the Oboe.

3. Fareweel Tae Tarwathie

This movement begins light and dance-like in nature but gradually moves towards darkness. This song, originally from Scotland, became a well-known folk ballad in the 1960s and 1970s and was used largely to highlight the plight of commercial whaling. It was during this time that we finally heard the beautiful songs that the whales themselves sing. As the song closes out, we hear those whale songs in the trombones who have left the stage and are calling from a distance.

4. Rolling Down to Old Maui

This ballad tells of loneliness on the seas and the longing for a bit of comfort in a tropical paradise after braving the cold and cruel Kamchatka Sea. This movement features the brass with a prominent solo from the tuba.

5. Soon May the Wellerman Come

This is the song that sparked the sudden worldwide interest in sea shanties. It tells the tale of a New Zealand whaling ship stuck in a never-ending battle with a whale. Neither the whale nor the captain will give in, both locked together in an eternal battle.





2 C Flutes

2 Oboes

Alto Oboe (English Horn)

E Clarinet

3 B Clarinets

E Tenor (Alto) Clarinet

B Bass Clarinet

B Contrabass Clarinet

2 E Alto Saxophones (1 = B Soprano Saxophone)

B Tenor Saxophone

E Baritone Saxophone

B Bass Saxophone

2 Bassoons



4 F Horns

3 B Cornets (= 3 B Flügelhorns)

2 Tenor Trombones

Bass Trombone

Tenor Tuba

Contrabass Tuba (div.) (opt. Bass Tuba)



Percussion (3 or 4 players)

Xylophone, Marimba, Chimes, Crotales, Vibraphone, 2 Wine Glasses (F and A), Bass Drum, Whip, Tambourine, Cymbals, Suspended Cymbal, Tam-Tam


Double Bass

Whaling Songs - Suite for Concert Band - Full Score

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