“Steph Sings Sea Shanties Shyly” is what I would name an album based on my experience at an Ann Arbor Morris Dancers’ pub sing. There are two issues with this. I know nothing about making albums, and, if I learned anything from my first ever pub sing, it’s that some songs are meant to be sung with nothing less than bravado.
The Ann Arbor Morris Dancers describe their monthly pub sings, now held over Zoom, as “a sort of sideline,” something to do when they aren’t dancing. Normally held at the Wolverine State Brewing Company, they’re a way to enjoy each other’s company, along with food and drinks.
Covid-19 has changed some of that. Instead of making my way to the back room of a bar, I powered up my computer. To my surprise, I was the only person from Michigan when I first joined the online meeting. Others from Maryland and Canada were also present–a benefit of online events. And, as Morris dancer Carol Mohr pointed out, there’s no need for designated drivers on Zoom.
A pub sing could be called “karaoke with audience participation.” Typically one person will sing the verses, with the rest of the group joining in on the choruses. The format reminded me of call-and-response summer camp songs, and I mean that in the best way possible. Instead of kids camp songs, however, pub sings include traditional folk tunes, drinking songs, and yes, sea shanties.
It would be virtually impossible to get everyone singing and harmonizing together online without experiencing some sort of lag. To combat this, only one person’s mic is on at a time, with everyone else muted. Being nowhere near brave enough to lead a song alone, I was on mute the whole night. However, sitting alone on my couch while fumbling my way through the chorus of a song about boiled peanuts (also known as “goober peas,” as I learned) still managed to feel oddly intimate. Fellow participant Patti Smith echoed my feelings: “I’m horrible at singing,” she admitted, “but this is really fun.”
The songs we sang were varied, with pub classics interspersed with lockdown-themed parodies. The leaders were animated and the music was infectious. It was easy to get swept along by the melodies. These are, after all, songs that are meant to be shared.
At the end of the night, we were led through “When They Reopen All the Bars,” a somber lament to all the things that aren’t possible during the pandemic, like singing choruses and linking arms with friends. As I sat there alone, singing about missing nights out, I could see everyone’s mouths moving along with mine, a silent chorus spread across the continent.
The Ann Arbor Morris Dancers host their next virtual pub sing at 7 p.m. on Sept. 8. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the online location.