Swinstead - Sailor's Song

Interpreting the Music

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Swinstead: Sailor’s Song

• C major, one F sharp
• Lively
• Articulation and coordination
• Some 2-note chords, one RH 3-note chord
• Some big leaps

This lively piece evokes the traditional hornpipes and shanties of hard-working sailors. Historically (and still in living memory at Swinstead’s time) sailors used to have to do very heavy work throughout a voyage and would often sing shanties together as they did teamwork, to keep up a good rhythm. There was not much to do at sea in the limited space of a ship so if they got any leisure time the sailors would dance hornpipes on the deck. This clip is a fun interpretation of some of the classic hornpipe steps by a pair of folk dancers:

This piece will suit a lively and confident student. Excellent coordination is needed to play all the articulation exactly as written. However, once this is mastered the piece will be great fun to play with bounce and swagger.

Dotted lines in the first couple of bars show that the tune continues from one hand to the other, rather than the LH being an accompaniment. However, this is discontinued with an assumption that the player will have got the idea. You may need to write in some more dotted lines to show how the line moves from one hand to the other in later bars.

To play bars 6-7, 9, 11, 15 and 16 exactly as written will take coordination and care. Right from the start of learning the notes, the student must respect the staccato and slur markings in each hand. Putting the hands together in these bars will have to be done very slowly and patiently: if the student learns a sloppy version at this stage it will be hard to correct later.

The best way to practise is to start with two or three beats, and when this is comfortable add on another two or three.

The big jump in the RH in bar 12 is less daunting once the student sees that the R thumb is replacing the L thumb on the same note. A slight rallentando will also help; it is musically appropriate and will reduce any sense of grabbing for the RH notes. The tempo picks up immediately in the last beat with the arrival of the RH.

The dynamics, where marked, should be observed, especially the sudden p in bar 4 which may get lost. However, in the second half only f is given for bars 12-22. This does not mean an unrelenting or uniform loudness.

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