Once again, it’s the grateful time of year. We all have gone through a lot and have much to be thankful for, and as always AMN takes this moment of reflection and introspection to remember all the wonderful folks who have made our workshops so vibrant and nourishing in the past year.  

Thank you – mentors and volunteers!

We are so grateful for you who helped produce workshops and kept AMN running day-to-day. AMN has gathered musicians and music lovers together for over 50 workshops in just this past year. To the extraordinary artists who brought their amazing knowledge and talent to inform and enlighten workshop participants, we cannot thank you enough.

Thank you – donors, partners, and sponsors!

AMN is not only a community of musicians but also part of a larger community of organizations and individuals who support music and music-making. A huge thank you to this wonderful community that amplifies AMN’s reach and works every day to make the world more musical. 

Now AMN needs your help.

AMN has exciting news. Our very generous friends David Landis and Sean Dowdall have challenged us with a $10,000 matching grant: every new or increased donation will be matched one-for-one between now and January 1.

This challenge is a change-maker for Amateur Music Network. It will help AMN reach new audiences, present more ambitious programs, and increase opportunities for music-making. It’s a perfect time to amplify the power of your own contribution.

AMN is a very small organization that helps amateur musicians learn and play together.  We want to keep offering our unique workshops, mentors, and listings to as many musicians as possible. AMN’s network relies on the contributions of time and financial support from dedicated volunteers and donors. Won’t you join them in assuring AMN’s future in the community? Thanks to this challenge, your donation will have great leverage and will make a huge difference.

Community Vocal and Choral Music

“Virtual Amateur Chorus”

The woman with her mouth

shaped in a perfect “O” 

I imagine she sings opera 

or is in a fine classical chorus. 

I see Ellen in her 

Zoom’s square living room, 

the daughter of an old friend’s friend 

from Berkeley. The conductor is in 

his home country of Sweden. 

It is eleven San Francisco. 

It is night in Sweden, 

but I can see through his window pine trees 

and it is still light out. 

From eleven to twelve, 

I do not check virus numbers 

or watch the news. 

In our hundreds of soundless little spaces, 

The harmony, unheard, is perfect. 

Reprinted with kind permission from the upcoming anthology Pandemic Puzzle Poems, to be published by Blue Light Press, San Francisco. You can read more poetry by Alice Rogoff, and more poems about music, in Fog and Light, also from Blue Light Press.

Our April “Singing Saturdays” featuring Verdi Requiem starts April 10.

Community Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin, Ukulele

Ukulele: A great instrument for amateurs

This is a guest post by Mike Pope, a technical writer and editor in Seattle who plays the ukulele in his spare time. Mike writes a fine blog about language and another blog on general-interest topics; when we read his December post about Christmas tunes on the ukulele, we wanted to know more. Happily, Mike agreed to write for us about getting started on the ukulele, an instrument introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1880s by Portuguese immigrants and now played around the world.

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Community Vocal and Choral Music

Why we’re singing sea shanties in 2021

If you’ve spent any time recently on social media—and especially on Twitter, YouTube, or TikTok—you’ve probably found it impossible to escape some haunting, old-fashioned melodies and rhythms. Sometimes sung solo, sometimes in duets, and sometimes in large virtual crowds, these songs have traversed the centuries to become the first earworms of the new year: tunes you just can’t get out of your head.

Welcome to the Great Sea Shanty Craze of 2021: a joyous celebration of tradition, of harmony, and—most of all—of amateur musicianship.


This year’s revival began on December 27, 2020, when a 26-year-old Scottish postman and amateur musician, Nathan Evans, uploaded a video to TikTok, the app for sharing short-form videos. In the video, Evans sings “Soon May the Wellerman Come,” a 19th-century whaling song that originated in New Zealand. (A “Wellerman” was an employee of the Sydney, Australia-based Weller brothers’ shipping company, which between 1833 and 1843 supplied provisions—”sugar and tea and rum”—to whaling ships off the New Zealand coast.)


The Wellerman. #seashanty #sea #shanty #viral #singing #acoustic #pirate #new #original #fyp #foryou #foryoupage #singer #scottishsinger #scottish

♬ original sound – N A T H A N E V A N S S

From there, #ShantyTok surged and billowed like a great Pacific wave. There was something oddly timely and—ironically, in this age of COVID—infectious about shanties, with their call-and-response structure that invites participation and their evocation of long voyages to exotic ports. After ten months of pandemic isolation, who among us wouldn’t welcome a trip around Cape Horn or to the South Seas, even if it’s only imaginary?

The centuries-old form has turned out to be a good fit for 21st-century technology. TikTok, for example, allows users to create duets, group videos, and reaction shots that add to the fun.

Seas shanties belong to the broad genre known as work songs—songs that either coordinate labor or relieve tedium (or both). Aboard an 18th- or 19th-century merchant-marine ship, a shantyman would lead sailors as they worked; different shanties would accompany different chores. Technically speaking, “Wellerman” is a whaling song, not a shanty, folk musician and music educator David Coffin told the New York Times: “It’s a whaling song with the beat of a shanty, he said, but its purpose is that of a ballad — to tell a story, not to help sailors keep time.” “Leave Her Johnny”—a traditional song first recorded in 1917–is more typical of a true shanty. The Bristol (UK) folk group The Longest Johns recorded it for the 2013 video game “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” which was an early factor in the contemporary shanty revival. In December 2020, The Longest Johns released a new version of the song with hundreds of participants..

“Shanty” is a word with uncertain origins. It’s sometimes spelled “chantey,” which suggests a connection to the French verb chanter, to sing. Spelled “shanty,” it’s unrelated to the “shanty” that refers to a small, rough dwelling; the latter word comes from a French-Canadian source.

If you feel like joining the chorus, the Hyde Street Pier–part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park–is hosting a live virtual shanty sing at noon on Saturday, January 16. Join the public Facebook group for updates, and watch the video below, filmed before the pandemic, for inspiration. As folk musician David Coffin told the Times, “It’s not the beauty of the song that gets people. It’s the energy. You don’t have to be a trained singer to sing on it. You’re not supposed to sing pretty.”

Community Vocal and Choral Music

Meet Ash Walker, choral director and community musician

In November 2019, when Ash Walker applied to become the music director of Pacific Edge Voices, he was full of ideas for taking the acclaimed Berkeley choral group—originally called Pacific Mozart Ensemble—beyond its 40th anniversary and into an exciting and creative future. By the time his appointment was officially announced, in August 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had upended his—and the world’s—plans. Ash has risen to the unprecedented challenge in this new job and in his other roles: as professor of voice at Las Positas Community College in Livermore and as cantor and choir director at St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Assumption in San Francisco. As he told us in a phone interview, “The pandemic has pushed me to be more than I thought possible as a musician and choral director.”

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