Nicole sings both traditional and non-traditional folk songs. Her specialty is maritime music, shaped by her work experience as a deckhand aboard the schooner Mystic Whaler and as an onboard educator for Clearwater, and as a student with the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program. Nicole’s early music and song experiences were shaped by a guitar teacher who specialized in Blues and the British folk revival. Years later, Nicole was introduced to the traditional folk music scene at Swarthmore College, and quickly became an avid singer in folk sing-arounds, occasionally accompanying herself on guitar and rhythm bones. She has since worked and performed aboard tall ships and at festivals and song swaps up and down the Eastern seaboard, and can often be found dancing, too. She enjoys swing, lindy hop, Blues, contra, and squares.
Nicole thinks a lot about the evolution of songs and dance styles over time and across contexts and cultures, and the issues that these changes give rise to in today’s singing and dancing communities. She loves to geek out about these things with others, both in conversations and in workshops. She has taught classes in maritime music, Blues dance, kids’ songs, and lots of other things for a variety of camps and festivals.
Nicole is also involved in organizing several folk festivals and events. She is the chairwoman of Folk Music & Song Programming for NEFFA, a co-founder and organizer of Youth Traditional Song Weekend, and a co-author of CDSS’s Folk Sing Starter Kit.
Long Hot Summer Days
These songs are some of my favorites from my adventures over the last few years. Much of this material comes from my time as a student with the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, as a deckhand aboard the schooner Mystic Whaler, and as an onboard educator for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. I’ve sung most of these songs with my shipmates, and the ones I didn’t sing on board still reflect that maritime work experience, or have helped me remember and make sense of it as I moved towards land life and into the traditional music scene as a singer and organizer. These days I’m an art teacher and ceramic artist. I still sing a lot with my friends and housemates, and with my former shipmates when we can. Sometimes I even get to sing with my students. They are delighted that “Singer” is my real last name.
Liner Notes & Credits
1. Short Jacket & White Trousers
I learned this song from the singing of Louisa Jo Killen, via Judy Cook. Though I am thankful that I never had to hide my gender identity while sailing, it was still satisfying to transform after a long day of work to go ashore for a night on the town and be greeted with “Hey, you clean up real good!” I’m glad that the lady gets the last laugh in this one.
2. Every Mail Day
with Joy Bennett, Alison Kelley, and Bonnie Milner
A menhaden fishing song from the Northern Neck region of Virginia. Before mechanized equipment took over the fishery, menhaden —small oily fish used for makeup, fertilizer, dietary supplements, and other manufacturing — were fished using a purse seine net, which crews of fishermen in small boats would pull in by hand. It was long, slow, backbreaking, dangerous work. Thanks to the Northern Neck Chantey Singers for this song, and for their generosity and encouragement.
3. Nobody Knocking
with Gillian Stewart, feet
I first heard Zoe Mulford’s haunting song from the singing of Glass of Water (Sophia Donforth and Emily Thompson), and was taken with the delayed reveal in the storytelling. Gillian and I still get goosebumps each time we run it. The dawning moment of understanding is delicious.
4. Deep River Blues
Words and Music by Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson ©1964. Published by Hillgreen Music. Admin by Downtown DMP Songs (BMI).
Val Mackend, one of my guitar teachers, happened to specialize in Blues and the British folk revival. I suppose it’s no surprise that I wound up with the repertoire that I did. This is one of the first Blues songs I learned to play, and it’s still one of my favorites, especially for days when you’re feeling down and the river sailing is slow.
5. Long Hot Summer Days
with Gillian Stewart, feet
This John Hartford song became a summertime favorite of the Mystic Whaler crew after we heard Sara Watkins sing it at Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival festival. Hartford and Watkins both played it with fiddle, and Gillian and I had a blast adding feet this time around.
6. Frankie’s Trade
Rudyard Kipling, Arranged by Peter Bellamy
Peter Bellamy was brilliant at pairing lyrics and music, and his setting of Rudyard Kipling’s poem about Sir Francis Drake is arresting. I first heard it from the singing of The NexTradition (Ken Schatz and Alison Kelley). Having been trained in some tough situations, and having been a teacher, I can identify with both Frankie and the oceans in this story, though I like to think I go a little easier on my students than the oceans do on Frankie.
7. Good Peanuts
with Becky Wright, vocals
A summer camp song learned from land friends, with some lyrics rewritten with my shipmates aboard the schooner Mystic Whaler. When you know only part of a song and need to finish singing it without internet access, you make up the next verses. As a result, the food theme takes a distinct maritime turn.
8. Who Killed Cock Robin?
Arranged by Nicole Singer, Becky Wright, and Sarah Pilzer
with Becky Wright, vocals
This is an English poem with many versions both sung and written. I learned it from Ken Schatz, who learned it from Judy Cook. In keeping with the wider traditional song community’s collective game of musical telephone (“the folk process”), I added a refrain, which also let us play with harmonies even more.
9. When I Get To The Other Side
with Alison Kelley, Bonnie Milner, Joy Bennett, Arthur Davis, Mia Bertelli, and Guillaume Sparrow-Pepin
I learned this from a shipmate, who learned it on her cross-country travels by road and rail. I’ve traced it back to a band in Detroit, but that’s as far as I could get before my emails to them gave me error messages. It’s changed hands, ears, lyrics, refrains, and melodies many times along the way. These harmonies were the best of surprises: this group of people hadn’t sung together on this song before walking into the studio.
Nicole sings on all tracks and plays guitar on track 4.
Recorded and mixed by Garrett Sawyer at Northfire Recording Studio, Amherst, MA
Mastered by Charlie Pilzer at Airshow, Takoma Park, MD
Graphic design by Ethan Hazzard-Watkins
Album illustrations by Nicole Singer
Photograph by Kiqe Bosch
Legal counsel by Peter Irvine
©2016 Nicole Singer. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of all applicable laws.