“I can always tell when a bad karaoke singer walks up to the mike. The drinks glasses start throwing themselves off the shelves.” Anonymous cruise ship bartender, 2014
“Madame Edith has a very unusual voice; was it trained?”
“Yes. But it escaped, and got back out into the wild again…” Rene Artois, cafe owner of Nouvignon, France
Ah, music at sea. It seems to be always in the background. And yet, all genres of music play a huge part in the enjoyment- or lack thereof- on a voyage of any kind.
This is all the more true on a transatlantic crossing on board Queen Mary 2, where passenger attention, shorn of the diversion of ports of call, invariably turns inward. And, on such voyages, the entertainment programmes are always far more extensive than on a normal, warm weather cruise.
On our voyage, the sheer size and scope of the Queen Mary 2 really worked to our advantage. The great liner has a vast entertainment handle, and no shortage of public rooms in which to showcase a wide range of musical disciplines to suit every taste, at almost any hour of the day and night. We were quite literally spoiled for choice.
Most nights, the Chart Room was suffused with the sounds of soft, sultry jazz, courtesy of the extremely talented Andrew Huggett trio. This beautiful room, expansive and softly lit, lends itself perfectly to the enjoyment of that most ageless of ocean liner combinations. Martinis and jazz on an ocean liner are as perfect and enduring a pairing as Fred and Ginger ever were.
There was a very talented show band, piano players and harpists, an excellent reggae band with a surprisingly diverse repertoire- Paul Anka’s classic Diana on steel drums, anyone?- and an extremely talented string quartet that used to play in the lobby some lunchtimes and evenings. In particular, this latter set up gave this greatest and most gracious of liners a sense of elegant, almost ethereal style. Like the jazz combo, their presence fitted the great ship to perfection. They were never less than a joy to hear.
And, of course, there was karaoke……
This happened only twice on the seven night crossing, perhaps out of consideration for the sensibilities of any sharks swimming adjacent to us.
But seriously, there were some very talented people on this ship. One particular lady did a rendition of the Carpenters’ Rainy Days and Mondays that filled the room like a powerful, quiet storm. I was awed by her.
Alas, others almost filled the lifeboats. One particular piece of weapons grade caterwauling set wolves howling from Tuscon all the way back to Tromso. No wonder one woman put paper napkins in her ears.
But even that misses the point, really. Music- certain songs, from certain genres and times- act like emotional lightning rods for all of us. They are, quite literally, the soundtrack to our lives, the highs and the low points alike. And how much we enjoy the quality of live music can add greatly to the enjoyment of any voyage.
On the Queen Mary 2, I was totally blown away- pun wholly intentional- by a rollicking, big band Dixieland concert in the Winter Garden. On another night, I sat spellbound as the string quartet served up a swish, lushly put together hour of Christmas classics in the Chart Room. With the vast, opulent ship beautifully decorated for the holidays, that concert had a sparse, poignant beauty that was impossible to describe, but equally impossible not to love. It was, quite simply, gorgeous.
And, at the other extreme, it was such fun to hit the two story G32 disco one night, and drink in an entire conga line of classics by Chic, Tavares and Earth Wind and Fire like fine wine. On a real Saturday night, Saturday Night Fever came back to life on the rocking and rolling ocean. It was like suddenly bumping into a posse of old, fondly remembered friends. Quite the night, that was.
And yet, above and beyond all this, it was the song performed by the Queen Mary 2 herself that really stayed with me. The sound of water swishing. boiling and hissing along those vast, imperious flanks; the gentle hum of the ventilators on deck and the subtle, gentle shudder underfoot.
And, most thrilling of all, the deep, sonorous boom of those great Tyfon steam whistles on the funnel as they roared out across the stony Atlantic, every day at noon. In it’s own way, this is a sound as timeless and classic as any Duke Ellington tune.
Music at sea. Yes, it matters. And on Queen Mary 2, as with so may other things on board, the quality really does fit the stage. Lovely stuff.