The Wellerman


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Composer: Jeffery - Sarah

Arranger (Piano): Anne Melzer

Instrumentation: Descant/Tenor and Piano

Period/Genre: Contemporary

Grade: Difficult

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Online material (Audio & Video): Sheet music includes link and voucher code to download all audio files for free.

The sea shanty 'The Wellerman' is said to have originated in New Zealand, where whaling formed a significant part of the industry from the late 18th Century. It tells the tale of a ship's crew battling with a whale and dreaming of luxuries far away. As is usual in folk songs, many different versions will exist as the song is passed down orally over time. 

In 1831, three brothers from the Weller family emigrated from Britain and founded a whaling station on the South Island of New Zealand, and their employees became known as . 'wellerman'. Whalers at the time would not be paid wages but would receive goods such as clothes and alcohol as payment. In the song, they dream of the wellerman arriving at the ship with such luxurious goods, and that after the tonguing (the practice of removing strips of blubber from the whale) they may finally return home. 

This sea shanty was launched to international popularity at the beginning of 2021, when Scottish singer Nathan Evans posted a Tiktok where he performed the song, and subsequently went viral. People all over the world added their own harmonies, vocals and creative variations to the song, and I was inspired to do the same. 

I wrote a set of variations on the tune, in the style of Jacob van Eyck. Van Eyck was a Dutch recorder player born in the late 16th Century who compiled a vast collection of pieces known as Der Fluyten Lust-Hof, composed by improvising increasingly elaborate variations on popular tunes from the day. I followed van Eyck's lead, and set out variations in this way:


Variation 1: eighth notes (quavers)

Variation 2: melodic, with sixteenth notes (semiquavers)

Variation 3: all sixteenth notes

Variation 4: a tripla, in 6/8 time

Variation 5: Vivaldi!

For the final variation, I broke with van Eyck and wrote a tongue in cheek homage to Vivaldi, with lightning-fast chords and giant jumps. I did in fact write it to fall very easily under the fingers, so do watch my accompanying video (see below)that teaches you how to tackle these passages. 

The final result is a showstopper - but feel free to combine to variations in any order you like! A less challenging version would be to perform the iece in this order: Theme - Var. 1 - Var. 2 - Var. 4 - Var. 3 - Coda. There's an extra accompanying piano track for the amended version too (track 3).

I hope  you enjoy playing 'The Wellerman' as much as I have. Musical greetings, Sarah Jeffery

Score: 5 pages. 1 part @ 2 pages. 

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