by Richard H. Wagner
On a transatlantic voyage, there are no port days to break up the voyage and
entertain the guests.  Consequently, the success of the voyage is very much
dependent on what happens inside the ship.  In this day and age, traditional
cruise ship activities are not enough to satisfy guests during seven days at
sea.  Thus, for Queen Mary 2, the only ocean liner making regularly
scheduled transatlantic crossings, it is imperative to develop new and
innovative programming that serves to enliven and enhance the ship's
abundant physical attractions.

       One such program, which debuted during the 2011 season, is the Queen
Mary 2 Songwriting Voyages.  Developed by Chris Difford, award-winning
songwriter and co-founder of the highly successful British band Squeeze, the
program offers guests the opportunity to participate in writing, recording and
performing songs that they create onboard.   "What we are trying to do more
and more is [to have] more interaction where guests are not just sitting
listening to a lecture [but] get more involved.   The Songwriters Voyages,
which we started this season on the transatlantic, have been greatly
successful," commented Paul O'Loughlin, Entertainment Director on QM2.

       "The reason why it works is Chris Difford.  He is such a caring
individual and he cares so much about people and their stories and people
expressing their stories.  He is the catalyst that makes it work."

       Mr. Difford has been conducting songwriting workshops on land for
some 18 years.  "I started years ago just trying to find a way of giving back
something of what the music industry has given me. I have never made any
money out of it. It is just something that I liked. Normally, they just involve
artists writing songs for themselves or for other artists," he explained.  
However, the idea of working with non-professionals at sea intrigued him.  
"Although it is not writing for other people, it is writing for the clients who
come onboard the ship, a slightly different delivery. So I just thought I would
give it a go and see what happens."

       Working with Difford is a team of "mentors," each of whom is a
professional musician, songwriter and/or recording artist.  Just as
importantly, each is a people person, friendly and interested in interacting
with the guests.

       The program begins with an introductory session during which Difford
outlines the program.  In the first three songwriting voyages, the number of
guests participating ranged from 50 to 100.  However, on each voyage, the
program quickly became the talk of the ship and so it can be said that it
touched many more guests.

       A quite astonishing diversity of guests have shown interest in the
program.  Participants have ranged in age from children to seniors.  
Nationalities have included Americans, Australians, Europeans and, of
course on a British ship, people from the United Kingdom

       Along the same lines, participants have included guests with no musical
experience as well as guests with degrees in music.  "A lot of guests are
musicians, pianists, guitarists.  The talent amongst are guests blew Chris
Difford away," O'Loughlin pointed out .

       Following the introductory session, guests who decide to participate are
assigned to groups.  One or more mentors are assigned to each group.  The
groups then meet twice a day to work on their songs.  Although only
scheduled for an hour, these sessions frequently last longer as the guests'
enthusiasm snowballs.

       The fact that a transatlantic voyage involves seven days at sea is vital to
the success of the songwriting program. "It would not work in the
Mediterranean where everyone is getting off every day because the [guests
would lose] concentration," Difford explained.

       During the sessions, the mentors do not give lectures on how to write a
song.  Rather, they act as facilitators, making suggestions and giving
encouragement.  There is no negative criticism.  No one is told that their
talents would be better suited to the shuffleboard competition.  As a result,
even those guests who have no experience or who have not played a note in
years are made to feel that they are part of the group and should contribute.

       Almost magically, a song emerges from these group sessions as the
various participants contribute portions of lyrics and pieces of the music.  At
the same time, a bonding occurs.  In part, this is attributable to the fact that
passengers on a ship are typically more open than when they are on land.  
However, it is also due to the fact that these people are joined together in a
creative pursuit that necessarily involves letting ones guard down and
revealing more of their inner self.     

       The mentors also interact with the guests on an individual basis.  
Husband and wife Matt and Clare Deighton were the mentors for my group.  
She is an operatically trained singer who has performed as a session singer
and in her own one-woman show.  He has six studio albums to his credit and
stood in for Noel Gallagher in Oasis on tour in 2000.  Both followed-up on
the interests expressed by the individual group members.  Indeed, Matt
sacrificed his lunch hour one day to give me a demonstration of how he
writes songs.

       Guitar-playing guests can borrow one of the Fender acoustic guitars that
Cunard has purchased for the program.  Keyboards and other instruments are
also available for use by the participants. "Cunard has been very supportive.  
They have bought guitars and instruments, made rooms available.  So there is
no shortage of support from Cunard."

       To provide a goal for the songwriting process, each group is given the
opportunity to record their song and then to perform it live in QM2's Royal
Court Theatre near the end of the voyage.  The recording sessions are done in
one of the rooms used when disembarking passengers into the ship's tenders.  
However, the recording sessions are overseen by a professional record
producer and the equipment allows for overdubbing of guitar solos and of
vocal harmonies.  It produces a reasonable recording and more importantly,
it gives the guests a feel of what it is like to record a song.

       The live performance is a more elaborate affair.  Not only do the friends
and traveling companions of the performers attend but also many guests who
are curious to find out what all the talk has been about for the last week.  
Indeed, O'Loughlin noted that on one voyage, the lead singer of The Who,
"Roger Daltry, came and sat through the whole thing and applauded with

       It can be a daunting prospect to stand in front of approximately 1,000
people and perform.  "There have been a few bits of stage fright but once
people get up there suddenly they become like Elvis Presley.  We are all
geared to be like Elvis Presley at some point in our lives.  It is quite good fun
really," Difford confided.

       In fact, giving people the opportunity to step outside of their normal
existence is one of the objectives of the program.  "What I hope people get
out of it is something spiritually uplifting to take away   Most of the people
have only dabbled in songwriting at best.  It is something new for them to do."

       "I think quite a few people have a hidden desire to be a guitar player or
wonder what would it have been like if I had done this instead of being the
manager of a local bank.  Everybody reaches a stage in their life when they
think 'what if.'  This is kind of a 'what if' process, which is an expression of
self.  That is what I mean by the spiritual uplift.  It takes them out of where
they normally are," Difford explained.

       The program lends itself to spiritual healing in another way as well.  
"People [have written] about family members, loved-ones who have passed
away and that is therapeutic. You can write thoughtful songs, loving songs,
songs with messages - - those are all spiritual journeys in themselves."

       Indeed, O'Loughlin gave an example of one such journey:  "We had a
lovely story where there was a father and daughter who had not been getting
on and their relationship was very strained.   They came onboard to try and
improve their relationship.  They ended up getting involved in the
songwriting program, writing a song together, performing a song together and
that relationship was mended because of this."  

        In addition to the songwriting program, during the voyage Mr. Difford
appears on stage to give a presentation about his experiences in the music
industry.  In the evenings, the mentors perform concerts in the ship's pub and
for the ship's crew.

       There is no additional charge for the songwriting program or for the use
of the musical instruments.


There is more information and photos
about Queen Mary 2 on her profile page.

Above: Paul O'Loughlin, Entertainment
Director on Queen Mary 2.

Below: G
roup mentor Matt Deighton pauses
while working with guests on a song.
Above: The stage of the Royal Court Theatre
set for a performance by the participants in
the songwriting program.

Mentor Clare Deighton performing
with one of the songwriting groups in the
Royal Court Theatre.
The mentors during a lively performance in
Queen Mary 2's pub.
Chris Difford developed QM2's songwriting
Cruise ship article - Queen Mary 2 - Cunard - Songwriting Program