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Boatmen's Song (2003)

For Professional Children’s Choir/Women’s Chorus and harp (2003)
Dedicated to Karen Wolff

The work is commissioned by The Yong People’s Chorus of New York. First performance: April 25th, 2004 by The Yong People’s Chorus of New York at 92nd Street Y, New York City.

Program Note

The work is commissioned by The Yong People’s Chorus of New York. First performance: April 25th, 2004 by The Yong People’s Chorus of New York at 92nd Street Y, New York City, conducted by Francisco Nunez. The work is scored for a professional children’s choir, or a women’s chorus, guiro(s) and harp(s)(1-3). Boatmen’s Song is based on a folk song from northern Shaanxi Province in China. The music is a simple rhythmic towing song sung by boat-trackers along the river. I love the song for its vivid reflection of the tempestuous turbulence of the river. By adding guiro(s), hand-clapping and emphasizing the nonsense words (originally to synchronize the movement of the boat hauling), I hope to evoke the now-lost scene of hundreds of boatmen pulling a large boat against the rage of the river—a hazardous task which had claimed thousands of lives in history.



—Bright Sheng

 

Text

(Yo hei!)
Nee shao de tian sha huang her
Jee sher jee dao wuang lai?
Jee sher jee dao wuang shong,
Jee sher jee ger gan lai?
Jee sher jee tiao chuan shong,
Jee sher jee ger gan lai?
Jee sher jee guo na shao gong
(yo hei) yao ba chuan lai ban?

(Hei yo...)
Gna shao de tian sha huang her
Jeo sher jeo dao wuang lai.
Jeo sher jeo dao wuang shong,
Jeo sher jeo tiao chuan lai.
Jeo sher jeo tiao chuan shong,
Jeo sher jeo ger gan lai.
Jeo sher jeo guo na shao gong
(yo hei) yao ba chuan lai ban.
(Yo hei, hei!)
(Yo Hei!)

Translate

Do you know, under the vault of Heaven,
How many turns does the Yellow River bear?
How many ships
Are carried by how many turns?
How many masts
Are held by how many ships?
And how many boatman
(yo hei) are there to twirl the ships?

(Hei yo…)
I do know, under the vault of Heaven,
The Yellow River bears ninety-nine turns.
Ninety-nine ships
Are carried by the ninety-nine turns.
Ninety-nine masts
Are held by the ninety-nine ships.
And there are ninety-nine boatmen
(yo hei) to twirl the ninety-nine ships.
(Yo hei, hei!)


—translated by Bright Sheng