• Bright Sheng
  • The Boatmen’s Song (2004)

  • G Schirmer Inc (World)
  • perc, hp
  • Children’s treble choir (or Women’s Chorus SSAA)
  • 5 min

Programme Note

This piece may be performed with Thirty-Mile Village to create a suite called Two Folk Songs.

Composer Note:

The 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.

Boatmen’s Song and Thirty-Mile Village were commissioned by The Yong People’s
Chorus of New York, who premiered the works on April 25th, 2004, and on February
17th, 2012, respectively, at Kaufmann Concert Hall of 92nd Street Y, New York City.
Both works are scored for a professional children’s choir, or a women’s chorus, with
harps ranging from one to three, and guiros (for Boatmen’s Song).

Thirty-Mile Village is a lyrical, sentimental folk song.

—Bright Sheng

Text Translations

Boatmen’s Song

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 boatmen are there to twirl the ships?
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 to twirl the ninety‐nine

Thirty-Mile Village

If you just mention my hometown,
It is the famed Thirty-Mile Village in Sui De.
Where Si Mei Zi awaits for San Ge Ge,
You are my beloved for sure.


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