The Boatmen's Dance

(1950)

“The Boatmen’s Dance” is the first song in Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, Set 1. It is Copland’s arrangement of an original banjo melody by “Dixie” composer Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904), which was published in Boston in 1843.

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The audio recording, provided in the audio player to the right, features Thomas Hampson, baritone, and Craig Rutenberg, piano. This song was recorded for Instant Encore as part of American Public Media's Performance Today series, presented by Classical Minnesota Public Radio. To listen, please click on the track name itself. You can download a recording of this entire recital for free through the Instant Encore website with the download code: THSOA2009.

The original text was laden with Negro dialect, and Copland reworked it to remove the racial connotations (in fact, he even changed the title from “De Boatman’s Dance” as found in S. Foster Damon’s Series of Old American Songs to “The Boatmen’s Dance”). As far as the musical setting is concerned, Copland ingeniously designed the song to reflect the Ohio River landscape, as demonstrated by the call and echo effect employed prior to each verse.


--Stephanie Poxon, Ph.D.


The Boatmen's Dance
Traditional


The boatmen dance, the boatmen sing,
The boatmen up to ev'rything,
And when the boatman gets on shore
He spends his cash and works for more.


High row the boatmen row,
Floatin' down the river the Ohio.


Then dance the boatmen dance,
O dance the boatmen dance.
O dance all night 'til broad daylight,
And go home with the gals in the mornin'.


High row the boatmen row. . . etc


I went on board the other day
To see what the boatmen had to say.
There I let my passion loose
An' they cram me in the callaboose.
O dance the boatmen dance. . .


High row the boatmen row . . . etc


The boatman is a thrifty man,
There's none can do as the boatman can.
I never see a pretty gal in my life
But that she was a boatman's wife.
O dance the boatmen dance. . .


High row the boatmen row. . . etc


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