Fhir a'bhàta

O, boatman

Music: Sheena Phillips. Words: Trad. Anon
SATB with SSA divisi verses
performance time approx 4m 00s
Price code: C
Complexity: **

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This is a gorgeous Gaelic tune from the West of Scotland, still well known among Gaelic speakers. The song is written in the words of a young woman who is wondering if the boatman she loves will ever return. It's far from a miserable tune though - rather a poignantly beautiful one. One can imagine it expressing love and longing for other things than departed sailors - perhaps people from one's childhood, or the past itself.
In this setting, which is a great favourite with audiences, the chorus is richly harmonised for SATB, the verses are sung by SSA. The pace is very gentle, and the idea is for the choruses to portray the continuous ebbing and flowing of the sea while the verses refocus on the woman's words. It works very well for verse 2 to be sung in unison on the tune, pianissimo, by a small group of sopranos, and followed by a pianissimo chorus. Another performance suggestion is for the women to stand in front of the men, as if looking out to sea.
The piece is suitable for any choir interested in folk repertoire. It is not difficult harmonically; most of the musical work is in getting the phrasing to flow. The Gaelic words need some work but usually come easily enough after a few repetitions by rote.
A recording by Rudsambee company of singers is available on their album bottled at source (RUBEECD003).

Pronunciation guide included


Fhir a' bhàta na hó-ró eile
Fhir a' bhàta na hó-ró eile
Fhir a' bhàta na hó-ró eile
Mo shoraidh slàn leat 's gach àite an teid thu.

1. 'S tric mi 'sealltainn o'n chnoc as àirde
Dh'fheuch am faic mi fear a' bhàta
An tig thu 'n-diugh, no an tig thu 'maireach
'S mur tig thu idir, gur truagh a tha mi.

2. Tha mo chridhe-sa briste, brùite
'S tric na deòir a ruith o m'shùilean
An tig thu 'nochd, no am bidh mo dhùil riut
No an dùin mi 'n dòras, le osna thùrsaich?

3. 'S tric mi faighneachd de luchd nam bàta
Am fac' iad thu, no a bheil thu sàbhailt'
Ach 's ann a tha gach aon dhiubh 'g ràitinn
Gur gorach mise ma thug mi gràdh dhuit.

traditional Gaelic song


O boatman ...
My fond wishes go with you each place you go

Often I look out from the highest hill top
Trying to see the boatman
Will you come today, or will you come tomorrow?
Or will you come at all, me being so sad?

My very heart is broken and bruised
Often tears run from my eyes
Will you come tonight, will I expect you?
Or will I close the door with a dejected sigh?

I often ask the other boatmen
Whether they've seen you, if you are safe
But all they ever say is
What a fool I am to love you.

Canasg editors

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