Sweet Rice Pie, Six Songs on Four Taiwanese Nursery Rhymes

for voice and chamber ensemble (2005), ca. 14’

I found these four nursery rhymes while researching Taiwanese folk music.  These rich, funny, imaginative Taiwanese texts evoke a carefree, curious childhood and have no specific melodies attached to them.  While containing a universal quality, they also exhibit a sense of humor that is distinctly Taiwanese.  Perhaps I find them so charming because of a desire to share something of my own mischievous childhood in Taiwan with my daughter Lia as she grows up in America (Lia was three years old when I wrote these).


This work is theatrical and can be performed with a lighting design, costume, and props for dramatic effect.


Sweet Rice Pie was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, and is dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky and premiered by the Empyrean Ensemble in California.


Sweet Rice Pie; Six Songs on Four Taiwanese Nursery Rhymes

I. VI.

Number one, make sweet rice pie Number two, scallion to fry

Number three, pot at a boil Number four, noodles in hot oil

Number five, soldier's leader Number six, son of beggar

Number seven, take half amount Number eight, go up the mount

Number nine, old as grand mom Number ten, strike the tam-tam


II. (mostly  hummed by voice with occasional  fragments of  the  text); V. (complete text)

Swing high, swing low

Into the hills we go

Where eggplants grow

Plenty we'll pick today

'Nough for a rice basket

Yummy to the last bit

So hot on the market

Perfect for babe's first birthday



Crybaby, a chicken

Crybaby, a chicken

Hair of his half shaven

Money not his he's taken

By a tiger he's half eaten



Firefly, firefly Tea party do come by

So hot a cuppa Eat a banana

When the tea gets so cold A longan makes you bold

Flowers on the longan tree Gourd for loofa let it be

Loofa soup will lift you off So trade the gourd for chaff

Use the chaff a fire to make For nanny sweet cake will bake

And the cake will burn to black All around a fire will crack

Translated by Tao-Lin Hwang, used by permission.

Score available from Subito Music Corporation

Recording available at New World Records, iTunes, and Amazon