‘Seaya Seaya (The Blue Birds)’ is my favorite Korean traditional tune. Not only is the melody beautiful, but the text is meaningful in Korean history.* Thus, it has been my long-cherished dream to compose a piece using this Korean tune and text. However, I thought that this was not enough to impress a non-Korean audience. I decided to look for text related to that of Saeya Saeya and found the story of Robin Hood, the heroic outlaw in English folklore.

This piece is divided into three sections. In the 1st and 3rd sections, I mainly used the Korean text and melodies. In the 2nd section, I composed a new melody to represent Robin Hood’s story and weaved it into Saeya Saeya. 

– Eunbi Kwak

* The Korean general Bong-Joon Juhn led an unsuccessful uprising against corrupt rulers and invading Japanese troops in the late 19th century. His nickname was the Green Bean General. Legend says that he was the Korean version of Robin Hood. After attacking officials and seizing their treasures, he distributed them to the poor. He became very popular and many commoners joined his army. His army swept through large parts of the Korean peninsula before Korean rulers requested the Japanese army to intervene. Juhn’s army, equipped with spears and arrows, was no match against the westernized gun-wielding Japanese army. In 1895 Juhn was captured and hanged. Korean commoners sang this song to lament General Juhn’s death and the failed coup d’état. It is said the widows of Juhn’s army sang this song to their babies as a lullaby.

(The Sejong Cultural Society)

Featured performance:

Westminster Friends Choir (Westminster Choir College)
Conductor, Mercedes Chan
Piano, James Sparks

Text 1 (Korean, IPA, English translation)

새야 새야 파랑새야,
[sʰe ja sʰe ja pa raŋ sʰe ja]
Bird, birds, blue birds,

녹두밭에 앉지 마라.
[nok t˭u ba te an t’s̕i ma ra]
Do not disturb the green-bean fields.

녹두꽃이 떨어지면,
[nok t˭u k’o tsi t’ɒ rɒ dzi mjɒn,]
If the flowers are dropped and lost,

청포장수 울고 간다.
[tsɒŋ po t’saŋ ʃu ul k˭o k˭an t’a]
The farmers will cry.

Text 2

Once upon a time,
There was a man called the Green Bean General.
Once upon a time, He loved the forest.
He loved the sights and scents
And the sounds and deep silence of it.

In the dim evening light,
He knelt on the green grass to say his prayers. He Stood up and swore an oath to guard his forest.

But, the flowers were dropped and lost.

* Text 2 is an excerpt from Robin Hood.

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