Child Song was originally written for alto flute, viola, cello and harp in 1985, and was commissioned as a birthday gift for the celebration of Jerome Apfel’s 56th birthday in Philadelphia. The work was premiered by members of the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia, with Chinary Ung’s wife, Susan, playing viola, who was also pregnant with their first child at the time. The version for flute, violin, violoncello, and piano was commissioned by the Chicago Ensemble and funded by the NEA Consortium Program. Child Song was the first piece Chinary Ung composed after a long hiatus from 1974-1985, with the exception of Khse Buon (1980) for solo cello/viola. During that period, for the most part, Chinary Ung was preoccupied with catastrophic events in Cambodia. He taught himself to play the Roneat-Ek, the Cambodian Xylophone of the Pinpeat tradition, and was quite active performing. This was a time when many Cambodian artists and refugees were concerned about preserving this music, especially after the loss of so many of their master artists during the holocaust there. It could be said that of any of the works Ung has written, Child Song most reflects certain aspects and mannerisms of of his native musical elements including the Roneat-Ek and the pinpeat tradition.
Although Khse Buon was the first piece to do this, Child Song was also the reflection of Ung’s interest in the music of other cultures, aside from his native culture. The work utilizes various modes from different parts of Asia, although at times, these are mingled with various Western contemporary idioms, and clusters of derivative materials are introduced simultaneously. Ung has also paraphrased a Cambodian children’s song, which is heard in the middle section. The song has an imaginative and fanciful text and is rhythmical in nature. A portion of the text is as follows:
Pour the coconut juice
the rooster’s tail