Mark Swed, the music critic for the Los Angeles Times, said that "Vietnam probably has more musical styles per square mile than any other nation." Forms of Vietnamese music include court music, “hat cheo” (traditional folk opera), “hat tuong” (classical drama), “hat cai luong” (modern theater), “quan ho” (folks songs, with dialogues sung between women and women), “dân ca” (folk music with strong regional variations), “ca tru” (declamation songs), he songs, “hat doi” (men and women love duet songs of the hill tribes) and “ho chants” . [Source: “Music of Vietnam” , a 2 two CD set assembled by Eckart Rahn, Celestial Harmonies]

“Hat cheo” , “hat tuong” , and “hat cai luong” resemble Beijing Opera. About 70 percent of the drama is portrayed with songs with climatic high notes sung by the actors and accompanied by an orchestra on the side of the stage. Cai Luong was developed in the 1920s. It is a uniquely Vietnamese form of drama based on characters from real-life. The art form is fading as the younger generation becomes more interested in Western-style pop music.

There are three main styles of Vietnamese music: 1) the Hue style (with an emphasis on solo pieces); 2) northern professional style (often accompanied by a lute); and 3) southern amateur style (incorporates more western instruments such as violins and Hawaiian guitars).

Vietnam has a genre of music specifically created for the dead and is traditionally only played at funeals and cereomies hnoring tehd ead. The art of playing has traditionally been handed throygh families and lmost died out in the realy Communist erea. It has come back.

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Gong Music, See Music, Musical Instruments

Hue Court Music

Chamber music originated from royal music at the beginning of the 19th century in the Nguyen Dynasty. It was well developed by the time of King Tu Duc. By the end of the 19th century, it was popularized and some songs were added to the repertoire of folk songs of the Binh Tri Thien people. With this foundation, the music and songs of Hue are a combination of folk and royal music. Hue music bears unique features that characterize the lives of people living in the central regions of Vietnam while incorporating musical factors from various groups such as the Viet, Cham and Chinese. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Hue Court Music is the last vestige of Vietnamese Court Music. It contains all the elements of of Vietnamese Court Music that have been established and developed over 1,000 years. Ttherefore Hue Court Music is synonymous with Vietnamese Court Music. Hue Court Music is large scale and highly professional. As the official music of the state, it consists of many large scale orchestras and many music and dance pieces performed by instrumentalists, singers and dancers. Moreover, this music genre has a high degree of improvisation and variation of the melodious scheme.

The special traits of Hue Court Music are due in part to the process of integrating, adopting and modifying the Chinese, Champa cultures and Buddhist, Confucian musical elements it incorporates. Court Music is closely connected with "tuong" (hat boi) art. Hue Court Music synthetizes itself the abundance and diversity of this art in a way that could satisfy both the spectators’ eye and ear by its abundance "dishes of different tastes".

Hue Court Music succeeded and enhanced the achievements of Thang Long Court Music – formed many centuries ago - to a new height. This succession and enhancement are shown in: Maintaining some court orchestras of the previous dynasties (the most distinctive of which are Tran Dynasty's Tieu nhac and Dai nhac) and creating rich variations based on Le Dynasty ‘s orchestras; The continuing use of many common musical instruments of Thang Long Royal Music; Maintaining and diversifying some previous court dances, at the same time creating many new dances; Creating a new type of chamber music (don ca Hue) and enhancing Vietnamese instrumental music to a new height both in performance techniques and forms of ensemble; Succeeding the Dang ngoai "tuong" and bringing it to flourish simultaneously forming a new specific kind of tuong: the "tuong Kinh" (tuong of the capital city) in the style of "tuong van"; Succeeding the system of tone regulations of the Hong Duc time under Le Dynasty in the second half of the 15th century and developing music language and theory; Continuing the traditions of learning, adopting and Vietnamising foreign music elements that were shaped in Vietnamese music in general and in Thang Long Court Music in particular…

History and Different Types of Hue Court Music

The different genres of the Hue Court Music include worshiping ritual music, court ritual music, court dances, chamber music and opera (royal classical opera - tuong). In former times, Hue Court Music consisted of various genres: Giao Nhac used in the sacrifice ceremony to the Heaven and the Earth. Mieu Nhac used in worshipping ceremonies at the temples of meritorious ancestors of the Nguyen clan, Confucius, Nguyen Dynasty's literature doctors, national heroes; Ngu Tu Nhac used in Than Nong, Thanh Hoang, Xa Tac worshiping ceremonies; Dai Trieu Nhac used in great ceremonies or receptions of foreign ambassadors; Thuong Trieu Nhac used in ordinary court ceremonies; Yen Nhac used in great royal banquets; Cung Nhac (or Cung Trung Nhac) used inside the royal palaces.

Former Hue court dances were rich and performed on many occasions. The 11 court dances remained until now are composed of Bat Dat (used in Giao, Mieu, Xa Tac, historical kings and Confucius worshipping ceremonies); Luc cung, Tam tinh, Bat tien, Dau Chien thang Phat, Tu Linh, Tam quoc Tay Du (used in van tho - King’s birthday, thanh tho - birthday of King’s mother, tien tho - birthday of Hoang Thai Phi (the imperial concubine of King’s late father) and the Mu (a Fairy or Guardian angel) worshipping ceremonies); and thien xuan (birthday of the prince – the successor to the throne); Trinh tuong tap khanh (used in tu, ngu tuan dai khanh ceremonies for wealthy people and powerful country; Nu tuong xuat quan (used on the Days of Victory, Nguyen Dynasty Enthroning Day, lunar - calendar May 2nd, at great night banquets and receptions of foreign ambassadors); Vu phien (devoted to the King's Mother, wife, ladies-in-waiting, princesses at weddings); Luc triet hoa ma dang (on Nguyen Dynasty Enthroning Day for the watching of the people masses in the front of Phu Van Lau).

The repertoire for court music genres mentioned above consisted of a variety musical pieces. Yet, in the declining stages, many of them were lost; only the words have been remained. The pieces still preserved are Muoi ban ngu ( or lien bo thap chuong - suite composed of 10 pieces including: Pham tuyet, Nguyen tieu, Ho quang, Lien hoan, Binh ban, Tay mai, Kim tien, Xuan phong, Long ho, Tau ma), Long dang, Long ngam, Phu luc, Tee^?u khuc, Tam luan cuu chuyen - ritual music asking for good rains, Dang dan cung, Dang dan don, Dang dan kep, Thai binh co nhac, Bong, Ma vu, Man and some other pieces of chamber music such as Nam Binh and Nam Ai, etc.

Nguyen Dynasty court orchestras were diverse in type and number of instruments, depending on the kind of royal rituals and entertainment. There were many kinds of orchestra for example Nha nhac, Huyen nhac, Ti truc te nhac, Tieu nhac, Dai nhac, Co xuy dai nhac, Nhac Thieu, Bat am, Ty chung, Ty khanh, Ty co, etc.

Nha nhac, Vietnamese Court Music, UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage

In 2003, Nha nhac, Vietnamese Court Music, that Hue has preserved so long, was officially listed by UNESCO among masterpieces of the Oral and intangible heritage of humanity. It was the first intangible heritage of Vietnam ever listed in this list. The UNESCO Council that made the decision said: "Vietnamese royal music represents an elegant and refined music. It deals with the music performed in the imperial courts and on different anniversaries, religious festivals, and on such particular occasions. Of the different categories developed in Vietnam, only the royal music was national."

According to UNESCO, Nha Nhac, meaning "elegant music", refers to a broad range of musical and dance styles performed at the Vietnamese royal court from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Nha Nhac was generally featured at the opening and closing of ceremonies associated with anniversaries, religious holidays, coronations, funerals and official receptions. Among the numerous musical genres that developed in Vietnam, only Nha Nhac can claim a nationwide scope and strong links with the traditions of other East Asian countries. Nha Nhac performances formerly featured numerous singers, dancers and musicians dressed in sumptuous costumes. Large-scale orchestras included a prominent drum section and many other types of percussion instruments as well as a variety of wind and string instruments. All performers had to maintain a high level of concentration since they were expected to follow each step of the ritual meticulously. [Source: UNESCO +++]

Nha Nhac developed during the Le dynasty (1427-1788) and became highly institutionalized and codified under the Nguyen monarchs (1802-1945). As a symbol of the dynasty’s power and longevity, Nha Nhac became an essential part of the court’s many ceremonies. However, the role of Nha Nhac was not limited to musical accompaniment for court rituals: it also provided a means of communicating with and paying tribute to the gods and kings as well as transmitting knowledge about nature and the universe. The events that shook Vietnam in the twentieth century – especially the fall of the monarchy and the decades of war – seriously threatened the survival of Nha Nhac. Deprived of its court context, this musical tradition lost its original function. Nevertheless, the few surviving former court musicians continue to work to keep the tradition alive. Certain forms of Nha Nhac have been maintained in popular rituals and religious ceremonies and serve as a source of inspiration for contemporary Vietnamese music. +++

History of Nha nhac, Vietnamese Court Music

Nha nhac (Vietnamese royal music) and its principles came to Vietnam under the Ho Dynasty (1400-1407). The Ho Dynasty, however, only existed for a short time, so nha nhac rapidly fell into oblivion. In 1427, Le Loi defeated the Chinese Ming invaders and liberated the country. However, nha nhac only began to develop in the reign of King Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497) and reached its peak under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Nha nhac is genre of scholarly music. It attracted the participation of many talented songwriters and musicians, with numerous traditional musical instruments. From now on, nha nhac will have opportunities to preserve, develop and popularize to the public, inside and outside the country. In its ordinary meaning, Court Music is understood as music genres, including music for dance and opera, used in worshiping ceremonies, national court – organized festivities, and occasions of entertainment for Kings and Royal families. But the term Nha Nhac (imported from China) was used by Vietnamese feudal dynasties from the Ho Dynasty with different meanings, for example sometimes indicating general court music, sometimes court ritual music in particular, sometimes indicating music department, even a concrete orchestra. ~

The initial foundation of Nha Nhac – the Vietnamese Court Music began conceiving since the 13th century but it only reached the peak at the Hue Court under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). The Court Music was officially formed along with the rise of Nguyen Dynasty in the early 19th century. In about 1947, 1948, Madame Tu Cung (mother of King Bao Dai, wife of King Khai Dinh) gathered once again some court music artists, helping to maintain some genres of Hue Court Music and dance. In the 1980s, it began to attract attention of the Ministry of Culture and local authorities. In the 1990s, Hue Court Music enjoyed renaissance. Thereafter Hue Court Music has been introduced much abroad. ~

Ca Tru Sung Poetry

Ca Tru is a 600-year-old form of sung poetry that is kept alive by a few eldery people and is in danger of dying out. It was hugely popular at one time. The songs—about mandarins and courtesans, love and loneliness—once filled the courts of Hue and drew large crowds at singing contests. Now many of the singers that keep it alive are in their 80s. Ca tru singing was inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of Urgent Safeguarding in October 2009.

According to UNESCO: "Ca trù is a complex form of sung poetry found in the north of Viet Nam using lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms. Ca trù groups comprise three performers: a female singer who uses breathing techniques and vibrato to create unique ornamented sounds, while playing the clappers or striking a wooden box, and two instrumentalists who produce the deep tone of a three-stringed lute and the strong sounds of a praise drum. Some Ca trù performances also include dance. The varied forms of Ca trù fulfill different social purposes, including worship singing, singing for entertainment, singing in royal palaces and competitive singing. Ca trù has fifty-six different musical forms or melodies, each of which is called thecách. Folk artists transmit the music and poems that comprise Ca trù pieces by oral and technical transmission, formerly, within their family line, but now to any who wish to learn. Ongoing wars and insufficient awareness caused Ca trù to fall into disuse during the twentieth century. Although the artists have made great efforts to transmit the old repertoire to younger generations, Ca trù is still under threat of being lost due to the diminishing number and age of practitioners. [Source: UNESCO]

Ca tru is where poetry and music meet. People familiar with such ancient verse as luc bat (the six eight-syllable distich) and hat doi (singing tossed back and forth between groups of young men and women), and who are capable of sympathizing with the sentiments expressed in the sound of a small drum or a two-string viol, are more likely to fully enjoy a recital of ca tru. Many famous poets of past centuries were great amateurs of ca tru who wrote beautiful lines to go with its melodies. One well known instance is the poem singing the enchantment of a pilgrimage to Chua Huong (Perfume Pagoda) by Chu Manh Trinh. Coming from the lips of a ca tru singer, it has bewitched successive generations of pilgrims visiting the hills and streams of the famous pagoda complex in Ha Tay Province. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Ca tru music is most enjoyable when there is complete harmony between the words being sung, the rhythm marked by a pair of small bamboo sticks held by the singer who strikes a small block of wood or bamboo called phach, and, last but not least, the appreciation shown by a man among the audience beating a small drum at the appropriate moments. In short, ca tru is a refined form of art which is paradoxically appreciated and loved by audiences of all compositions. There are those who sit in small numbers in an urban auditorium to enjoy a recital. A Ca Tru Club has been founded in Hanoi where amateurs of this musical genre, young and old, local and foreign, regularly meet to enjoy its charming melodies. ~

Types and History of Ca Tru

Ca Tru has many names, depending on each locality, each period of time, it is also called A dao singing, Cua dinh singing, Cua quyen singing, Co dau singing, Nha to singing, Nha tro singing and Ca cong singing. This is a long-standing and unique form of art which has special meaning in the musical treasures of Viet Nam, associated with the traditional festivals, customs, religions, literature, music, thoughts and philosophy of the Vietnamese. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Ca Tru singing was assessed in the UNESCO heritage records as follows: Ca Tru, which dates back to the 15th century, was performed attach in a cultural diversity space during different historical periods. Ca Tru showed a sense of identity and continuity in the art performances, being innovative and transmitted between generations by professional music guilds known as Giao phuong. These guilds have maintained the close relationship communities, forming characteristics of Ca Tru. Although undergone many social and historical changes, Ca Tru has still kept distinct vitality due to its art value in the Vietnamese culture. Ca Tru is unique with its private art performing space, musical instruments and distinct style of poetry. According to folk artists, Ca Tru has 56 different musical forms or melodies, each of which is called the cach. The singing technique is very sophisticated. The singers have to practice in very painstaking and meticulous manner. Streamlined instruments with timbres in contrast have elevated the beauty of each performing participant. [Source: UNESCO]

According to the researchers, by mid-2009, there were 63 clubs with about 769 people (including 513 dao and 256 kep and trong chau player) in 14 provinces and cities (Hanoi, Phu Tho, Vinh Phuc, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, Hung Yen, Hai Phong, Thai Binh, Nam Dinh, Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Ho Chi Minh City) throughout the country have frequently carried out activities and establish plans for research, documentation, collection, preservation, performance and transmission of Ca Tru. However, the numbers of folk artists who can sing from 10 tunes or more are very rare. At the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology, 7 dances and 42 songs of Ca Tru have been stored. There are 26 files written in Han Nom scripts on Ca Tru and about 25 books on Ca Tru. ~

Ca Tru Elements and Performance

Ca Tru singing embraces a rich collection of songs reserved for each functions as Hat tho (worship singing), Hat thi (competitive singing), Hat choi (singing for entertainment). Lyrics of Ca Tru songs have scholarly nature, much meaning with few words, rich in poetry with lots of thoughtful and profound emotions. Ca Tru which consists of all genres from lyric and romantic songs to epic, philosophic, teaching ones…, has attracted the participation of many scholars and poets in experience their talents and compose poems for Ca Tru. One cannot see all the beauty and value of this performance art without understand thoroughly the content and art of words in the songs as well as the precise expression of female singers in their emotions and feelings together with voice and music. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Ca Tru has been recognized as major contributors to the culture of Viet Nam. From Ca Tru, a unique poetry was born and became a brilliant position in the Nom scripts literature of the nation. That is Hat noi (recital melody) style which has been popular for centuries. In addition, phach and dan day three-stringed lute has become specific instruments of Ca Tru, contributing to make Ca Tru become a classic vocal music genre of Viet Nam. With the rich of history, the depth of art and the distinct national character, Ca Tru has confirmed its important role not only in Viet Nam but also all over the world. ~

Ca Tru performing is involved by at least three people: 1) A female singer (called "dao" or "ca nuong") both singing and playing the phach (which is made of bamboo or wood. It is struck with two hard wooden beaters, one of which is split into two so it creates a different slightly higher pitched sound.) 2) A male instrumentalist (called "kep") playing the dan day three-stringed lute (which has 3 strings and 10 frets.) And 3) a person beating the trong chau or "praise drum" (called "quan vien" - a musician from the group of Ca Tru singer and instrumentalist or sometimes is the composer of the lyrics.) The praise drummer is a connoisseur of Ca Tru. The rhythms the drummer plays mark the end and beginning of different sections and phrases of music and he also uses particular drumming patterns to show his appreciation of the music and the performers. The "dao" sits in the middle of performing mat. The "kep" and "quan vien" sit near by in two sides. Ca Tru performing space is quite small and the participation from the audiences is very essential. ~

Efforts to Preserve Ca Tru

Young people now enjoy new music that comes to them from the radio, television, audio and video tapes, as well as compact discs. So, do they still show any attachment to the old folk tunes so loved by their elders, such as the melodies of ca tru? Ca tru is a musical genre that calls for expertise as well as sensibility on the part of the listeners. In return, it provides the most refined enjoyment. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Fortunately, ca tru is now being restored and is more liked by the younger generation. Research scholars have traced the origins of ca tru to areas of high culture, such as the ancient imperial capital of Thang Long (present-day Hanoi), Ha Tay, etc. Artists of great talent have practiced the art, including Quach Thi Ho, Thuong Huyen, Kim Dzung, etc. Some of them are now in their seventies, but a successor generation has blossomed and holds great promise. ~

With consensus, voluntary and full understanding of Ca tru singing community, along with action plans, responsibilities, commitments, supports and assistances of authorities at all levels of the state, Ca tru has been safeguarded to ensure its vitality. ~

Xoan Singing in Phu Tho Province

Xoan singing in Phu Tho Province was inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2011. According to to UNESCO: Xoan singing is practiced in Phú Tho. Province, Viet Nam, in the first two months of the lunar year. Traditionally, singers from Xoan guilds performed songs in sacred spaces such as temples, shrines and communal houses for the spring festivals. There are three forms of Xoan singing: worship singing for the Hùng kings and village guardian spirits; ritual singing for good crops, health and luck; and festival singing where villagers alternate male and female voices in a form of courtship. Each Xoan music guild is headed by a leader, referred to as the trùm; male instrumentalists are called kép and female singers, Dào. [Source: UNESCO +++]

Although only four traditional guilds remain, in recent years the singing has been taken up by clubs and other performing groups. Xoan singing is accompanied by dancing and musical instruments such as clappers and a variety of drums. The music has a spare structure with few ornamental notes and simple rhythms, and Xoan is characterized by a modulation between singers and instrumentalists at the perfect fourth interval. Knowledge, customs and techniques for singing, dancing and playing drum and clappers are traditionally transmitted orally by the guild leader. However, the majority of bearers are now over sixty years in age, and the numbers of people who appreciate Xoan singing have decreased, particularly among the younger generations. +++

Performances of King-worship singing— rituals celebrated annually at Xoan—are performed singing guilds in Phu Tho province

Quan Ho Collective Folk Singing

Quan ho singing is a folk art of a highly collective nature. Those who sing are not entertainers, but all are part of the performance, and anyone is welcome to join. The birth place of quan ho folk songs is Bac Ninh Province. During village festivals, which are held every year, particularly in spring, young men and women gather in the yard of a communal house or pagoda, on a hill or in a rowing boat, and sing quan ho. This is a style of singing where songs alternate from group to group. In 2009, Quan ho Bac Ninh folk songs were inscribed on the list of Representative List of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for its cultural value, social custom preservation, performing arts, style of contact, lyric and costume.

According to UNESCO: In the provinces of Ba'c Ninh and Ba'c Giang in northern Viet Nam, many of the villages are twinned, reinforcing their relationship through social customs such as Quan ho. Ba'c Ninh folk songs. The songs are performed as alternating verses between two women from one village who sing in harmony, and two men from another village who respond with similar melodies, but with different lyrics. The women traditionally wear distinctive large round hats and scarves; the men’s costumes include turbans, umbrellas and tunics. The more than 400 song lyrics, sung with 213 different melody variations, express people’s emotional states of longing and sadness upon separation, and the happiness of the meeting of lovers, but custom forbids marrying a singing partner. Quan ho. singing is common at rituals, festivals, competitions and informal gatherings, where guests will perform a variety of verses for their hosts before singing farewell. Younger musicians of both sexes may practice the four singing techniques – restrained, resonant, ringing and staccato – at parties organized around singing. Quan ho. songs express the spirit, philosophy and local identity of the communities in this region, and help forge social bonds within and between villages that share a cherished cultural practice. [Source: UNESCO]

Quan ho folk songs passed from generation to generation through oral have the most melodies in Viet Nam’s folk-song genres. Quan ho folk songs are always performed voluntarily in groups of male (bon nam) or female (bon nu). Each group usually has four to six people who are named by order such as "Second Sister", "Third Sister", "Fourth Sister", or "Second Brother", "Third Brother", "Fourth Brother" and so on. If the size of a group reaches seven or eight people, then they are divided into "older siblings" and "younger siblings" named as the "Third Older Sister", "Third Younger Sister" or "Third Older Brother", "Third Younger Brother"... [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The region recognized by UNESCO includes 49 traditional Quan ho villages. 44 of these villages now lie in Bac Ninh Province: Bai Uyen, Due Dong, Ha Giang, Hoai Thi, Hoai Trung, Lung Giang, Lung Son, Ngang Noi, Van Kham, Tam Son, Tieu, Dong Mai, Dong Yen, Bo Son, Cham Khe, Co Me, Duong O, Dau Han, Dieu Thon, Dong Xa, Do Xa, Hoa Dinh, Huu Chap, Kha Le, Khuc Toai, Nem Doai, Nem Son, Nem Tien, Niem Xa, Phuc Son, Thanh Son, Thi Chung, Thi Cau, Tho Ninh, Thuong Dong, Tra Xuyen, Ve An, Viem Xa, Xuan Ai, Xuan Dong, Xuân O, Xuan Vien, Y Na, Yen Man. The remaining 5 traditional villages are located in Bac Giang Province: Gia Son, Huu Nghi, Noi Ninh, Mai Vu, and Sen Ho.

Elements of Quan Ho

Quan ho is composed by the elements of music, lyric, costume, festival. A Quan ho Bac Ninh folk songs show close-knit relation between male singers (lien anh) and female singers (lien chi) and are typical culture of Kinh Bac region’s people. Quan ho folk songs are alternating response songs between the groups of male and female. A group of female from one village sings with a group of male from another village with similar melodies, but different lyrics, and always with alternating tunes. In each group, one person sings the leading tune and another sings a secondary part, but the two should be in perfect harmony at the same timbre. Quan ho folk songs have 213 different melody variations and more than 400 song lyrics. A song lyric includes two parts: the principal text is the core of the song, containing its base lyrics. The lyrics of Quan ho folk songs derived from poems and folk verses of the Viet Nam, mostly 6 syllable and 8 syllable verses, modified 6 syllable and 8 syllable verses, 4 syllable or mixed 4 syllable verses express people’s emotional states in metaphorical language. The secondary text includes words that are added to the melodies, such as i hi, u hu, a ha. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Quan ho folk songs exist in a cultural environment with their own social customs. The first is friendship custom among Quan ho villages. From the friendship custom, a special social custom appears among Quan ho groups. It’s friend-making custom. Each Quan ho group from one village makes friends with another group from another village following the principle that male groups make friends with female groups and vice versa. With the friendship-partner villages, men and women in Quan ho groups from these villages are not allowed to marry each other. One particular characteristic of Quan ho singing is the teaching and dissemination through "sleepover" custom. Boys and girls from 9 to 16 or 17 years old, invite each other to sleep over in their host’s house to learn Quan ho singing techniques. Male and female singers combine and practice their voices in pairs in order to have a unified timbre for performance. ~

Quan ho gastronomy uses phoenix wing-shaped quid of betel and areca, Thai Nguyen tea. In meal, it must use red tray (mam son) which is made of timber and painted red to express host’s emotion to visitors. Dishes in the meal depend on each village’s custom but must include a plate of chicken, two plates of lean pork paste, lean pork; especially no fat dishes to avoid damaging voice. In performance, the outfits of Quan ho are distinctive. The female costume includes non thung quai thao (the large round Quan ho hat) and scarf for wrapping the hair, camisole, tunic, skirt, scarves tied about the waist and slippers. The male costume includes turban, umbrella, shirt or robe including undershirts and long tunics with five pieces, trousers and slippers.

Then Song

The then song is the religious music of the Tay, Nung minorities. This type of song can be considered a religious performance of Long Poems which depict a journey to the heavens to ask the Jade Emperor to settle trouble for the head of the household. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Long Poems consist of several chapters with different contents and lengths. The longest poem ever collected was 4,949 sentences with 35 chapters. The then song is a general performance of music, singing, dancing, and making gestures in different circumstances. In the ceremony procession, not only must the artist carry out religious activities, but the actor must also sing, play music, dance, and show gestures to demonstrate the meaning of the sentence he is singing. Sometimes the artist also performs other activities. ~

Music is the main element that completely penetrates the performance. Sometimes the music is accompanied with song, and at other moments the music serves as a background for dance or connecting parts of a song. The main musical instruments in a then performance are the tinh tau (a traditional stringed musical instrument resembling a guitar) and a chain of shaking instruments. Sometimes the band also has a bell. All people in the Tay, Nung community, regardless of their age, sex, and religion, are fond of the then song. Some groups such as the Kinh living in the same region have also incorporated this kind of art form into their spiritual lives.

Hat Van

Hat van or hat chau van, a traditional folk art which combines singing and dancing, is a religious form of art used for extolling the merits of beneficent deities or deified national heroes. Its music and poetry are mingled with a variety of rhythms, pauses, tempos, stresses and pitches. Hat van, in essence, is a cantillation where the tunes and rhythm depend on the contents of the sung text. The tunes and rhythms may be linked together into a suite, used in relation to a mythical occurrence with hints of features from modern life. The art of hat van originated in the Red River Delta and dates back to the 16th century, later spreading to the whole country. It has also adopted the essential beauty of folk songs from the uplands and highlands of the North, Center and South. Hat van requires both a learned and a folksy character, and it has attracted musicologists at home and abroad. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The breathing of a hat van singer comes from his or her midriff to nasal cavity, which works as a resonance box and creates an effect appropriate for religious subjects, particularly when heard in an atmosphere of incense and candles. The words of the chanting must be clear enough so that all those attending the ceremony are able to understand. There are two kinds of hat van: hat tho and hat len dong. Hat tho is the chanting accompanying an act of worship. Hat tho is slow, serious, and dignified. Variations in the music are few and contain little contrasting pitch and stress. Hat len dong accompanies psychic dancing claiming to respond to occult powers and expressing the will and orders of some supernatural being. It may contain many variations depending on the number of verses sung, often coming to a climax or slowing down to the tempo of a meditation. ~

The music instrument accompanying hat van plays a very important role, in emphasizing important passages or creating contrasting effects; in any event, the music enriches the content of the chant. The main instrument used is the dan nguyet or moon-shaped lute, accompanied by the striking of the phach (a piece of wood or bamboo), xeng (clappers), trong chau (drum) and chieng (gong) marking the rhythm. Use may also be made of the 16-stringed zither thap luc and flute sao in the recitation of certain poetry, and of the eight-sound band dan bat am in certain ceremonies. ~

The dress worn by hat van singers, based on the cult of the "four palaces", includes a red robe for the cult of the "heavenly palace", a yellow robe for the "underground palace", a green robe for the "musical palace" and a white robe for the "aquatic palace". The style of the robe and the headgear is related to the rank of the supernatural being honoured in the act of worship. Over time, the style of the costume may vary but the rules about the colors have remained unchanged. ~

Hat Do Music, Teenage Virgins and the Curse of Death

In 2009, Viet Nam News reported: "Locals in Hanoi’s suburban Quoc Oai District had handed down a curse through generations that the traditional song genre, hat do, should be performed by virgin teenagers. Anyone breaking the curse would catch a diseases and die, legend had it. Fear of the curse pushed hat do to the verge of extinction in the district, which is 20 kilometers west of the city center. The legend began a long time ago, in a spring during the reign of the Hung King, when the Mountain God travelled along the Tich River and stopped at today’s Liep Tuyet Commune of Quoc Oai District. He found the land there fertile with not many people so he gave the locals good rice seed and taught them how to farm. He also gathered young people together and taught them how to sing and dance. The Mountain God (Son Tinh) then left the region, telling locals he would return at harvest time, but he did not. [Source: Viet Nam News, November 3, 2009 :::]

"The residents longed for his return, so much so that they built a temple to worship him, which is know today as Khanh Xuan Temple. Young people performed the songs and dances they learnt during his visit and when the harvests were good it was because of the Mountain God. Thirty-six years later, he did return, and he joined in the singing and dancing festival, setting the trend for a festival to be held every 36 years. It means each person gets the chance to sing and dance to the melodies once in his/her lifetime. :::

"Hat do uses various forms of poetic genres. They were initially prayer songs to the gods while worshipping at Khanh Xuan Temple. The lyrics carry wishes for prosperity, love between people and love for nature. The old custom was protected by strict regulations that all objects used in the performance – such as scarves, costumes, handbags and written records of the melodies – must be kept in the temple. Between festivals, no one was allowed to mention them, sing the melodies or open the paraphernalia used in the festival. Anyone violating would be punished by some unknown power. The last festival was held in spring 1926. :::

"Though the area was the birthplace of such a special singing art, hardly any locals knew a song or a melody. However, that all changed when Nguyen Thi Lan stepped up to preserve the art – the only one brave enough to break the curse. Lan’s initiative followed a visit in 1989 of staff from the Culture Center of Ha Tay Province’s (now merged into Hanoi) came to the commune to study hat do. As chairwoman of the commune’s Women’s Association, she was responsible for seeking potential singers to preserve the art. "I was refused by most of families I visited," Lan says. "They were afraid that their children would be punished by the curse." :::

"She then tried to awaken pride inside people, telling them that they own one of the most special folk singing genres in the nation’s history. "If adults fear the curse and stop the children from learning hat do, the art may disappear forever," she said. Her persuasion did not change people’s thoughts immediately but gradually she succeeded in breaking down preconceptions. Three elders in the commune, Dam Thi Dieu, Kieu Thi Nhuan and Ta Van Lai, who took part in the 1926 festival, were then invited to teach at a singing class. :::

"Le Thi Xuan, a 15-year-old learner, says the young people were disheartened at first as hat do was so complicated. "There are too many ligatures (symbols indicating a group of notes to be sung to one syllable) in the songs. Besides, it is hard for us to hear from the old people, who are too old to pronounce properly. "But then the oldtimers told us to record the words on paper and sing to them to check whether they were correct. When we succeeded, we became interested." :::

"In 2000, following the renovation of Khanh Xuan Temple, the group performed to fellow villagers. In 2003, what became the local hat do club was considered culturally significant and received an investment of VND10 million (US$560) from the Viet Nam Folk Literature and Arts Association. In 2005, the association and the Ford Foundation invested VND60 million ($3,363) on a project to preserve and develop hat do. The club has since invited more teachers, gathered more learners and made additional costumes in the old style. In 2005-06 more than 60 local young performers were trained. Lan herself became a teacher and recruiter of young people. She tells them: "If no one can sing hat do, we will be to blame, in front of our ancestors." The curse has gradually been forgotten. The present club is often invited to attend folk arts festivals and art programmes throughout the northern region." :::

Cai Luong, Xam Song and Ly Folk Songs

The ly song is one of the special folk songs of the Vietnamese people. It is sung in the northern, central and southern regions of Vietnam. These folk songs, however, are much more developed in the South. The various ly songs of the South contain different subject matters, as well as unique musical characteristics. The ly songs of the South depict the activities of production, emotions, and the thoughts of the people in their daily lives. Animals, plants, flowers, love, and marriage are also described in the ly folk songs. Some folk songs describe the common aspirations of the people or criticize disgraceful practices. The ly songs of the people in South Vietnam reflect the daily lives of the local residents. Although the songs have various styles, sorrow is the prominent characteristic described in the words of the songs. The songs are considered rather modest, simple, and mischievous. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The xam song is one kind of song that was created by the Vietnamese a long time ago, and which is considered a very special performance. People used to walk in a group of two to three or four to five and sing, mainly in residential areas such as a parking lot, a ferry-landing, or a market gate. The beauty of the xam song is expressed in the rhythms and tones of the music. Its attractive and lively drum rhythms and numerous rules of song application make it an interesting spectacle. The xam song tells of the fate or unhappiness of the poor. Besides theses common themes, there are funny songs with satirical implications about wrong doings, the condemnation of outdated customs, the crimes of rulers, and the deeds of heroes. These stories are well loved by many people. The instruments traditionally used for the xam song are a two-stringed violin, bamboo castanets, and two xam drums. Today, xam singers no longer exist, but their ancient art is still kept alive and respected. ~

Cai luong is a kind of folk music that developed in the early 20th century. It was first played by amateurs in the south. Thanks to their soft voices, southerners sing cai luong very romantically. The performance includes dances, songs, and music; the music originally drew its influences from southern folk music. Since then, the music of cai luong has been enriched with hundreds of new tunes. A cai luong orchestra consists mainly of guitar-like instruments with concave frets and danakim. Over time, cai luong has experienced a number of changes to become a highly appreciated type of stage performance. ~

Ethnic Folk Music in Vietnam

It is impossible to be without this kind of traditional music at a Khmer wedding reception in the South of Vietnam. Though there has been much change in the wedding customs of the Khmer, traditional wedding music has been well preserved by its people. Researchers have collected some ten ceremonial songs and folk songs which used to be sung at wedding receptions. The traditional songs sang at the wedding are expressions of the feelings and characteristics of the people's lives in the Khmer community. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Each song is equivalent to a specific rite in the wedding, such as leading the bridegroom to the bride's house, asking for the breaking of the fence to get into the house, and the beginning of the ceremony. The ceremony incorporates the rituals of the hair cut, the pounding solution for dying teeth, the cutting of betel flowers into pieces in order to scatter them on heads of the young couple, the drawing of a sword out of its sheath, the binding of thread around the wrist, the kowtowing of the sun god, the act of entering into the wedding room, the sweeping of the wedding mat, and the greeting of parents and relatives. The reception lasts until the young couple see off their wedding guests. ~

Rija is a term used by the Cham to designate numerous festivals related to agriculture and clans (for instance, Rija Prong, Rija Nagar or Rija Yaup, etc.). Rija festivals provide the perfect opportunity to focus on the traditional music of the Cham. Typical musical instruments include the baranung (one -sided drum), kinang (pair of drums), saranai (Cham oboe), and kanhi (two-stringed bow instrument with a tortoise shell resonator). In addition to ritual melodies, saranai tunes, and the over 50 kinang beats that accompany dances, participants can enjoy vai chai tunes characterised by a robust rhythm and an attractive performance. It brings an interesting contribution to the abundant treasure of labor-related songs of the Vietnamese. ~

Tay Son military music is played in military dance ceremonies and originated in Binh Dinh Province, a place famous for its practice of martial arts. According to legend, Tay Son military music was composed by three heroes who were farmers named Nguyen Hue. They aimed to use martial arts as a force of revolt. With the set of 17 drums, a player is supposed to use both his palms to hit 12 drums and his head, elbows, and heels to hit the other five. Players who could play the 17 drums effectively were deemed masters of this musical form. Later generations have learned to play this kind of music to worship the three heroes and their followers who sacrificed their lives to sweep out invaders. Tay Son Military Music consists of four items: Troop Dispatching, Military Marching, Troop Stop, and Triumphant Hymn. Tay Son Military Music has become a valued art heritage of the Vietnamese. ~

Vietnamese Jew’s Harp Music

Quynh Chau wrote in Thanh Nien: "Jew's harps have not only been known in Asia and Europe from time immemorial but also have a long tradition in North America. In Vietnam dan moi is a traditional instrument played by some ethnic groups like the H’mong and Dao living in the northern mountains. Three men from different countries share a passion for popularizing the Vietnamese jew’s harp, or dan moi, around the world. Clemens Voight of Germany, famous ethnomusicologist and musician Tran Quang Hai of France, and Hai’s student Nguyen Duc Minh have become now well-known for introducing the dan moi to international audiences. [Source: Quynh Chau, Thanh Nien, June 30, 2006 ==]

"Voight has set up a company selling jew’s harps around the world, with 60 percent of his products coming from Vietnam. The 26-year-old makes frequent excursions by motorbike to M’nong and Dap villages people in remote areas looking for dan moi with different designs. He has become a close friend to many of them, particularly artisans. Each time he returns home, he carries hundreds of dan moi in different shapes. "Many people around the world like the Vietnamese jew’s harps very much," he said. ==

Professor Tran Quang Hai, who has taught at 150 universities in 65 countries, is also a gifted performer of contemporary music and a preserver of traditional Vietnamese music. He has spent more than 40 years studying jew’s harps over the world and improved the techniques of spoon playing and of the Jew's harp. He has also traveled to many countries to perform different types of jew’s harps. Hai recently came to Vietnam to attend a seminar on the Music and Science of Dan Moi at the French Cultural Center in Hanoi on Tuesday. ==


The Vietnam National Symphony, founded in 1959, is based at the Hanoi National Conservatory of Music. Many of the classical musicians were trained in the Soviet Union and the Czech Republic. Today, lots of middle class Vietnamese spend a small fortune on private piano lessons for their children.

Mark Swed wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Vietnam is too small, still too poor and has too many of its own national musical styles to challenge China, Japan or Korea as an Asian superpower in Western music. But" Ho Chi Minh and others "instigated a deep-seated sense of musical culture that embraces East and West equally. And as Vietnam emerges on the world scene economically, it is also becoming ever more vibrant musically. [Source: Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic, December 26, 2010]

Ingo Stoevesandt wrote in his blog on the Music of Southeast Asia: "When I was in Hanoi the first time I was very surprised to hear someone practice Chopins second piano concert on a detuned piano. I soon figuered out that the old building in front of me was a local music school. But still, what I heard did not match with the world I was standing in at that moment: In a typical small dusty road some corners away from the asphalt streets, in between pigs and ducks and chicken, with tin roofed small houses and people chilling out and trying to ignore me, I still could not put in the virtuosity of Chopins drama - even more as I did not expect it to happen.[Source: Ingo Stoevesandt, Music of Southeast Asia blog /-/]

Dang Thai Son is Vietnam's most celebrated classical musician. In 1980, he was the first Asian to take first place in the prestigious International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition. He told the Yomiuri Shimbun, "Today we have in Hanoi two music schools and three symphony orchestras. The last five or six years, we also saw many important musicians, such as (Mstislav) Rostropovich, (Vladimir) Ashkenazy and the likes, coming to Vietnam." Othe r acclaimed Vietnamese musicians include Bui Cong Dy, a first rate violinist. In the early 2000s, an 8-year-old Vietnamese girl won a major international piano competition.

Madame Thai Thi Lien; Force Behind Vietnam's Classical Music Tradition

Madame Thai Thi Lien is regarded as the matriarch and grande dame of Western classical music in Vietnam.. She is the mother of the famed pianist Dang Thai Son and a founder of Vietnam’s first academy of music. Counting Ho Chi Minh among her friends, she played a an important in creating a Western classical music tradition in Vietnam and keeping it alive during Vietnam's wars with the French and Americans. In 2010 she was still playing Chopin with verve and passion at the age of 92 with under five-foot body.

Mark Swed wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Thai Thi Lien was born in Saigon when it was an exotic French colony. "My father was the first engineer in Vietnam," she said. "He studied in France, and he brought back many recordings of opera. He decided I should learn piano." She was 4, and a few intrepid French piano teachers of varying quality had made their way to Indochina. She spent her teens studying with a pupil of Chopin and grew into a fine virtuoso. But a career as a concert pianist for a young Vietnamese woman — her granddaughter describes her as having been a great beauty and a free spirit — was unthinkable at the time. Her traditional family arranged a marriage. Madame Lien's hand gesture describing her first husband is the same as the one that dismissed the photographer. Husband No. 1 wasn't in the picture for long. [Source: Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic, December 26, 2010 ^^]

"Although fighting between the French and the Vietnamese had already broken out in 1946, Lien moved to Paris to study, and there she met and married Tran Ngoc Danh, a Communist political operative who was trained in Moscow and whom some historians suspect was a KGB spy, although Madame Lien adamantly denies this. He was part of Ho's delegation that hoped to negotiate independence from the French. Ho and Tran Ngoc Danh were not successful, so the newlyweds went to Czechoslovakia where Lien enrolled in the Prague Conservatory. When she received her diploma in the early 1950s, she became the first Vietnamese woman to obtain an advanced degree in music." ^^

"Much of her time in Prague was spent apart from her husband. Tran Ngoc Danh remained politically active and controversial, working mainly in Bangkok. When Lien did finally join him, he was in the countryside of North Vietnam with Ho and the Viet Minh forces. She made the arduous journey from south China to the Vietnam jungle on foot carrying her 22-month-old daughter. She remained with the Viet Minh for two years until the French were routed in Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Her first son, Tran Thanh Binh, now one of Vietnam's most prominent architects, was born in that jungle and her husband died in it of tuberculosis. ^^

"When Ho took charge of the new country, he asked Lien to record her arrangements of Vietnamese folk songs and lullabies that she had regularly played for him and the troops. Vietnam was a country that had endured centuries of foreign occupation, and Lien's recording was embraced as a national symbol for a people reclaiming their own culture. ^^

Madame Thai Thi Lien, Vietnam’s First Music School and the Vietnam War

Mark Swed wrote in the Los Angeles Times, " Madame Lien is careful not to take full credit for founding the Vietnam's first music school in Hanoi, where she settled after Dien Bien Phu and remarried. Her responsibility was the piano department, she says. But her co-founders were all self-taught musicians, and she was the one who, having learned Czech in Prague had also picked up just enough Polish, Romanian and Russian to hire music professors from the Soviet bloc countries friendly to Vietnam. [Source: Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic, December 26, 2010 ^^]

"The school expanded haphazardly, with classes scattered in buildings throughout Hanoi. Scores were in short supply, and students had to make their copies of Beethoven sonatas by hand. But Madame Lien says that the music-loving Ho began a commitment to fully funding the school that the Communist government continues to this day. In 1965, when U.S. planes began bombing North Vietnam, the government relocated the 500 students to a neighboring village 30 miles away. The school's 60 pianos and other instruments were carried on ox carts. "We lived with the peasants, and classes were taught underground," Madame Lien said. "It was terrible." ^^

"The uneducated farmers were annoyed by the noise of unfamiliar musical instruments and were terrified that the racket would attract enemy aircraft. There was no electricity. Classes were held in bunkers dug deep in the earth. Most of the pianos, though, had to remain above ground, taking up space and making the villagers' quarters all the more cramped. Piano students took turns practicing around the clock. There was never quiet. Miraculously, no one got hurt. "You know," Madame Lien explained, "Vietnamese people are not afraid to die. Many people ask me how we won the war. I say it was because we are not afraid to die." ^^

"In the village, Lien looked after her youngest son, Dang Thai Son, who was born in Hanoi in 1958, and taught him piano when he wasn't frolicking with his peasant playmates. Her teenage daughter Tran Thu Ha (a pianist) and son Tran Thanh Binh (then a cellist) were assigned quarters apart from their mother and with the older students. Tran Thu Ha recalls learning Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata on a literally ratty piano — rats nibbled on the hammers and chewed the pedals. And she learned it in the moonlight.. "I remember," she says, "that if we wanted to listen to a recording we had to go very far to a town where there was electricity. To hear a concert in Hanoi we would ride bicycles or even walk, and it was safe to only go at night. ^^

"And when we heard announcements of enemy aircraft, we would have to make a decision whether we jump in a ditch or keep walking. There was a chance the bombs were not going to hit us, but in the ditches there were a lot of snakes. So we decided, let's keep moving. Either you die immediately or get bitten by the snakes and die slowly." Through it all, the school thrived and actually grew, thanks to the demand for musicians to entertain the troops. Many of the students played for Ho himself. ^^

Madame Thai Thi Lien and Her Children After the Vietnam War

Mark Swed wrote in the Los Angeles Times, " Tran Thu Ha and her brother were also quick to leave as soon as they could. Although the school remained in the countryside until fighting stopped in 1973, Ha enrolled in the Kiev Conservatory in Ukraine in 1969. Tran Thanh Binh followed her but by then had given up the cello and studied architecture in Kiev. [Source: Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic, December 26, 2010 ^^]

"Ha later got a doctorate in piano at the celebrated Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow and, back in Hanoi, became an instructor in the piano department of her alma mater, which had grown into the Hanoi Conservatory of Music. She worked her way up to rector in 1994, a post she held until stepping down two years ago. Under her, the school became a prominent institution, opening satellite conservatories in Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, and it is now the Vietnam National Academy of Music. The main campus in Hanoi houses 1,800 students who learn either Western classical music or traditional Vietnamese music; there isn't much crossover. ^^

"In Hanoi, Madame Lien's architect son, Tran Than Binh, who was in Los Angeles this year to visit the Walt Disney Concert Hall, has designed his country's first modern major concert hall, now under construction at the National Academy. It is scheduled to open next fall. It will be dedicated to Thai Thi Lien. Her other children no doubt will be soloists in the opening concert. By all rights, the hall should be named for her as well, but that is for the government, which is covering the cost, to decide. ^^

As for Madame Lein herself: I asked Thai Thi Lien if she would play for me. She laughed nervously and apologized that she was under the weather and hadn't practiced for three weeks. She had just returned to Hanoi for an extended visit from Montreal, where she now lives with her son, Dang Thai Son...she gamely picked up her cane and marched to the piano and began to play Chopin. Her sound is huge, soul-stopping, the kind you might expect from a burly key-crusher trained in Eastern Europe. When a local Vietnamese photographer hired by The Times clicked his camera too close to her face, she imperiously shooed him away like a mosquito. A few wrong notes couldn't prevent melodies from singing out or hinder the lustrous sheen of her tone. ^^

Dang Thai Son: Vietnam’s Virtuoso Pianist

Pianist Dang Thai Son is Vietnam’s most famous musician. Born in 1957 to a poet father and pianist mother—Madame Lien—he became the first Asian winner in the prestigious International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1980. Dang Thai Son started taking piano lessons at age 4 from his mother, who at the time was teaching at the Hanoi Conservatory. The Vietnam War caused the family extreme hardships, but, with the help of Russian pianist Izaak Katz, who recognized the young Dang's rare gift, Dang was able to go and study at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in 1977. Three years later, he won in the Chopin competition. "If people know that I come from Southeast Asia, it makes me very proud, but I don't want to make it any excuse, you see. So I try not to look at difficulties behind me and all the background that was not very easy," he told the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Mark Swed wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "While a student in Moscow, he entered the Chopin competition. His 1980 First Prize in Warsaw was at first tainted because Ivo Pogorelich was eliminated for being too flamboyant, and juror Martha Argerich walked out in protest. But Argerich has since put her support behind the Vietnamese victor. Both were jurors at the 2010 competition, when it coincided with the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth. And while Pogorelich's career has pretty much fizzled out, Dang Thai Son has become a celebrated Chopin interpreter, currently making a series of recordings on 19th century pianos like the ones Chopin would have used. [Source: Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic, December 26, 2010 ^^]

Dang was the only non-Polish pianist who was invited to play at a special concert in 1999 in Warsaw that commemorated the 150th anniversary of Chopin's death. For more than 10 years now, Dang has been living in Montreal, where his mother also lives. Yet his busy tour and teaching schedule keeps him out of the city about two-thirds of the year. "Always touring is not good because you need time to recover and make a new repertory for the next season," he said. "Usually I take two months per year to do so. For concert activities, I mainly spend time in both Canada and France. In Paris, there are more concerts, and the artistic life there is really exciting. But Canada offers me a big space and a good condition for living. When I close my door quietly and practice piano, I prefer Montreal. It's a kind of balance."

Before moving to Montreal, Dang lived in Japan from 1987 to 1991, teaching at Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo. "My life in general is very much tied with Japan." He also goes back to Vietnam every year to hold concerts and give master classes at conservatories in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. "Classical music came to Vietnam in the beginning of the 20th century, during French colonial rule. We have an opera theater from that time, and many foreign artists, mostly French, used to visit Vietnam before the war," he explained.

Dang is most famed for playing Chopin pieces. In the early 2000s he began performing concerts that included no Chopin works. "It's a kind of new decision for me, a change of my image a bit, although it's not that I won't play Chopin any more," Dang told the Yomiuri Shimbun. At a concert in Japan he opened with Litany by Toru Takemitsu."The audience of modern music is very particular. People going to normal classical music concerts find it not easy to listen to a program heavy with modern music," he said. The rest of the program is made up of piano masterpieces from the Romantic and Impressionist eras: six pieces from Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, Two Legends by Liszt and Debussy's 12 Preludes, Book II. [Source: By Yukiko Kishinami, Daily Yomiuri, October 10, 2002]

Revolutionary Music Revival in Vietnam

From Ho Chi Minh City, Associated Press reported: "The outdoor stage is alive with flashing strobe lights, gyrating dancers and racing techno music - a concert unlike anything Vietnam's beloved Ho Chi Minh ever saw in his lifetime. The music is loud and modern, but the lyrics are "red" - songs written decades ago to rev up Communist soldiers marching onto battlefields to drive out the French, then the Americans. Revolutionary classics like I Was Still Marching and Red Leaves are making a comeback with a new generation of Vietnamese youth who grew up in an era of peace, never running from a B-52 bombing raid or grieving for family lost to war. The resurgence of red music, or "nhac do," began several months ago after a compilation album of old songs performed by current pop artists sold out and the Cultural Youth House in Ho Chi Minh City began organizing monthly concerts. "In the past, when we had concerts of traditional songs, almost no young people were interested in this," said deputy director Pham Dang Khuong, who came up with the idea for the program. "When we first started, we thought no one would go to the show." [Source: Associated Press, September 7, 2003 ]

"But on the last Saturday of every month since March, thousands of young people have streamed through the gates into the open venue to watch an array of their favorite singers perform songs made popular in the 1960s and 70s. Some sit in the blazing afternoon sun hours before the evening performances just to reserve the best seats. And sometimes, when mega-stars are performing, the show sells out and scalpers hawk tickets up to 10 times the cost of the 40-cent US entrance fee. "I like these songs because they are about the country and the Vietnamese people," said Hoang Thuy, 22, at a recent concert with a friend.

"And while many of the tunes - accompanied by CDs instead of a band - could front as dance tracks in a club, there are also folk songs and slow, sad ballads of a country ripped apart by war. "I was born after the war and I think the traditional songs were not only about the war, they were about the country, its people," said Viet Quang, 25, one of Vietnam's most popular singers. "These songs are eternal." Quang, who has siblings living in California, said even those who fought alongside the Americans and fled after the war ended still enjoy some of the songs because they speak of shared pain and hardship. "Even though many of them may not like the (Communist) regime, they also see memories of their past" in the music, added Khuong, the concert director.

"Not all young concertgoers are into the old songs, coming simply to catch a glimpse of their favorite pop singers. But the revolutionary songs are growing on others in a country saturated with pop music and sentimental ballads. Some of the concert performers dance with army green hats while others, like the popular girl band May Trang (White Cloud), wear high heels, blue eye shadow and feathers. The four women belt out Spring in Ho Chi Minh City to screaming fans, some of whom hop on stage to crown them with flower leis. Two teenagers in the front row work themselves into a sweaty frenzy, shouting out the words and waving bouquets of roses in hopes of drawing their idols' attention.

"Red music" composer Huy Du, 77, says he's a little surprised by the newfound popularity for many of the songs he wrote decades ago. "I was afraid that young people would not want to listen to the old music, but contrary to my expectations ... it exists forever," he said. "We should not allow the identity of Vietnamese traditional music to fade away in the face of the inflow of foreign music." Du, who joined the army in 1945, composed hundreds of revolutionary songs. He heard his songs echo through soldiers' radios in remote battlefields. They were the melodies that carried them through the famed battle at Dien Bien Phu against the French in 1954 and onto the fall of Saigon in 1975. Du even organized concerts for Ho Chi Minh. But he said he's not sure how the former president would react to today's rock concerts. "He liked the Vietnamese folk songs very much - folks songs from different parts of the country," Du recalled.

Music Censorship and a Ban on Slang in Music in Vietnam

Under Vietnamese law, musicians have to seek permission from censors before they broadcast their work to a public audience. Observers say this encourages self-censorship and stifles dissent before it becomes public. [Source: Marianne Brown, VOA News, October 30, 2012 ==]

Popular songs beloved in the south before the war ended are not on any current hit lists - 30,000 of them remain banned by the government, which keeps tight control over all artistic material. However, 200 southern songs have been re-released and the government is accepting applications for others to be considered. "Of course, we cannot allow songs that praised the former Saigon government, but songs about the country, its people and love should be considered," said Le Nam, head of the music performances division of the Ministry of Culture and Information. [Source: Associated Press, September 7, 2003]

In 2006, AFP report: "Vietnam's Ministry of Culture and Information has asked all provinces to pay strict attention to vocabulary used in songs and to exclude slang and inappropriate wording, an official said. . The ministry sent a circular to all offices in the country to make sure young composers create better-worded songs, said Pham Dinh Thanh, director of the ministry's art performance department. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 12, 2006]

"We have asked local officials to pay greater attention to the contents of songs before they are publicly used," he told Agence France-Presse. "The censorship concerns exclusively the vocabulary," he said, adding there was "nothing political" in the move. State-controlled website VietnamNet said "the public has raised its voice about the trend of using 'garbage' words in Vietnamese songs." "Online forums to attack the creation of what could be translated as 'shockingly-worded songs' have stirred up a large discussion among the public on the issue." The ministry asked that "badly-worded" songs be changed before licenses are issued. A group of inspectors in different provinces will decide whether or not songs need rewording. Based on the decisions made by these judges, licenses will or will not be issued.

Vietnam Jails Musicians Over 'Anti-State Propaganda'

Marianne Brown of VOA News wrote: "Two prominent Vietnamese musicians have become the latest activists to be jailed for spreading songs that are critical of the Chinese government. Despite strict censorship spanning decades, composers in Vietnam have rarely been prosecuted for the content of their music. However the work of Vo Minh Tri, better known under his pen name Viet Khang, and Tran Vu Anh Binh crossed the line. At a court in Ho Chi Minh City, activists say the two became the first musicians in recent memory to be given jail terms for their music. Khang was sentenced to four years in jail and two under house arrest, while Binh was jailed for six years, also with two years house arrest. [Source: Marianne Brown, VOA News, October 30, 2012 ==]

"Phil Robertson, deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said an overseas opposition group had claimed Binh was a member. He said the group claimed Binh wrote songs supporting dissidents and supporting the anti-China protests. "We haven’t actually been able to get to the bottom of that, whether it’s true or not," he said. "Obviously when an exiled group claims someone in Vietnam is a member, there are both positive and negative sides to that. Whether that figured in the sentencing or not is unclear." ==

"In the wake of police crackdowns on anti-China protesters across Vietnam, Viet Khang wrote two songs: "Anh La Ai?," which means Who are You? and NuocToi Dau?, which translates as "Where is My Country?" When he uploaded them onto YouTube the songs went viral. In "Where is My Country"' Khang asks security forces: "Where is your nationalism? / Why consciously take orders from China? / You will leave a mark to last a thousand years / Your hands will be stained with the blood of our people." He was arrested in December and charged with conducting propaganda against the state under Article 88 of the penal code. His mother, 56-year-old Chung Thi. Thu Van, said a day before the trial she hoped the court would be lenient. ==

Although Viet Khang’s work was an Internet hit, the audience was still restricted because it did not reach mainstream broadcasters. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch says that may not matter, particularly with the government's new focus on artistic expression and state security. "I’m presuming that it’s connected to the fact these songs have gone viral and have been widely distributed on the Internet," he said. "But the other side of it with the Vietnam government being increasingly influenced and driven by the prerogatives of the Ministry of Public Security, everything’s fair game." Observers say the government is particularly sensitive to anti-China sentiment, after tensions rose between the two countries over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea earlier this year and in the summer of 2011. Many believe authorities are concerned anti-China protests could become anti-government if left unchecked. ===

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated May 2014

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