THE VIETNAM TRADITIONAL MUSICAL HISTORY
The Vietnamese music has had a rather long history. Since ancient times, the Vietnamese have had a strong inclination for music. The music for the Vietnamese people is considered to be an essential need; therefore, numerous musical instruments and genres intended for various purposes have been developed. Vietnamese people use music to express their innermost feelings, to encourage themselves while working and fighting, to educate their children in good traditions and national sentiment, to communicate with the invisible, and to sublimate their aspirations for a happy life.
The simple and primitive instruments, as well as the more sophisticated ones, have been preserved to form a rich musical treasure. Numerous forms of songs and music have also been created and retained. They include lullabies, childrenâ€™s songs, ritual songs, festivity songs, various work songs, courtship songs, riddle songs, melodies, and poem narration. There are also songs and music for groups, as well as for traditional theatre.
The Vietnamese traditional music is diverse due to the various genres that took shape during different periods of history. Songs of the same genre often differ very much in melody and expression from ethnicity to ethnicity. As a result, lullabies, for example, of the Kinh differ from those of the Muong.
The traditional music has played an important role in the lives of the Vietnamese. Currently, music still occupies a considerable position in the spiritual lives of the Vietnamese. Some genres of music still exist in rural areas, while others were brought to the stage to meet the demands of the population.
THE NHA NHAC VIETNAMESE COURT MUSIC
The principles of the Vietnamese royal music 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). The Nha nhac is genre of scholarly music. It attracted the participation of many talented songwriters and musicians, with numerous traditional musical instruments. The nha nhac will have opportunities to preserve from now on, develop and popularize to the public, inside and outside the country.
THE CA TRU
The ca tru is fortunately being restored and is more liked by the younger generation. The 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,… The 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.
The 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. At this time, 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.
The 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.
Finally , the 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.
THE QUAN HO
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. The 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 HAT VAN
The 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 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.
The 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.
The 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 â€œaquatic 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 colours have remained unchanged.
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.
The hat van requires both a learned and a folksy character, and it has attracted musicologists at home and abroad.
THE 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. The 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.
The 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. Most of Tay, Nung people, 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.
THE HUE MUSIC AND SONG
The 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. This music was popularized by the end of the 19th century, and ditties were added along with other 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. The musical characteristics of Hue music and song have developed considerably, and musicians can play all the styles common to musical instruments, including solos, duets, trios, etc. Apart from that, there is also a pair of « Senh » and sometimes there is flute accompaniment. In the latter half of the 20th century, Hue music was professionally performed in public spaces to make a landmark out of a new traditional style of Vietnamese performance art.
The Hue music and songs bear a unique feature of characterizing the lives of people living in the central regions of Vietnam. In fact, Hue music is a combination of musical factors from various groups such as the Viet, Cham, Chinese, and others.
THE LY FOLK SONG
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.
THE TRADITIONAL MUSIC OF THE KHMER
This traditional music is held at any Khmer wedding reception in the South of Vietnam. There has been much change in the wedding customs of the Khmer, traditional wedding music has been well preserved by its people. The 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. 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.
THE RIJA FESTIVAL MUSIC
The 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 labour-related songs of the Vietnamese.
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