TRẦN QUANG HẢI : A FEW WORDS ON MY FATHER TRẦN VĂN KHÊ, ceremony of 100 days after Prof. Trần Văn Khê ‘passing away, October 3rd 2015 in Taverny, FRANCE



Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, I would like to express my thanks to Phương Oanh, a musical companion of mine for 60 years (since the day we first met at the National Conservatory in Saigon in the mid-50s of the last century) who has kindly organized the 100th-day remembrance after the passing of my father, under the form of an ethno-musical program with the participation of many students of my father in Vietnam, France, Norway,etc.

Talking about the teaching career of my father, who had passed the musical torch to several generations at the Sorbonne University in Paris (from 1958 to 1987), at the Centre of Studies for Oriental Music (from 1959 to 1987) and at many Universities around the world, I was very fortunate to have worked closely with my father for more than 50 years, learning abundantly in the process about the history of music of Vietnam and of other Asian countries, and together we have introduced the music of Vietnam to many countries. Thousands of students have had the opportunity to learn about the music of Vietnam and the music of other countries in Asia. In addition, a great number of students and musicians in Vietnam also had many opportunities to directly or indirectly learn from my father over the past many years, especially since the day my father came back to Vietnam in 2005 until his passing on June 24, 2015 in the district of Bình Thạnh, Ho Chi Minh City.


At his death, my father has left behind a voluminous treasure of books, memoirs, research articles, etc. All of these are being carefully kept in Vietnam. The process of educating the young generations consists of two forms:

  1. Teaching and Playing Vietnamese Musical Instruments

In France, Phương Oanh and the Phượng Ca Folksong and Traditional Music, School of Vietnamese traditional music, Hồ Thụy Trang and the Tiếng Tơ Đồng ensemble, have been introducing with great success the traditional music of Vietnam thanks to several performances on stage and many classes throughout Europe teaching students how to play Vietnamese musical instruments, with branches in Norway, Canada and Australia. Nguyệt Ánh of Orsay and the FAVIC band have also contributed in the introduction of folk music of Vietnam.

In Vietnam, Mrs. Phạm Thúy Hoan and the Tiếng Hát Quê Hương group have frequently organized several musical activities and musical classes over the past several years to teach many young students how to play traditional instruments. Hải Phượng has performed in many countries, and has introduced the Vietnamese zither at many international music festivals around the globe. Mrs. Thúy Hoan and Hải Phượng have greatly helped my father over the past 10 years (2005-2015) organizing regular activities at the Trần văn Khê Centre in Saigon. Dr. Nguyễn Nhã and Hồ Nhựt Nam have also made their contributions on folk and traditional music of the southern region of Vietnam.


  1. Doing Research and Teaching Music at Schools

Bạch Yến and I have introduced Vietnamese traditional music in musical programs at many public schools, high schools and universities in Norway (Rikskonsertene), Belgium (Jeunesses Musicales Belges JMB), France (Jeunesses Musicales de France JMF), Switzerland (Jeunesses Musicales Suisses JMS) with more than 1,500 school concerts over the past 30 years. We have participated in more than 150 International Festivals on Traditional Music in 45 countries since 1978 until now. In the future, we will continue to carry on this task.

For myself, I have taken the place of my father since 2011 in international symposiums for the preparation of UNESCO files honoring the intangible cultural heritage, because my father could not move around easily during the last years of his life. I have participated in international meetings on Hát Xoan Phú Thọ in 2011, on Hát Ví Dặm Nghệ Tỉnh in 2013, on Hát Bài Chòi Nam Trung Bộ in 2015, on Hát Then Tày Nùng Thái in 2015, and will be present at the international colloquial on Hát Văn in 2016. As a board member of the International Council for Traditional Music since 2005, I have helped a number of Vietnamese researchers to become members of this organization in order for them to participate in the international conferences to present the results of their research on the world stage. In the future, I will continue to encourage the young researchers to actively participate in these international conferences to widen their fields of research and to exchange information with researchers from other countries.

Finally, I would like to thank Phương Oanh and Tùng and the Phượng Ca Folksong and Traditional Music, School of Vietnamese Traditional Music, as well as my friends Hồ Thụy Trang, Hải Phượng, Khánh Vân, Thanh Hiệp, Nguyệt Ánh, Vân Anh, Ngọc Dung, Thu Thảo and many other participants who have greatly contributed to the success of the tonight’s program.

The blog on Professor Trần Văn Khê is:



Professor Trần Văn Khê was born on 24 July 1921 at the Vĩnh Kim village, in the county of Châu Thành in the province of Mỹ Tho (currently named Tiền Giang). He was:

– Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research of the Republic of France.

– Member of the UNESCO’s International Council on Music, in which he held for 10 years the title of President of the International Selection Committee for the forum on music of Asia.

– Member of the Academy for Science, Literature and European Arts.

He was born to a family of 4 generations of musicians. Both of his paternal and maternal families had good musicians and good composers. Trần Văn Khê started to play “đàn kìm” moon shaped lute (đàn nguyệt) at 6, “đàn cò” 2 stringed fiddle (đàn nhị) at 8, and the zither and the drums at 12.

After completing the baccalaureate with excellent marks in 1941 in Saigon, Trần Văn Khê received a scholarship from the government to go to Hanoi to study medicine (1941-1944). That was the time when he and his high school friend Lưu Hữu Phước (both had attended the Trương Vĩnh Ký high school in Saigon) became soul-mates on such matters as music and the responsibilities of students toward the mother country.

From 1944 to 1949 Trần văn Khê worked as professor at private schools in Saigon and in Cần Thơ, and at the same time worked as reporter for the Thần Chung and Việt Báo newspapers.

In 1949, Trần Văn Khê went to France as a press reporter, and started multi-year academic formation, then a long career in France. He graduated from the prestigious School for Political Sciences, International Relations Branch, in Paris in 1951. Then he was grounded for 3 consecutive years in hospital because of a grave illness. After leaving the hospital, he pursued his study on musicology at the University of Paris. In June 1958, he was the first Vietnamese to obtain the Doctorate in Musicology from Sorbonne University with a highest citation together with several felicitations and praises from the board of examiners. The theme of Tran Văn Khê’s thesis was “Traditional Music of Vietnam”, in which the music of the Imperial Huế and the Amateur Music in the southern part of the country were greatly emphasized.

After obtaining his Doctorate in Musicology, Trần Văn Khê started his university teaching career in France and in more than 20 countries around the world, and at the same time, continuously provided great contributions through his research on traditional music, as follows:

  • He founded the Centre of Studies for Oriental Music in Paris, specializing in teaching traditional music of Asia through singing and playing the instruments (in 1959). At this Centre, Trần Văn Khê assumed the position of Director of Arts specializing in teaching the playing of instruments (zither, kim, cò) and the singing on an amateur basis, with the cooperation of his two children Trần Quang Hải and Trần Thị Thủy Ngọc. Over a period of 30 years, this Centre has educated more than 150 students from France and from other countries where Vietnamese amateur music is known and appreciated.
  • He worked at the National Centre for Scientific Research in France starting as a research officer and climbing the rank to become a Director of Research, specializing in Vietnamese musicology, in particular Amateur Playing and Singing and other Metaboles. He also compared the Vietnamese Amateur Playing and Singing with the chamber music of other countries in Asia such as China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, India, Indonesia, Malaya, Burma, Thailand, Kampuchia, Laos and Philippines.
  • Thanks to an international assistance, he had for the the first time, cut a disk on music of the Imperial Huế and a disk on amateur music of Southern Vietnam, in which there were songs of Tứ Đại Oán and Vọng Cổ.
  • As an international musicology researcher, Trần Văn Khê had been invited to teach musicology at the Faculty specializing in folk music of the Sorbonne University in Paris and at many other universities around the world. In the years of 1968-1972, he focussed his research on theatrical plays in Asia such as Chinese opera; Nôh and Kabuki in Japan; Pansori in Korea; Hát Chèo, Hát Bội and Hát Cải Lương in Vietnam.
  • He has published more than 200 articles on Vietnamese music and Asian music in many musicology magazines around the world. Specially, the papers he wrote for the “Courrier de l’Unesco” have been translated into 14 different languages.
  • He has completed twenty five 23-LP disks and CDs on music in Vietnam and in a few Asian countries to be distributed around the world.
  • He was Special Advisor to a Unesco’s Committee for the establishing of the files on international Amateur Singing and Playing (he has made recommendations to accurately fix the errors in several Amateur Singing and Playing films, and provided to the Committee several disks issued by Unesco in which there are several items on Amateur Singing and Playing).

Since 2006, Professor Trần Văn Khê had permanently returned to his native land. The authorities of Ho Chi Minh City had arranged for his disposition a property located at 23 Huỳnh Đình Hai Street in the district of Bình Thạnh for him to live and work during the last years of his life. At this location, he had used many of his own valuable researches in the form of books, notes and disks to work with officials specializing in cultural affairs of Ho Chi Minh City and many closed collaborators in the effort to build a Trần Văn Khê Library which will support future research requirements on folk music. Also at this location, together with his closed partners, he had organized hundreds of seminars, mini shows, information exchanges with the general public, especially with the young generation, to cover such subjects as Vietnamese folk music with special features of various regions of the country. He had also greeted at this location many political, cultural and diplomatic officials of Vietnam and of foreign countries.


Professor Trần Văn Khê had received numerous titles and rewards from Vietnam and from other countries for his skills and his valuable contributions to folk music on the international scale, as follows:

Before 1975:

  • Purple Medal Class 1
  • Cultural Purple Medal Class 1

After 1975:

  • UNESCO – CIM Prize on Music (1981)
  • Art and Literature Medal from the Ministry of Culture of France (1991)
  • Member of the European Academy of Science, Literature and Arts (1993)
  • Koizumi Fumio Prize on International Music, Japan (1994)
  • Medal of Palm Knight Academy, Ministry of Education, France (1999)
  • Medal of First Class Labor, Vietnam (1999)
  • Prize on Honoring Vietnam (2003)
  • Đào Tấn Prize (2005)
  • International Prize of San Francisco for “lifelong contribution to the research on Vietnamese traditional music” 2013
  • Phan Châu Trinh Prize on Culture (2013)
  • Armorial of Ho Chi Minh City (2013)

Many thanks to anh Nghiêm Phú Phúc for the translation



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