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Cheo is a dramatic genre with deep popular roots. Traditionally it was composed orally by anonymous authors. Today's playwrights compose cheo operas along traditional lines : the characters in the plays sing time-tested popular melodies with words suited to modern circumstances. At present cheo opera is an integral part of Vietnamese theatre and is well-liked by people in both country and town, and by foreign spectators as well.

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The buffoon is a familiar character in cheo opera, in which there often is a blend of the tragic and the comic. He speaks the language of the people and shoots shafts of satire at evil-doers : ignorant witch-doctors, greedy landlords, arrogant mandarins. He may wear a short coat, the garment of the commoner, or a long robe, an article of clothing favored by members of the upper classes in the old society. There may appear on stage a couple of buffoons : the master in a flowing gown and his servant in a short coat and carrying a strick, each speaking the language and behaving the ways of his class. The buffoon may also make his entry right at the beginning of a play, carrying a torch or a megaphone and provoking wild laughter among the audience.

Great actors in the roles Of buffoons are such artistes as Ly Mam, Hai Sinh, Tu Lien, Manh Tuan... A new name is Xuan Hinh, a native of a locality in Bac Ninh famous for its singers of quan ho folksongs. He graduated with honours from the Drama and Cinema School in 1989. The scenes in which he appears have drawn applause from cheo enthusiasts. His acting is both impromptu in the ways of the traditional school, and highly sophisticated along the line of modern drama. He is particularly successful in the role of Harelip, a country bumpkin, and the Soothsayer, a charlatan entangled with his own contradictory statements.

Cheo opera is now undergoing a strong revival. It is particularly relished by our foreign friends and by overseas Vietnamese on a visit to their country of origin.

Audio Samples Quan Am Thi Kinh

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Music and Song of the
Hue People

Chamber music originated from royal music, formed at beginning of the 19th century in the Nguyen Dynasty. It was well developed, however, by the time of King Tu Duc. By the end of the 19th century, it was popularized, ditties were added along with other folk songs of the Binh Tri Thien people.

With such a foundation source, the music and songs of Hue is nowadays a combination of folk and royal music.

vct_cahue1.gif (12940 bytes)In Hue music and song, the musical characteristics has developed considerably, and musicians can play all styles common to musical instruments: solo, 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. Hue music and song bears its unique feature of characterizing the lives of people living in the middle regions of Vietnam. In fact, Hue music is a combination of musical factors of various groups such as the Viet, Cham, Chinese, and others.

Audio Samples Chau Van Hue

Audio Samples Hat Van Hue

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vct_catru2.gif (7912 bytes)Young people now enjoy new music that comes to then over the radio, television or from audio and video tapes, as well as compact discs. So do they still show any attachment to 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 them with the most refined enjoyment.

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

Ca tru is where poetry and music meet. People familiar with such ancient verse as luc bat (the sixeight-syllable distich), hat doi (singing tossed back and forth between groups of young men and women) and 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 recital of ca tru.

vct_catru1.gif (11516 bytes)Many famous poets of pas centuries were great amateurs of cc tru and 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.

Ca tru music is most enjoyable .when there is complete harmony between the air being sung, the rhythm being marked by the pair of small bamboo sticks held by the singer and striking 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, on its face or sides, at the appropriate moments.

In short, ca tru is a refined form of art which paradoxically is appreciated and loved by audiences of all composition, or sitting in small numbers in an urban auditorium to enjoy a recital. For the sake of music lovers of the latter kind 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.

Audio Samples Hong Hong Tuyet Tuyet

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Quan Ho Singing

The folk-song Quan Ho, a very rich and beautiful musical storehouse of our people, has a very long lasting history. During all its existence, successive creations have unceasingly changed the type of the folk-song Quan Ho.

People of ancient times narrated as follows: Although their capital had been established in Thang Long, every year at springtime the Ly Kings always returned to their native locality, Kinh Bac, to hold joyful festivals. Each time, the fleet of dragon boats of the king entered Thien Duc river (or Duong river), the kindred and officials (Quan Vien Ho) of the Ly family, including children, the elderly, young men and young girl, all stood on the two banks of the royal canal which is reserved to welcome royal dragon boats. They sang hymns of praise, claping their hands and sang songs praising the king to the rhythm of thevct_quanho1.gif (23821 bytes) boat's oars and to the rhythm of the castanets of the Chief Rower. The king often gave a special traditional feast, granted money, silk and opened a official sanity party who recited poems and sang. Since then on, this kind of folk-songs bears the name of Quan Ho songs, or the songs of the Officials and the Kindred.

Each year, on the 13th of the 1st lunar month, on the Lim hills or in the Lim pagoda's park, among the blossoming peony bushes, the pilgrims come from every corner of the country and distinguished and smart young men and young girls of the region gather for sight seeing, contemplating blossoming flowers, encountering and making acquaintance with each other and listening together to recitals of songs, or sing Quan Ho songs.

Audio Samples Goi Do

Audio Samples Listen to some samples of Quan Ho

Study more about Quan Ho

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vct_tuong1.gif (12245 bytes) Tuong, also called hat boi in the south, is a stage performance that came about during the Ly-Tran dynasty and that became very popular nationwide during the following centuries. During the Nguyen dynasty, 19th century, tuong was occupying a good position in the cultural lives of the royals.

Tuong stage has a very concise symbolization. Only with some actors on the stage, the whole scene of the court with all the officials who are attending royal ceremonies could be seen, or two generals with some soldiers fighting also show a battle with hundreds of thousands of troops and horses fighting fiercely, and even a gourd of wine and four wooden cups also express a lowish banquet. It is a mistake to deal with Tuong without mentioning the art of making up. It is because just looking at a made-up face, we may guess the personality and social class of that character. For example, a canthsus drawn toward one's ears show that he is a great gentleman and hero. As for beards, a black, curly beard is for a fierce man, three-tuft beard for a gentleman; a dragon's beard for Kings and mandarins and for majesty; a mouse's whisker, a goat's beard and a fox's whisker for cunning and dishonest men. Beardless man must be students. 

In tuong, space and time are captured by songs, dancing, and simple music. In the past, tuong did not require any elaborate stage accessories; nowadays, backdrop and make-up in tuong performances are more elaborate and sophisticated.

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Hat van, or hat chau van, is a traditional folk art which combines trance singing and dancing, 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.

It is in essence a cantillation where the tunes and rhythm depend on the contents of the sung text and may be linked together into a suite, used in relation to a mythical happening, with hints at some features of modern life.

The art of hat van originated in the Red River delta and dates back to the 16th century, spreading later to the whole of the country. During its development course, hat van has taken in the essential beauty of folk songs from regions in the north, the centre and the south.

There are two kinds of hat van: hat tho and hat len dong

Hat tho (worship singing) is the chanting accompanying an act of worship. Hat tho is slow, grave, and dignified. Variations in the music are few and contain little contrasting pitch and stress.

Hat len Žong is the cantillation accompanying psychic dancing claiming to respond to occult powers and expressing the will and orders of some super-natural 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.

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The instrumental music accompanying hat van plays a very important role, either in emphasizing important passages or creating contrasting effects, in any event enriching the content of the chant.

The main instrument used in hat van performance is the dan nguyet or moon-shaped lute, accompanied by the striking of the phach (a piece of wood or bamboo) marking the rhythm, xeng (clappers), trong chau (drum) and chieng (gong). The 16-stringed zither (dan thap luc and flute (sao) are also used in the recitation of certain poetry and sometimes the eight-sound band (dan bat am) is also used in certain ceremonies.

Hat van has acquired over centuries both learned and folksy characteristics and has proven to be a strong attraction to musicologists at home and abroad.


Audio Samples Hat Van


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Cai Luong

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Cai Luong (Renovated Opera) appeared in the year tenth of the twentieth century. It was first officially performed abroad under the form of a modern opera in 19931 and then developed as a theater for amateurs. Cai Luong first appeared under the form of chamber music. Later on, one part of it was shifted into a kind of gesture performance (with different ways of speaking, declaiming, singing) and could be seen as a gestured form of singing. This new form was thus a renovated form of chamber music, and was called Cai Luong (Renovated Opera).

The Cai luong 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 guitars with concave frets, and danakim.

Over the years, Cai luong has experienced a number of changes to become a type of stage performance highly appreciated by the Vietnamese people as well as foreign visitors.

Two kinds of music can be found in Cai Luong

  1. Folk-singing

  2. Folk-music

According to way of doing musical research,

Two ways of performing music and song can be found in Cai Luong, depending on different methods of research:

  1. Amateur method

  2. Renovated method

Audio Samples Da Co Hoai Lang

Audio Samples Thuong Nhau Hat Ly Qua Cau

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French critic has said "Water puppetry is the soul of Vietnamese fields." How right he is! At a water-puppet show the audience lives in an atmosphere of village festival: amid the beating of drums and gongs people watch boat races, buffalo fights, fox hunts and other rustic scenes. The characters plough, plant rice seedlings, fish in a pond with a rod and line, scoop water with a bamboo basket hung from a tripod ... The show is interspersed with such items as 'Dance by the Four Mythical Animals: Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise, and Phoenix "and 'Dance by the Eight Fairies' ... in which those supernatural beings enjoy festivities alongside people of this world.

Vietnamese water-puppeteers have been touring a number of countries such as France, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, India ... with great success. The director of the World Cultural House said that Vietnamese water puppetry is never far from its roots in rural Vietnam. Vietnamese water puppeteers are masters of an unequalled means of expression. Their art has enriched the world's cultural heritage. A French magazine wrote that the puppets "are manipulated with unimaginable skill, as if by magic.'

In fact Vietnamese water puppetry has a long history. An inscription on a stone stele in Doi pagoda, Duy Tien district, Nam Ha province, relates in 4036 words a water-puppet show staged in the year 1121 to mark a birth anniversary of King Ly Nhan Tong.

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In water-puppet shows there is a very effective combination of the visual effects provided by fire, water, and the movements of the marionettes. Under the surface of the water is concealed the whole control system of the show. Calm and serene when fairy figures appear on it to sing and dance, it is agitated by stormy waves in scenes of battle with the participation of fire-spitting dragons.

In the art of water-puppetry one should note the many contributions of such handicrafts as wood sculpture and lacquer work. They all work together to bring out charming glimpses of the Vietnamese psyche as well as typical landscapes of Vietnam

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