Thi Minh Chau
our musical criticizers trained both in the West and in Vietnam have met
with difficulty in researching on traditional music. That is due to
difference between training and practicing. People studying in the West,
of course, must learn the western music tradition but why that difference
is found in people studying in Vietnam. Entering this profession, we must
study materials of the previous people to find research method in
accordance with the oriental music and critical style suitable with
When reading book as a bookworm, I in fact understand many things and
clearly identify Vietnamese musical research critique generations. If
writing my own "Guiness", I certainly mention the name of the
ethnomusicologist Tran Van Khe more than once.
Between the 1950's and the 1960's of the last century, the fame of Tran
Van Khe was known as a traditional music researcher through his studying
on Hue singing, Tai tu music, Tuong, Cheo, dao, Quan ho, Trong quan, etc.
Moreover he understands "Western study" very well with writings about
world music's tendencies. A series of chronicles about his global travels
written under the style "oversea letter" showed a respectable image of a
speaker, a traditional musical instrument performing artist, a pedagogue
and a Vietnamese traditional music propagating activist in the
He once composed as much as professional journalist did. Combination of
the scientific mind of a specialist and the dynamic of a journalist made
his writings very sharp over thirty or forty years ago and much
information are still of current events up to now.
In the early 1960's, he was of very few people who could thoroughly
analyze the strength and the weakness of the old music through objective
outlook. He emphasized that: don't only recognize the weakness and ignore
it or only know the strength and don't develop it and as consequence this
leads to standstill. He was the activist for the existence of old music
with the view not to oblige old music to follow the standard of European
traditional music, but to understand and preserve the good of the
ancestors before importing strange things from the external.
At the same time, "the journalist" Tran Van Khe considered the difference
between the oriental music and the western music, related world music's
tendency to domestic situation to warn such dangers as: either approaching
to the new ones and forgetting the good ones, which results in losing
indispensable sympathy between musicians and public, or vice-versa only
satisfying the taste of the majority who have inadequate music knowledge,
which make musical arts difficult to avoid backwardness.
Although he once declared that: "I don't like criticizing" and
"especially, criticize my friend"1, it is clear that he made great
contribution to the first step of musical critique field. It was when he
was asked to write comment on Con duong cai quan by the musician Pham Duy
and he could not refuse to write because of his respect to his friend (Ngu
y). Therefore, Tran Van Khe is now known as a profound musical analyst. He
inhesitately points out "weakness"2 in a masterpiece of an admired
musician at that time. Criticizing papers of other authors in which there
were papers of the director of Sai Gon National Conservatory at that time
(before the liberty), he was not inhesitate in reminding, sometimes "rule
on truthfulness"3 in researching and sometimes appropriate method in
Outspokenness and convincingness in criticizing must be based on the wide
knowledge. The rules in researching and criticizing of Prof. Tran Van Khe
are based on overall scholarship. If analyzing Vietnamese music is based
on the western musical theory, it means that we only analyze "the body".
Therefore, if we want to analyze "the soul", it is sure that we must
compare and consider which tune, air and factor create traditional timbre
in the work.
Therefore, it is impossible to analyze music based on only one side the
West or only the Orient!
That is what I perceive from the old writings of the old times of Prof.
Tran Van Khe.
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