Musician keeps traditional instruments alive

Remembering the past: Artist Hai Phuong presents a piece of traditional music on dan tranh instrument at the Tieng Hat Que Huong Club. - VNS Photo Duc Ngoc


HCM CITY - Despite the fears of many traditionalists that new generations will forget to honor the past, pockets of purists still practice a labor of love to ensure history lives and breathes.

In HCM City, Vietnamese traditions are renewed every day at the Tieng Hat Que Huong, which means the Motherland's Singing Voice Club.

The club's chairwoman, Pham Thuy Hoan, 60, has devoted years to the continued appreciation of traditional music in her homeland. Not only does she pour herself into directing the nightly club performances, but she also teaches music part-time at the conservatory and writes reference books on the subject. And beyond the symbolism of her actions, she has also given back to her field: both of her daughters work in the music club along with her, sharing her belief in the power of traditions.

"When studying traditional music, I realize that it is not only very interesting but also a holy treasure handed down by ancestors," she says. "If I do not take it and pass down to the next generations, I feel guilty."

Since 1981 Hoan has assembled fellow music enthusiasts and has garnered financial support from the city's Culture-Labor Palace for the performances that occur once every three months. Hoan describes what has happened over the last 21 years as a deep water source splashing to the surface. The club has managed to attract over 100 members who bring traditions to life through song and dance.

The performances combine many elements on the stage. The main instrument featured amid the orchestra full of traditional strings and percussions is the dan tranh, a 16-string instrument, that sounds like high pitched flowing water, among other sounds. The singers dress in the traditional silk ao dai. Movement on the stage is subtle, between the fast finger plucking of the strings, and the small arm movements of the dancers.

Before the creation of a handful of private music clubs around HCM City, most of these productions were put on for tourists in certain restaurants and hotels. But with the establishment of the home-grown Tieng Hat Que Huong, Hoan has helped restore native interest in the music, with the productions put on for Vietnamese by Vietnamese.

She cites other local attempts to revive the classical art in music festivals held by Viet Nam Television and HCM City Radio. But she also still sees the virtue in displaying this traditional music for foreigners.

"Performances at restaurants have their own positive effect on offering artists regular income to nurture their passion and at the same time help introduce traditional music to tourists," says Hoan.

Hoan's work is not over at the club and with her lessons. She also lobbies to add extra-curricular lessons on folk songs and traditional music to school curricula, despite the organizational issues that this may cause.

"Introducing traditional folk music in the school curriculum is necessary," she said. "But the number of relevant teachers is too small and they act quite spontaneously." -


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