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music of Vietnam
Traditional Vietnamese music is highly diverse and syncretist,
combining native and foreign influences. Throughout the country's history the
largest foreign influence on traditional music was from the music
of China, but later on there was a smaller influence from the music of Champa,
which the Vietnamese court found intriguing. Some claim that classical
Vietnamese music more closely resembles that of Mongolia and Japan.
Imperial court music
nhạc is the most popular form of Imperial Court music, specifically
referring to the court music played from the Tran
Dynasty to the very last Nguyen
Dynasty of Vietnam, being synthesized and most highly developed by the
Nguyen emperors. Based on earlier Vietnamese imperial court music, which has
primary influence from Ming
dynasty's imperial court and later the music of Champa. Along with Nhã
nhạc, the Imperial Court of Vietnam in the 19th
century also had many royal
dances which still exist until nowadays. The theme of most of these dances
is to wish the kings longevity and the country wealth.
Vietnamese folk music is extremely diverse and includes quan
chầu văn, ca
trù, and hò, among other forms.
họ (alternate singing) is popular in Hà
Bắc (divided into nowadays Bắc
Ninh and Bắc
Giang Provinces) and across Vietnam; numerous variations exist, especially
in the northern provinces. Sung acappella, quan họ is improvised
and is used in courtship rituals.
Hát chầu văn
chầu văn or hát văn is a spiritual form of music
used to invoke spirits during ceremonies. It is highly rhythmic and
trance-oriented. Before 1986,
the Vietnamese government repressed hát chầu văn and other forms of
religious expression. It has since been revived by musicians like Phạm
Nhạc dân tộc cải biên
dân tộc cải biên is a modern form of Vietnamese folk
music which arose in the 1950s
after the founding of the Hanoi
Conservatoire of Music in 1956.
This development involved writing traditional music using Western musical
notation, while Western elements of harmony
were added. Nhạc tộc cải biên is often criticized by purists
for its watered-down approach to traditional sounds.
(also hát ả đào) is a popular folk music which is said to
have begun with Ả
Đào, a female singer who charmed the enemy with her voice. Most
singers remain female, and the genre has been revived since the Communist
government loosened its repression in the 1980s, when it was associated with
Ca trù, which itself has many forms, is thought to have originated in the
imperial palace, eventually moving into performances at communal houses for
predominantly scholars and other members of the elite (this is the type of Ca trù
most widely known). It can be referred to as a geisha-type
of entertainment where women trained in music and poetry entertained rich and
"Hò" can be thought of as the southern style of Quan họ. It
is improvisional and is typically sung as dialogues between a guy and girl.
Common themes include love, courtship, the countryside, etc.
Tân nhạc, literally means modern music, was developed in the 1930s
with Western instruments and theories in contrast to the traditional style.
Nguyen Xuan Khoat is credited to be the founder. Several famous tân nhạc
songwriters include Diệp
Minh Tuyền, Thanh
Tùng and, most especially, Pham Duy, Trịnh
Công Sơn and Văn Cao.
Pham Duy divides his career into several periods:
- Folk Songs (Dân Ca), which recorded the images of the Vietnamese during
the struggle for independence, culminating in his Song Cycles (Truong Ca),
which join several folk tunes to proclaim the greatness of the Vietnamese
- Heart' Songs (Tâm Ca) - which aimed to awake humanity's conscience, to
protest against violence and inhumanity.
- Spiritual Songs (Đạo Ca), with a Zen character, which aimed to
seek for the truth.
- Profane Songs (Tục Ca), which tackled head-on hypocritical attitudes
and phony virtues.
- Children's Song (Bé Ca), Young Women's Songs (Nữ Ca) and Peace
Songs (Bình Ca), which were songs of joy.
- Resistance Songs and for the motherland
- Refugees Songs and for life in exile\.
In addition, his many love songs have been sung and learned by heart by three
generations over the last 40 years.
After the fall
of Saigon, Pham Duy and his family moved to the United States where he
settled in Midway
City, California. His music was banned in in unified Vietnam between 1975
and 2005. He continues a minstrel's life and appears regularly all over the
world to sing his new refugees' songs (tị nạn ca), prisoner's songs
(ngục ca) and hoang cam songs.
In 2005, he and his son, the singer Duy Quang, returned to Vietnam to live.
To date, dozens of his songs have been allowed to circulate in Vietnam again.
Trinh Cong Son wrote over 600 songs, and, during the
and 1970s, Joan
Baez dubbed him the Bob
Dylan of Vietnam for his moving antiwar songs. He became one of South
after his first hit, Ướt mi (Tearing 'Lashes) in 1957.
He was frequently under pressure from the government,
which was displeased with the pacifist's
lyrics of such songs as Ngủ đi con (Lullaby, about a
mother grieving for her soldier son). His songs were restricted by the South
Vietnamese government. After the reunification in 1975, Son was sentenced by the
new communist government, to "retraining" in a labour
camp after his family fled to Canada.
However, he was eventually honoured by the government and many officials sent
their respects with floral tributes. His often melancholy songs about love and
postwar reconciliation earned new acceptance and popularity in later years.
There are two singers' names often associated with Trinh Cong Son. One is Khanh
Ly. The other one is Hong
Khanh Ly, with her unique vocals, helped popularize Trinh Cong Son music in
the early years. They often performed together in South Vietnam University
Campuses. The voice and the music seemed to be inseparatable.
Later on in his life, Hong Nhung, many years his junior, replaced Khanh Ly's
place until his death.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered at his funeral in Ho Chi Minh city,
for a spontaneous ad
hoc funeral concert, making such a spectacle the largest in Vietnamese
history, next to the funeral procession of Ho
Chi Minh. His music remains very popular among Vietnamese, old and young.
Văn Cao (November
15, 1923 – July
10, 1995) was a
noted Vietnamese composer
whose works include Tiến
Quân Ca, which became the of the Democratic
Republic of Vietnam and its successor, the Socialist
Republic of Vietnam. He, along with Pham
Duy and Trinh
Cong Son, is widely considered one of the three most salient figures of
modern Vietnamese music. He was also a poet and a painter.
Since 1956, after the scandal Nhân
Văn - Giai Phẩm - a movement for political and cultural freedom,
he had to stop composing. All his songs, except Tiến Quân Ca, were
prohibited in Nord Vienam. In 1987, his songs were authorized in Vietnam.
He was born Nguyễn Văn Cao in Haiphong
and grew up in Nam
Dinh Province. He died in Hanoi.
Traditional musical instruments
bầu (monochord zither)
The đàn bầu is a Vietnamese
Its origin goes back to the 7th century. This instrument is played by plucking the string
while touching it lightly with the side of the hand at specific points,
At the same time, the left hand manipulates a thin, flexible rod made of water
buffalo horn, which varies the string's tension. This allows for the
production of tones between the harmonics, as well as a wide variety of vibrato
The instrument was originally amplified with a dried gourd
(bầu meaning "gourd" and đàn meaning
"string instrument"), though today only a small piece of wood in the
shape of a gourd placed over the flexible rod remains. Although it was said that
"the music of the đàn bầu should be solely for the
pleasure of its player," in recent years the instrument has also been
played in orchestra concerts. Originally, the instrument had a very quiet sound,
but since the late 20th century nearly all players use electric pickups and
amplifiers to make its sound audible to wider audiences.
A nearly identical instrument called duxianqin
(likely derived from the đàn bầu) is used in China.
Đàn bầu, a musical
instrument that touches the heart
music of the Dan Bau should be solely for the pleasure of its player.
Don't listen to it if you are a young woman."
This warning, probably coming from vigilant parents
wishing to protect their daughters from the emotional appeal of love songs
played on this instrument; this gives an idea of the power and charm of its
If one sound had to be chosen to evoke Vietnam, for many it would be the sound
of the Dan Bau as it is one of only two traditional musical instruments of
purely vietnamese origin. The word "bau" means gourd and
refers to the dried gourd fastened to the handle, surrounding the string at the
point where it connects to the handle. In the past this gourd may have served as
a resonator, but today it survives as a decorative feature. Nowadays the Dan Bau
is constructed using hardwood for a frame and softwood for the surface.
According to the "Dai Nam thuc luc tien bien" the first dan bau was
made in 1770. At its first appearance it was a very simple instrument comprised
of a bamboo section, a flexible rod, a calabash or half a coconut. After a
process of evolution and improvement, the present form of the Dan Bau is a bit
more sophisticated, yet still quite simple.
Bau in general consists of 4 components including soundboard (resonator), spout,
gourd, string and tuning peg.
The spout is a piece of bamboo or a buffalo horn that is square-framed at the
root, while flat and gradually bent at the top. The spout plays an important
role in producing sounds of different pitches beyond fundamental overtones of
The string runs along the body of instrument. The past silk-made string is now
replaced with iron one.
The gourd is made up from a half of a slender-necked gourd. The gourd covers the
spout at the very point where the string is hung. The gourd contributes to
increase the loudness of sound for the instrument. Nowadays, gourd is usually
made from wood and therefore only served as an adornment.
The tuning peg is made from bamboo (if bamboo Bau), or from wood (if wooden Bau).
The tuning peg is located at the inside frame towards the bottom of the
soundboard. The string goes through a small hole at the end of the instrument's
surface and then gets through the tuning peg. In front of such a hole is a
bridge to support the string.
The pluck is a pointed stick of bamboo or rattan.
Dan Bau is usually tuned to the note C. It uses harmonies (or overtones). When
playing the musician plucks the string while touching it lightly with the side
of his hand at a point producing a harmony. But because the flexible rod causes
the tension of the string to vary, the pitch may be made to rise or fall, the
note may be lengthened or shortened, and trills may be played. The technique
involving the fingers of the left hand includes vibrating, pressing, alternate
pressing and releasing. The Dan Bau may be played on a scale consisting of
third-tones or even quarter-tones.
The instrument is played solo or to accompany a poetry recital. During recent
years, it has taken a role in orchestral accompaniment to cheo and cai luong
The notes played by the Dan Bau are smooth, sweet, and captivating. In recent
years success has been achieved in amplifying the sound, causing an increase in
volume and distance the that the sound carries, while still preserving the
quality of the sound.
With soft sounds, Bau is suitably used in serene context. In the past, Bau is
the instrument of itinerant singers of Xam genre. Later, Bau also participates
in orchestra of Cheo genre, Tai tu style's orchestra, in orchestra serving for
declamation, in smaller ensemble or solo performance. There have been many
musical pieces exclusively composed for Bau solo, such as Vu Khuc Tay Nguyen
(Dance of the Central Highland) by Duc Nhuan, Dong kenh trong (The clear
channel) by Hoang Dam, Vi Mien Nam (for the South) by Huy Thuc, and so on.
Among many kinds of monochord of countries all over the world, there are Tuntina
of India, Cung of East Africa, Tushuenkin of China. However, none of them can
produce such a popular and highly artistic system of overtones as that of Bau of
Vietnam. The Dan Bau has been performed on major stages in foreign countries.
gáo (2-stringed fiddle with coconut body)
The đàn gáo is a Vietnamese bowed string
instrument with two strings. Its body is made from half of a coconut
shell covered with wood, with a small seashell used as bridge.
The đàn gáo is closely related to a similar Chinese instrument,
and was likely introduced to Vietnam by Chaozhou
nguyệt (2-stringed fretted moon lute)
The đàn nguyệt
(also called nguyệt
cầm, đàn kìm, moon lute, or moon
guitar) is a two-stringed Vietnamese traditional musical instrument. It is
used in both folk and classical music, and remains popular throughout Vietnam
(although during the 20th century many Vietnamese musicians increasingly
gravitated toward the acoustic and electric guitar).
The đàn nguyệt's strings, formerly made of twisted silk,
are today generally made of nylon
line. They are kept at a fairly low tension in comparison to the guitar and
other European plucked instruments. This, and the instrument's raised frets,
allow for the bending tones which are so important to the proper interpretation
of Vietnamese traditional music. Such bending tones are produced by pressing the
string toward the neck rather than bending to the side. The strings are
generally plucked with a small plectrum; often a plastic guitar
pick is used.
The instrument's standard Vietnamese name, đàn nguyệt,
literally means "moon string instrument" (đàn is the
generic term for "string instrument" and nguyệt means
"moon"). Its alternate name, nguyệt cầm, also means
"moon string instrument" (cầm meaning "string
instrument" in Sino-Vietnamese,
coming from the Chinese word qín).
nhị (2-stringed fiddle with hardwood body)
The đàn nhị (also called đàn cò)
is a Vietnamese bowed string
instrument with two strings. Its sound box is generally covered on one end
It is related to the huqin
family of instruments of China.
sến (two-string fretted lute)
The đàn sến is a Vietnamese plucked string
instrument with two strings and a slender neck with raised frets. It is derived
from the Chinese qinqin
and is used primarily in the traditional music of southern Vietnam.
tam (fretless lute with snakeskin-covered body and three strings)
tam thập lục (hammered dulcimer)
The đàn tam thập lục (also called simply tam
thập lục, literally "36" in Vietnamese)
is a Vietnamese hammered
dulcimer with 36 metal strings. It is used in various genres of traditional
music and drama, as well as in modernized traditional music.
||This is a beating chordophone of Viet minority. Because the instrument has 36
strings, its name as Tam Thap Luc or thirty-six strings was made. Tam Thap Luc
has shape of an equal trapezium, with the surface convex in the middle and made
from light, soft and undecorated wood. String holders and frame are made from
hard wood. On the surface, the two rows of bridges are alternately arranged
consequently making 18 bridges for each row. At the left string holders, there
are 36 hooks for string hanging, while at the right string holders, 36 tuning
pegs are located. Strings are made from metal. Mallets consist of 2 thin and
flexible bamboo slabs with their ends covered with felt for soft sounds.
The Tam Thap Luc plays an important role in the band accompanying cheo and cai
luong operas. It can also be played to accompany instrument solos, singing, or
as part of an orchestra. Recently, more strings have been added so that all
semi-tones can be played.
Tam Thap Luc gives sounds with pure, melodious and bustling timbres. Register of
Tam Thap Luc is quite large with over 2 octaves tuned according to whole-tone
scale. Lower register gives warm and sonorous sounds. Middle register gives full
and pure sounds. Upper register gives sharp and neat sounds. When playing,
instrumentalist beats on the surface of Tam Thap Luc with two mallets and takes
advantages of techniques such as vibration, tremolo, stopping, sliding, making
chords, and others. The tones are bright and merry and the notes of an arpeggio
can be played in swift succession or simultaneously.
Tam Thap Luc plays an important role in stage orchestras including Cheo popular
opera and Cai luong renovated theatre. Tam Thap Luc can be played solo or to
accompany singing, or in ensemble in the integrated orchestra of traditional
tranh (long zither)
The đàn tranh (檀箏) is a plucked zither
It has a wooden body and steel strings, each of which is supported by a bridge
in the shape of an inverted "V."
The dan tranh can be used either as a solo instrument, or as one of
many to accompany singer/s. The dan tranh originally had 16 strings but it was
renovated by Master Nguyen Vinh Bao of
South Vietnam in the mid 1950s. Since then, the 17-stringed dan tranh has
gained massive popularity and become the most preferred form of the instrument
used throughout Vietnam.
The dan tranh is derived from the Chinese guzheng,
and is also related to the Japanese koto
and the Korean kayagum.
The đàn tỳ bà
The đàn tỳ bà is a Vietnamese
traditional plucked string
instrument. It is made of wood, with a distinctive pear shape and four
strings made of nylon
(formerly twisted silk).
The instrument is held in a near-vertical position when playing and its playing
technique involves frequent bending of the tones with the fingers of the left
hand. It was associated with the royal court and is still used in the ensemble
that performs at the Imperial Palace at Huế.
The instrument's name is a Vietnamization of the name of the Chinese
pear-shaped lute, called pipa,
from which the đàn tỳ bà is derived. "Đàn"
is the Vietnamese prefix meaning "string," which is part of the name
of most traditional stringed instruments of the Viet
The kèn bầu is a double
reed wind instrument used in the traditional music of Vietnam.
It is similar in construction and sound to the Chinese suona
and the Korean taepyeongso.
It comes in various sizes and is a primary instrument of the music of the former
court music of Huế.
Music Production in US
|Thúy Nga is one of the most respected, and most
popular Vietnamese music companies in the world. It is the parent company
of their hit-famous musical program, Paris
by Night, named after the location of their headquarters and founding
by Night, is a program full of music, of all genres, skits, folks, and
among many others. Its Masters of Ceremonies are Nguyen
Ngoc Ngan and Nguyen
Cao Ky Duyen.
over 25 years, Asia Entertainment, Inc., an internationally acclaimed, the
oldest and most established of the Overseas Vietnamese musical production
company, has provided valued entertainment to the homes of millions of
Vietnamese around the world.
Ngoài con đường đi thích hợp, kỹ
thuật, sáng tạo tân kỳ của nhóm Vân Sơn
Productions, nếu không có những nghệ sĩ tài hoa
ăn khách góp phần thì có lẽ, đây cũng
chỉ là một cây to trong vườn bách thảo, chính
những nghệ sĩ mà Vân Sơn đã nhìn ra, đã
khai phá mới là những bông hoa cành lá cho trung tâm này
tỏa thành những bóng mát đậm đà nghệ