Music of Vietnam
by Nguyen Vinh Bao , master of dàn tranh zither
Vietnam has many kinds of music, and many varieties of each musical form. The
North, the Center, and the South have their own kinds of ritual music, folk music,
entertainment music, and ceremonial music, and the ethnic minorities provide even
more varety with their own ceremonies, dances and songs. Court music has eight
subdivisions, ceremonial and religious music (religions include Buddhism,
Confucianism, Christianity and Cao-Đai). Music for Diversion Southern Tradition
(Đờn ca Tài Tử Nam Bộ). Although comparable to Western chamber music, the
music of the amateurs (Đờn ca Tài Tử) is a type of a stricly private nature to be
heard by a small audience, peformed by some professional and unskilled musicians
and singers for their own enjoyment with a repertoire which includes mainly songs
accompanied by one, two, three or four instruments such as the moon shaped-lute
(đàn Kìm or đàn Nguyêt), the sixteen srtinged-Zither (đàn Tranh), the 2 stringed fiddle (đàn Cò), the monochord (đàn độc huyền hay đàn Bầu). .
A safe generalization is that the tradition has played a strong role in music. From
antiquity one finds certain rules and laws concerning the noble arts of Music,
Chess, Poetry and Painting (Cầm, Kỳ, Thi, Hoạ). There were six cases in which
one should abstrain from performing any music: great cold, great heat, violent
wind, heavy rains, great thunder, heavy snow. Stringed instruments were not to be
played in th following instances: receipt of news of mourning; while the loud noises
of drum and bell resound; during business difficulties; when one is unclean; when
one is incorrectly dressed; in the absence of someone who knows music (tri âm).
Vietnamese music is built on melodic constructions and single note colorations.
Dense in ideas, it presents a real opportunity for interpretation. Thus, the
Vietnamese musician embellishes his sound such as vibrato (rung), tapping (mổ),
bending (nhấn), appogiature (láy). The ornamentation is the predominant feature of
Vietnamese music. The tension of each string can be greatly increased by
downward finger pressure. The beauty of the music lies not so much in the
succession of notes as in each separate note in itself. Each note is an entity in
itself, Each embellished note gets on an emotional feeling for which there exist no
adequate word in any language.
Similar to Jazz music, in order to bring new vitality to the melody, the performer
remains free to introduce different types of variations on it according to his
inspiraton at the moment. Thus, each performance of a known piece so carried out
takes on a different aspect.
(Người nhạc sỉ Việt nam không chì là người diển tấu dơn thuần, mà là còn la người
ứng tác ứng ngay khi đàn, theo tâm tư tình cảm lúc đàn, thêm thất hoá lá vẻ vời để
bản mình đàn mang một sức sống mới).
In a recital, very often, Vietnamese listeners are not listening to a composition, but
to the rendering of music by such or such musician.