Ca tru music sounds strange to the uninitiated. Clicks and clacks accompany the centuries old ballads. It is not the kind of music that inspires toe tapping or humming.
Originally, ca tru was also called hat a dao or hat noi (literally song of the women singers). Attractive young singers entertained men in a relaxed environment, sometimes serving drinks and snacks. Men might have visited a hat a dao inn with friends to celebrate a successful business deal or the birth of a son.
Ca tru flourished in the 15th century in northern Vietnam when it was popular with the royal palace and a favorite hobby of aristocrats and scholars. Later it was performed in communal houses, inns and private homes. These performances were mostly for men. When men entered a ca tru inn they purchased bamboo tally cards. In Chinese, tru means card. Ca means song in Vietnamese, hence the name ca tru: tally card songs. The tallies were given to the singers in appreciation for the performance. After the performance each singer received payment in proportion to the number of cards received.
Ca tru requires at least three performers. The singer is always a woman and plays the phach, an instrument made of wood or bamboo that is beaten with two wooden sticks. A musician accompanies the singer on the dan day, a long-necked lute with three silk strings and 10 frets. There is also a drummer or trong chau.
The drummer shows his approval of the singer or the songs depending on how he hits the drum. If he likes a song he might hit the side of the drum several times. If he is disappointed with the singer, he hits the drum twice. The guitar player must follow the rhythm of the phach. His instrument, the dan day, is only used in ca tru and is now made almost exclusively for sale to tourists who find the shape intriguing
Cheo is a form of popular theatre in Vietnam that has its roots in ancient village festivals.
It consists of folk songs with pantomime, intrumental music and dances, combined with instructive or interpretive sketches dealing with stories from legends, poetry, history or even daily life. Also brought into play are acrobatic scenes and magic. Cheo tells tales of chiefs, heroes and lovely maidens and offers an eclectic mix of romance, tragedy and comedy.
Traditionally Cheo 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.
The costomes, makeup, gestures and language create typical characters familiar to every member of the audience. The props are simple. As a result, there is a close interchange between the performers and the spectators.
A Cheo play could be put on stage in a large theater, but it could also be performed successfully on one or two bed mats spread in the middle of a communal house with a cast of only three: a hero, a heroine and a clown.
The sound of the Cheo drum has a magical power and upon hearing it, villagers cannot resist coming to see the play. The clown in a cheo play seems to be a supporting role, but actually he or she is very important to the performance. The clowns present a comic portrayal of social life, with ridiculous, satirical words and gestures, they reduce the audience to tears of laughter.
The national Cheo repertoire includes among others Truong Vien, Kim Nhan, Luu Binh - Duong Le, and Quan Am Thi Kinh, which are considered treasures of the traditional stage.
Cheo opera is an integral part of Vietnamese theater and is well-enjoyed by people in both country and town, and by foreign spectators as well. It is particularly relished by foreign tourists and overseas Vietnamese on a visit to their country of origin
Tuong (Hat Boi)
Tuong, also called Hat Boi in the south, is a kind of drama of the national theatre. Tuong came into being over five hundred years ago, reflecting the rich and special culture of Vietnam.
The acting seen in this theatre is a dramatic art form in which the actors make use of their technical mastery to describe the actions and states of mind of the characters. This type of acting is different from other styles which require the actors to give up their individuality to transform themselves into the characters of the play.
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.
The gestures of characters on the stage are stylized with symbolization, which attract the viewers passionately. To a western-style drama, when a general rides a horse, it must be a real one or a horse-like costume ; but, to an actor of Tuong, only a white, brown red or black whip also means many kinds of horses: black, sorrel or white. The actor of Tuong acts very concisely. Only with a whip, he is able to make the viewers passionate through delicate acting's with horses galloping or at full gallop, of which there are good-mannered or restive ones... With an oar, the actor of Tuong is able to show the viewers the boat fast sailing, wavering due to waves, making the viewers feel as through they were onthe boat.
The accompanying tomtoms in Tuong are very important, because they start the actor's sentiment; they bring the past time and space to the present; they unite the character's sentiment with the stage, and the actor with the audience. The art of Tuong in Vietnam includes those of painting, sculpture through the ways of making up, costumes and dance, pantomine, singing, saying through the actings of actors; as well as the combination of traditional musical instruments of Vietnam. The art of Tuong has raised the lofty view of desire to the true - the good - the beautiful (Chan - Thien - My) as well as the viewpoints of life of the ancients: Benevolence - Righteousness - Civility - Knowledge - Loyalty ( Nhan - Le - Nghia - Tri - Tin) through special characters who are benevolent and righteous. Tuong is one of the valuable pearls reflecting the rich and special culture of Vietnamese people
Cai Luong (renovated opera)
Cai Luong (Renovated Opera) appeared in the southern part of Vietnam in the 1920s. This relatively modern form combines drama, modeled after French comedy, and singing.
Scenes are elaborate and are changed frequently throughout the play. Cai luong is similar to the Western operettas and more easily depicts the inner feelings of the characters. Songs of the Cai luong are based on variations of a limited number, perhaps 20, of tunes with different tempos for particular emotions - this convention permits a composer to choose among 20 variations to express anger, and as many to portray joy.
The principal supporting songs in Cai Luong is the Vong Co (literally, nostalgia for the past). Cai luong owes much of its success to the sweet voices of the cast, much appreciated by the audience. Upon hearing the first bars of the well-loved Vong Co, the audience reacts with gasps of recognition and applause.
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
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.
Today, there are "Quan Ho dai", "New Quan Ho", "the renovated Quan Ho". This shows that there may be some kinds of Quan Ho that are not real Quan Ho. Thus, from what epoch has the tradition of Quan Ho dated?
One of the old polular tales narrates as follows: Once upon a time, Lung Giang village (Liem village) and Tam Son village (Tu Son), both in Bac Ninh province, were in very good relations. Every year, on the 13th of the first lunar month, Tam Son village held a singing party at the communal house and invited five or six elderly men and five or six elderly women together with a great number of young singers of Lung Giang to come to join them. At the festival came into being a form of dialogue. Alternately, each time the young man of one of the villages had sung, the girls from the other village would reply in singing. Such singing competitions lasted all night until the morning of the following day. However, it's asserted that only under the Ly dynasty (1009-1225) did the folk-song Quan Ho begin to develop strongly and become joyful festivals lasting as much as half a month.
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 the 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.
Coming Lim festival in groups of young men or women, Quan Ho singers are dressed in their best clothes, men carry with them an umbrella of black silk, women a fan under a cartwheel palm-leaf hat tucked under their arms. A female group may be the first to go up to a male group and offer betel quids, thus striking up an acquaintance. A dialogue begins in the form of songs. In any event, courliness is the rule. The men call themselves "Your younger bothers" and address the women as " Our elder sisters"; conversely, the latter call themselves "Your younger sisiters" and address the former as" Our elder brothers". Female duets keep up the conversation by exchanging songs with male duets.
For instance, if the female group sing:
"How dare we! You elder brothers are like the moon that shines in the sky, we your younger sisters, we are but tiny lamps lighting small cottages".
The men will answer unpretentiously:
"Please be the first to sing, elder sisters, we'll follow suit".
Lullaby songs are a sort of folk music often heard in Vietnam, especially in the countryside. They are used not only to lull small children to go to sleep but also to express human feelings such as homesickness, wife missing her husband...
Rarely do the songs express direct feelings towards the child the singer may hold in her arms.
o au o. The lights in Sai Gon are green and red,
The lamps in My Tho are bright and dim,
May you go home to read your books,
I shall wait nine months, I shall wait ten autumns,....
Vietnamese lullabies often consist of two or four six-to-eight meter lines. They are usually based upon a characteristic frame of melody, and use slow, free rhythms. They also contain many inseted words such as "au a", "o", "hoi"...
au o. The wooden bridge is bound with nails,
The bamboo bridge is rough and difficult to cross...
As the function of a lullaby song is to make the child slowly fall into sleep, the song is quiet, the tones stretched and melodious. Perhaps that is the reason why there is little dialogue between the mother and the child.
In the autumn wind Mum will lull you to sleep
I sit up during all the five watches of the night...
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 dong 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.
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
Hat Xam, or the song of the blind artists, has existed since the Tran dynasty (13th century).
Tran Quoc Dinh, a son of King Tran Thanh Tong was the father of the special performance. In a complex situation, his brother, in a fit of jealousy against the talents of Dinh, pierced his eyes, rendering him blind for the remaining of his life. Dinh loved singing very much, and in order to accompany his songs, he invented a simple musical instrument constituted principally of a cord made of rattan and other creepers which gave out a deep and sorrowful sound, alike to a reproach accompanying his singing voice.
The beauty of the "Xam" song is expressed in the rhythms and tones of the music. Its attractive and lively drum rhythms and numerous rules of song applications make it an interesting spectacle. The "Xam" song tells of the fate or unhappiness of the poor. Besides theses common themes, there are funny songs with satirical implications about wrong doings, the condemnation of outdated customs, the crimes of rulers, and the deeds of heroes. These stories are well loved by many people.
The instruments traditionally used for the "Xam" song are a two-stringed violin, bamboo castanets, and two "Xam" drums. People used to walk in a group of 2 to 5 and sing, mainly in residential areas such as a parking lot, a ferry-landing, or a market gate
Today, "Xam" singers no longer exist, but their ancient art is still kept alive and respected
"Hat then" are religious epics of Long Poems, performed by the highland Tay and Nung minority groups. Those songs tell the story of the path to paradise to ask the Jade Emperor to settle troubles for the head of household.
"Hat then" performances are important ceremonial events, which unite the entire community.
Long Poems consist of several chapters with different content lengths. A show usually involves two or three groups of singers, plus musicians. The epics last for hours and are devided into short and long chapters, which are often repetitive. Anyone planning to sit through a "hat then" ritual had best get comfortable; the longest epic contains 35 chapters and 4,949 lines.
In the ceremony procession, not only must the artist carry out elaborate religious rituals, but also act as a general actor singing, playing music, dancing, and making gestures to demonstrate the meaning of the sentence he is singing. Sometimes the artist also performs other activities such as chewing cups and other things.
Music is the main element that completely penetrates the performance. Sometimes the music is accompanied with song, and at other moments it serves as a background for dance or connecting parts of a song.The main musical instruments in the "Then" performance is the "Tin Tau" (a traditional stringed musical instrument resembling a guitar) and a chain of shaking instruments. Sometimes the band has a bell present.
All people in the Tay Nung community, regardless of ages, sexes, and religions are fond of "Then" songs. Some groups such as the Kinh Mooing in the same region have also been incorporating this kind of art in their spiritual lives
Xoan singing is a folk cultural product of Phú Th? province. The last point of time that Xoan accompany still sang in communal houses of the villages in spring was in 1945. Fortunately, we still had an opportunity to meet singers and instrumentalist who used to sing in the Xoan accompany in the old days when we conducted to investigate, study on Xoan singing in the late August.
It can be said that Xoan singing is still engraved in the memory of folk artists who up to now can perform it in the communal house whenever having the festival. Previously, the Xoan singing belonged to four villages, An Thái, Thét, Phù Ð?c and Kim Ðái of H?c Trì district, Phú Th? province. After the innovation, An Thái village belongs to Phu?ng Lâu, Vi?t Trì city, and Thét, Phú Ð?c and Kim Ðái villages belong to Kim Ð?c, Phù Ninh district, Phú Th? province. According to folk artists, of those four villages, the singing style of Xoan accompany of An Thái village is similar to that of Thét village and Phù Ð?c village similar to Kim Ðái. However, it is the difference of order of repertoire, words and the number of dancer, etc, that also creates the own style of each village.
In 1998, together with the establishment of the club of Xoan singing in Kim Ð?c communes and An Thái village, Phu?ng Lâu commune brought about new vitality for Xoan singing. The generation of elderly folk artists in the old days always tried their best to hand down offspring compositions in the old style of singing in the activity of Club. On the last August 18th, People’s Committee of Kim Ð?c commune opened a festival of Xoan singing competition to rise up the passion and pride of villagers to the special art of the locality. When we coming, villagers of each Xoan village were actively practicing and perfecting compositions to be able to found Xoan accompany of each village according to the policy of the Department of Culture and Information of Phú Ph? province. The concern of authority and enthusiastic contribution of the villagers are good news of art of Xoan singing in today’s life