Music of Vietnam:
What the Voice of the People Sings to the World
ASEAN-Korea Centre Reporter, Sanghun Lee
In the previous two articles, we saw the representative music of Southeast Asia, including the gong chime orchestra. Some of you may be wondering, why so little about the music of Vietnam, though? True, in the last two articles, Vietnamese music was hardly mentioned. This is because Vietnamese music wears a different color from the music of its surrounding countries that revolve around gong chimes. All the better, for this uniqueness makes music of Vietnam a truly enriching experience.
(1) Music of Vietnam
Vietnamese music is widely known for its diversity. Geographically a contact point of Southeast and East Asia, Vietnam assimilated various cultures to form a music of diverse origin but distinctively Vietnamese character. Especially, the streak of Chinese music in Vietnamese music makes it a unique treasure in the music of Southeast Asia.
Ironically, behind the special character of Vietnamese music lies a woeful history. Before the invasion of East Han of China, music flourished with its native instruments and tones in Vietnam. The invasion of Emperor Guangwu(25-57 AD), however, brought ruinous destruction of native culture, and a forced assimilation of Chinese culture. Even after this, the constant attacks by surrounding nations tormented Vietnam, and, from the unflinching resistance of the Vietnamese people, rose a unique melancholy tone that characterizes the music of Vietnam.
Vietnamese music is rich both in its court and folk music. Court music of Vietnam focuses on such Confucian sounds as nha nhac(雅樂, righteous music). There are also various royal dances that still survive to this day. Folk music, on the other hand, is different from region to region, encompassing genres from theater, dance, acappella, chanting, and plain singing. Some forms of folk music are presented below.
(↑ Nha nhac, representative Vietnamese court music)
Xam or Hat xam is singing in accompany of one or two instruments. In the dynastic time, blind perfomers played xam to earn living, but it is endangered nowadays.
(↑ Xam, a type of Vietnamese folk music)
ㅁ Trong quan
Trong quan is an interesting song between a man and a woman that is still sung in festivals. A couple plays a crude percussion while giving questions and answers in a poetic way, and if one cannot give his answer right away, he must pay by doing what the other orders him.
The variety in Vietnamese music has allowed people of other cultures to be fascinated with the music. One such example is Korea, which shares similar history and music with Vietnam.
(2) Voices of Vietnam and Korea
As Vietnamese music shows traits of Chinese music, it is similar to music in such sino-influenced cultures as Korea. As Korea shares a similarly troubled history of invasions and resistance, the characteristic mood of the Korean folk voice is also sorrow. Korea also shares the pride in realizing the dream of a Confucian nation, hence sharing similar court music as well. These similarities have created a special bond between Vietnamese and Korean music.
For instance, scholars of music from Vietnam and Korea share a history of cooperation. As Korea’s counterpart of nha nhac, aak(아악), is also the defining music of Korean court music, scholars have been exchanging information to uncover the ancient form their musics. For example, bianzhong and bianqing, percussion instruments used in the Korean aak, is no longer used in the Vietnamese nha nhac, and Vietnamese scholars are working with Korean scholars to find out the Vietnamese form of these instruments.
Furthermore, cultural exchange performances are frequent between Vietnam and Korea. The governments of both countries are supporting these performances, and, consequently, many people have come to enjoy the music of the other. The establishment of the Korea-ASEAN orchestra is also significant in that it became the first to blend both Korean and Vietnamese instruments.
As the people of Vietnam are increasingly attracted to Korean culture, and the people of Korea are increasingly gaining interest in Vietnamese culture, the close relation of the music of these two countries will continue to last.
Vietnamese music brings resonance to many people of troubled but strong hearts. It attracts interest of scholars by its variety in both court and folk music. Vietnamese music itself will also continue to thrive, this time engraving a deep impression globally. The future of Vietnamese music is obvious: bloom and thrive.
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