Traditional Vietnamese music is highly diverse and syncretistic, combining native and foreign influences. Throughout its history, Vietnam has been most heavily impacted by the Chinese musical tradition, as an integral part, along with Korea, Mongolia and Japan. The ancient Indochinese kingdom of Champa also had a very significant historical effect upon this music, because the Vietnamese court found it intriguing. So, you can enjoy:





Nha nhac, Vietnamese Court Music
An Intangible Cultural Heritage

On November 7, 2003, UNESCO bestowed world heritage status on 28 relics of nations as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity. Among the 11 masterpieces of Asia, nha nhac (royal music) represents the first intangible legacy of Vietnam to have been put on this list.






The UNESCO Council appraised Vietnamese royal music in the following terms: “Vietnamese royal music represents an elegant and refined music. It deals with the music performed in the imperial courts and on different anniversaries, religious festivals, and on such particular occasions. Of the different categories developed in Vietnam, only the royal music was national.”
Nha nhac (Vietnamese royal music) and its principles came to Vietnam under the Ho Dynasty (1400-1407). The Ho Dynasty, however, only existed for a short time, so nha nhac rapidly fell into oblivion. In 1427, Le Loi defeated the Chinese Ming invaders and liberated the country. However, nha nhac only began to develop in the reign of King Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497) and reached its peak under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).
Nha nhac is genre of scholarly music. It attracted the participation of many talented songwriters and musicians, with numerous traditional musical instruments.
From now on, nha nhac will have opportunities to preserve, develop and popularize to the public, inside and outside the country.

Instruments commonly used for nhã nhạc include kèn bầu (conical oboe), đàn tỳ bà (pear-shaped lute with four strings), đàn nguyệt (moon-shaped two-string lute), đàn tam (fretless lute with snakeskin-covered body and three strings), đàn nhị (two-stringed vertical fiddle), sáo (also called sáo trúc; a bamboo transverse flute), trống (drum played with sticks), and other percussion instruments.

Development during the Nguyen Dynasty.
It is believed that nhã nhạc did not truly reach the pinnacle of its development until the Nguyễn Dynasty, when it was synthesized. The Nguyễn emperors declared it as the official court music, and it became an essential part of the extensive rituals of the royal palace.





Ca Tru

An Intangible Cultural Heritage

Young people now enjoy new music that comes to them from the radio, television, audio and video tapes, as well as compact discs. So, do they still show any attachment to the old folk tunes so loved by their elders, such as the melodies of ca tru? Ca tru is a musical genre that calls for expertise as well as sensibility on the part of the listeners. In return, it provides the most refined enjoyment.





Perhaps, the most important catalyst in the development of contemporary Vietnamese folkloric performance was the appearance of the call-and-response dialogue song. These kinds of songs have created a significant role in forming the Vietnamese culture values. Witnessing a ca tru play means hearing the beautiful voice of lady singers and at the same time, enjoying the poem written for this style of singing!
The traditional Vietnamese folk art - ca tru singing - is believed to have religious origins. In the history book of Hung Yen province, there was a story about Ms. Dao Thi Hue, who utilized her beauty and singing talent to seduce and kill theMing enemies. People later built a temple called Dao Nuong to worship.
Scholars trace its origins back to a type of female singing known as hat a dao, which was widely performed as an expression of worship during the Ly dynasty (1010-1225). As time goes by, it gradually became popular and eventually changed to alternative name, ca tru (singing for reward).
Until 20th century, ca tru had become a common form of entertainment in the north with Kham Thien Street in Ha Noi as its main urban focus.

However, after 1945, ca tru nearly died out. It was systematically suppressed to be associated with the prostitution and the degradation of women. In actuality, men were allowed to marry many wives in the past and having extramarital affairs wasn’t a shocking matter. Thus, it was commonly known that many famous ca tru singers did indeed have affairs with important men but it was accepted as a part of society.

In 2005, ca tru was submitted to UNESCO for recognition as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage. In recent years, ca tru has been rediscovered and developed by a number of clubs; the

 most famous one is Hanoi Ca tru Club which opens on the last Sunday of each month at the Bich Cau Dao Quan Temple, near the Temple of Literature. In order to help revive this ancient art form, the club recently launches the annual ca tru festival, which attracts the participation of many performers from Ha Tay, Hai Phong, Thai Binh, Ha Tinh and Nghe An Provinces. The villagers in Lo Khe in Dong Anh District - one of the cradles of the art form- also annually stage festivals on the 6th day of the 4th lunar month and the 13th day of the 10th lunar month. Joining this festival, you can see the local singers from young to old, sit in a circle and perform a ceremony to worship the founders of ca tru.
Ca tru, literally translates as "tally card songs." This refers to the bamboo cards men bought when they visited ca tru inns where this music was most often performed in the past. Men would give the bamboo cards they purchased to the woman of choice after her performance and she would collect money based upon how many cards given.
Scholar-bureaucrats and other members of the elite most enjoyed this genre. They often visited these inns to be entertained by the talented young women, who did not only sing, but with their knowledge of poetry and the arts could strike up a witty conversation along with serving food and drink. Besides these inns, ca tru was also commonly performed in communal houses or private Homes.
Ca tru, like many ancient and highly developed arts, has many forms. However, the most widely known and widely performed type of ca tru involves only three performers: the female vocalist, lute player and a spectator. The female singer provides the vocals whilst playing her phách (small wooden sticks beaten on a small bamboo platform to serve as percussion). She is accompanied by a man who plays the đàn đáy, a long-necked, 3-string lute used almost exclusively for the ca trù genre. Last is the spectator (often a scholar or connoisseur of the art) who strikes a trống chầu (praise drum) in praise (or disapproval) of the singer's performance, usually with every passage of the song. The way in which he strikes the drum shows whether he likes or dislikes the performance, but it must be based on the beat provided by the vocalists phach percussion.
The performing art of ca tru itself is quite complicated requiring the singer to be lofty and elegant in gesture but no less sentimental. The internal breathing is of greatest importance in the singing technique. Also the beating of castanets is very sophisticated; the singer has to express her feelings and sentiments through the sound of castanets.
Quach Thi Ho is one of the few Vietnamese traditional artists recognized internationally. In 1976, Professor Tran Van Khe recorded Mrs. Ho’s ca tru songs to introduce to a global audience. In 1978, she was awarded an honorary diploma by UNESCO’s International Music Council and the International Institute for Comparative Music Studies for her contribution in preserving "traditional music of great artistic and cultural value". Her recording of ca tru ranked first among songs from 29 other countries in the International Festival of Traditional Music held in Pyong Yang (the capital of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea) in 1983. It won another first prize in a similar festival held in Moscow. UNESCO honored the old artisan with the solemn words: “Thank you for preserving Vietnam’s valuable traditional art heritage, a treasure to mankind”.
Mrs. Ho’s golden voice was second to none. Some said it was as mild as silk, as warm as spring sunlight, and pure like moonlight. With her outstanding talent and great contribution to Vietnamese culture, she was nominated to the list of legendary women of the world.
Until now, there are some famous ca tru songs such as Thu Hung (Inspiration of Autumn), Ty Ba Hanh, Dao Hong, Dao Tuyet (Singer Hong, Singer Tuyet) can still stir a Vietnamese soul. They were written by famous poets who are deeply memorized in listeners’ mind like Nguyen Cong Tru, Cao Ba Quat, Nguyen Khuyen, Nguyen Quy Tan, Chu Manh Trinh, Phan Van Ai and Nguyen Thuong Hien





Quan Ho singing
An Intangible Cultural Heritage

The birth place of quan ho folk songs is Bac Ninh Province. During village festivals, which are held every year, particularly in spring, young men and women gather in the yard of a communal house or pagoda, on a hill or in a rowing boat, and sing quan ho. This is a style of singing where songs alternate from group to group.





Hát Quan Họ was born about the 13th century in the Bắc Ninh province and was always heard during spring festivals, especially of the Buddhists. Bắc Ninh is the province where numerous pagodas were built, therefore, big Buddhist offering ceremonies were celebrated each year in spring. Boys and girls came to adore Buddha and after that, gathered together in front of or inside the pagoda orin the field to sing "Hát Quan Họ".
Originally Hát Quan Họ was exchange songs between two mandarins' families. Gradually, it spread out and became popular among the northern people. Groups were formed just for singing, and many marriages were formed at these get-togethers. After centuries, hát quan họ became the most significant Vietnamese folk-song type.
Hát Quan Họ, also called Quan Họ Bắc Ninh singing, is an antiphonal singing tradition in which men and women take turns singing in a challenge-and-response fashion drawing on a known repertoire of melodies. Usually a pair of women starts, presenting in unison a complete song called câu ra (challenge phrase") lasting three to eight minutes. A pair of men of the opposing team responds with another song called câu đối ("matching phrase"), which must match the melody of the women's song in order to be considered correct. Next it will be the men's turn to challenge the women with a song that can be completely different from the previous pair of songs.
According to the tradition, only young people used to sing quan họ songs, as the major body of song texts centers on the subject of love and sentimental desire among young adults. Nowadays, elderly singers are quite enthusiastic about singing for guests.
Unlike the simple lullabies, which were inspired by daily works, Hát Quan Họ was always searching for new content and new reforms.
Love in Hát Quan Họ is not sad and pessimistic as it is in lullabies (Ru) or in calls (hò). On the contrary, the tunes of this type are rich in tunesand rythms because it received all the influences of lullabies, poem recitation, etc.
There are four major airs in Hát Quan Họ:

1 - Giọng sổng (transitor air)
2 - Giọng vặt (diverse air)
3 - Giọng hãm (recitative air)
4 - Giọng bỉ (tunes borrowed from other sources)
The most popular Quan Họ songs, "Qua Cầu Gío Bay", "Trèo Lên Quán Dốc" (also known as "Lý Cây Ða"), "Se Chỉ Luồn Kim", were sung in Giọng vặt. The singers also imitated the musical sound, the sound of rice grinding, crying, etc. When one of the two singing groups used any specific tune, the other one was to reply in the same tune. The singing ends with songs in the farewell category, a feature that has never been changed giving the singing session a sense of completion.
Hát Quan Họ were spring festival songs. The farmers left their farmings for a while to enjoy the beautiful weather, especially during the New Year (Tết).

Hát Quan Họ in festivals
For the Bắc Ninh people, festivals not only allow them to highlight their own village's specialties, such as ceramics, folk painting, wrestling, kite parades, or bird contest, among a great many other things, but also their common prized heritage, the Hát Quan Họ tradition.
Hát Quan Họ in festivals traditionally began either at the communal-ritual house or at the Buddhist temple as early as the night before the main festival day. Nowadays, only a few major festivals continue that tradition, while most villages carry out the singing on the main day.

Familiar Repertoire
Considering how extensive the quan họ repertoire appears to be, it is noticeable that songs heard in festivals are rather limited in number and repetitive in titles. Many singers contend that at festivals they prefer to sing songs that are familiar or easy to listen to. Common titles sung in festivals can be divided into two categories.
The first category includes such songs as "Em là cô gái Bắc Ninh" ("I am a girl from Bắc Ninh") which has been considered as the Quan Họ "flag song" or signature song for some time by the younger generations, and "Ngồi tựa mạn thuyền" ("Leaning by the Boat-Side"), perhaps the most favored Quan Họ song across different generations, in spite of generational and village variations which exist in singing practice. These two songs speak both to the locals' perception of regional identity and to their musical affinity to the basic features of quan họ melody.
The second category includes the majority of songs such as "Vào Chùa" ("Entering the Buddhist Temple") and "Khách đến chơi nhà" ("Visitors Are Coming") display a musical contour that bears a strong connection to the official linguistic tonality of North Vietnam, on the one hand, while suggesting some resonance of the Cantonese mode as well as what the Vietnamese music scholars have been calling the "South" mode.

Song Text, Verbal and Poetic Introduction
Following the textual content of quan họ songs within the festival reveals a striking contrast between the open, public setting and the intimate characteristic of the songs. Virtually all songs heard in festivals express personal subjects such as unfulfilled love, expectation, longing, and intimacy.
Quan Ho songs are unique in the sense that they place men and women on an equal basis, with mutual respect in spite of good-natured teasing, and place a high value on genuine feelings -not money. The songs address the joy of nature and the satisfaction of hard field work when the labour is shared or lightened by singing together.
One of the Quan Họ characteristics that have endured through time is the proper verbal and poetic introduction to each and every tune. Quan họ singers are not only appreciated for their singing ability, but also for their skill in leaving an impression of their gracefulness and literary adeptness on the audience. Usually one of the singers will say something to praise the opposing pair and express how fortunate her/his pair has been to be allowed to sing with them, before she/he goes on to recite the verses of the song. The poetic introduction also provides listeners with the basic content of the song text, which otherwise can be difficult to follow in singing. Not only that, the rhetoric used in the introduction is so polished that it gives the impression of a theatrical act. As a result, singers often try to imitate the speech tonality and pronunciation of official media announcers, even though quan họ researchers have asserted that speeches in the quan họ region vary from one village to another.

Instrumental Accompaniment
Instrumental accompaniment is slowly creeping in and welcomed by quan họ singers in some villages. The đàn bầu (monochord) is the most common instrument, followed by the sáo trúc (bamboo flute). Other traditional instruments may include the tam thập lục (36-stringed hammered dulcimer), etc. Occasionally the acoustic guitar and even the electronic keyboard are used.





Hat Van

Hat van or hat chau van, a traditional folk art which combines singing and dancing, is 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.





Hat van, in essence, is a cantillation where the tunes and rhythm depend on the contents of the sung text. The tunes and rhythms may be linked together into a suite, used in relation to a mythical occurrence with hints of features from modern life.
The breathing of a hat van singer comes from his or her midriff to nasal cavity, which works as a resonance box and creates an effect appropriate for religious subjects, particularly when heard in an atmosphere of incense and candles.
The words of the chanting must be clear enough so that all those attending the ceremony are able to understand. There are two kinds of hat van: hat tho and hat len dong.
Hat tho is the chanting accompanying an act of worship. Hat tho is slow, serious, and dignified. Variations in the music are few and contain little contrasting pitch and stress.
Hat len dong accompanies psychic dancing claiming to respond to occult powers and expressing the will and orders of some supernatural 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 music instrument accompanying hat van plays a very important role, in emphasizing important passages or creating contrasting effects; in any event, the music enriches the content of the chant.
The main instrument used is the dan nguyet or moon-shaped lute, accompanied by the striking of the phach (a piece of wood or bamboo), xeng(clappers), trong chau (drum) and chieng (gong) marking the rhythm. Use may also be made of the 16-stringed zither thap luc and flute sao in the recitation of certain poetry, and of the eight-sound band dan bat am in certain ceremonies.
The dress worn by hat van singers, based on the cult of the "four palaces", includes a red robe for the cult of the "heavenly palace", a yellow robe for the "underground palace", a green robe for the "musical palace" and a white robe for the “aquatic palace". The style of the robe and the headgear is related to the rank of the supernatural being honoured in the act of worship. Over time, the style of the costume may vary but the rules about the colours have remained unchanged.
The art of hat van originated in the Red River Delta and dates back to the 16th century, later spreading to the whole country. It has also adopted the essential beauty of folk songs from the uplands and highlands of the North, Center and South.
Hat van requires both a learned and a folksy character, and it has attracted musicologists at Home and abroad.






Then Song

The then song is the religious music of the Tay, Nung minorities. This type of song can be considered a religious performance of Long Poems which depict a journey to the heavens to ask the Jade Emperor to settle trouble for the head of the household.





Long Poems consist of several chapters with different contents and lengths. The longest poem ever collected was 4,949 sentences with 35 chapters. The then song is a general performance of music, singing, dancing, and making gestures in different circumstances. In the ceremony procession, not only must the artist carry out religious activities, but the actor must also sing, play music, dance, and show gestures to demonstrate the meaning of the sentence he is singing. Sometimes the artist also performs other activities.
Music is the main element that completely penetrates the performance. Sometimes the music is accompanied with song, and at other moments the music serves as a background for dance or connecting parts of a song. The main musical instruments in a then performance are the tinh tau (a traditional stringed musical instrument resembling a guitar) and a chain of shaking instruments. Sometimes the band also has a bell.
All people in the Tay, Nung community, regardless of their age, sex, and religion, are fond of the then song. Some groups such as the Kinh living in the same region have also incorporated this kind of art form into their spiritual lives.



Hue Music and Song

Chamber music originated from royal music at the beginning of the 19th century in the Nguyen Dynasty. It was well developed by the time of King Tu Duc.


By the end of the 19th century, it was popularized and ditties were added along with other folk songs of the Binh Tri Thien people. With this foundation, the music and songs of Hue are a combination of folk and royal music.
The musical characteristics of Hue music and song have developed considerably, and musicians can play all the styles common to musical instruments, including solos, duets, trios, etc. Apart from that, there is also a pair of "Senh" and sometimes there is flute accompaniment. In the latter half of the 20th century, Hue music was professionally performed in public spaces to make a landmark out of a new traditional style of Vietnamese performance art.
Hue music and songs bear a unique feature of characterizing the lives of people living in the central regions of Vietnam. In fact, Hue music is a combination of musical factors from various groups such





Ly Folk Song or Ly Nam Bo

The ly song is one of the special folk songs of the Vietnamese people. It is sung in the northern, central and southern regions of Vietnam.





These folk songs, however, are much more developed in the South. The various ly songs of the South contain different subject matters, as well as unique musical characteristics. The ly songs of the South depict the activities of production, emotions, and the thoughts of the people in their daily lives. Animals, plants, flowers, love, and marriage are also described in the ly folk songs. Some folk songs describe the common aspirations of the people or criticize disgraceful practices. The ly songs of the people in South Vietnam reflect the daily lives of the local residents. Although the songs have various styles, sorrow is the prominent characteristic described in the words of the songs. The songs are considered rather modest, simple, and mischievous.








Xam Song

The xam song is one kind of song that was created by the Vietnamese a long time ago, and which is considered a very special performance. People used to walk in a group of two to three or four to five and sing, mainly in residential areas such as a parking lot, a ferry-landing, or a market gate.





 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 application 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. Today, xam singers no longer exist, but their ancient art is still kept alive and respected.





Traditional Wedding Music of the Khmer

It is impossible to be without this kind of traditional music at a Khmer wedding reception in the South of Vietnam.





Though there has been much change in the wedding customs of the Khmer, traditional wedding music has been well preserved by its people. Researchers have collected some ten ceremonial songs and folk songs which used to be sung at wedding receptions. The traditional songs sang at the wedding are expressions of the feelings and characteristics of the people's lives in the Khmer community.
Each song is equivalent to a specific rite in the wedding, such as leading the bridegroom to the bride's house, asking for the breaking of the fence to get into the house, and the beginning of the ceremony. The ceremony incorporates the rituals of the hair cut, the pounding solution for dying teeth, the cutting of betel flowers into pieces in order to scatter them on heads of the young couple, the drawing of a sword out of its sheath, the binding of thread around the wrist, the kowtowing of the sun god, the act of entering into the wedding room, the sweeping of the wedding mat, and the greeting of parents and relatives. The reception lasts until the young couple see off their wedding guests.





Rija Festival Music

Rija is a term used by the Cham to designate numerous festivals related to agriculture and clans (for instance, Rija Prong, Rija Nagar or Rija Yaup, etc.).





Rija festivals provide the perfect opportunity to focus on the traditional music of the Cham. Typical musical instruments include the baranung(one -sided drum), kinang (pair of drums), saranai (Cham oboe), and kanhi (two-stringed bow instrument with a tortoise shell resonator). In addition to ritual melodies, saranai tunes, and the over 50 kinang beats that accompany dances, participants can enjoy vai chai tunes characterised by a robust rhythm and an attractive performance. It brings an interesting contribution to the abundant treasure of labour-related songs of the Vietnamese.








Tay Son Military Music

This type of music is played in military dance ceremonies. The Tay Son Military Music originated in Binh Dinh Province, a place famous for its practice of martial arts.





According to legend, Tay Son military music was composed by three heroes who were farmers named Nguyen Hue. They aimed to use martial arts as a force of revolt. With the set of 17 drums, a player is supposed to use both his palms to hit 12 drums and his head, elbows, and heels to hit the other five. Players who could play the 17 drums effectively were deemed masters of this musical form. Later generations have learned to play this kind of music to worship the three heroes and their followers who sacrificed their lives to sweep out invaders. Tay Son Military Music consists of four items: Troop Dispatching, Military Marching, Troop Stop, and Triumphant Hymn. Tay Son Military Music has become a valued art heritage of the Vietnamese.






The Cultural Space of Gong in the Central Highlands - An Intangible Heritage

Specific values of the cultural space of the Central Highlands gong which is a part of Vietnam's cultural heritage and quintessence has been recognised by the international community.
On 25th November 2005, the UNESCO decided to recognize “The cultural space of gong in the Central Highlands” of Vietnam as “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.





Throughout the Central Highlands of Viet Nam, Gong ensembles are parts of various ceremonies and closely linked to the communities’ daily life and the cycle of the seasons. The instruments, measuring 25 to 80 centimetres, are played by men as well as women.
The culture space of the Gongs of central Vietnam is about original musical forms, which are performed against the background of the linguistic and ethnic diversity of the region. Diversity is also found in the compositions and customs of the Gong ensembles, in their performance techniques, in the musical genres and in the ritual functions of the gongs.
In the realm of Vietnam’s musical instruments, the gongs are very well-known for their outstanding value and regarded as the privileged language bridging humanity and the supernatural world. The gongs are made from a mixture of bronze and silver, with some distinctive features. The peoples living in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam possess many sets of gongs, which would be performed differently. A set of gongs consists of two to twenty units.

Culture Value
The most outstanding value of gong culture showcases masterpieces of human creativity. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic people of the Central Highlands. Although they can not cast gongs themselves, they raise the value of a product into an excellent musical instrument with their sensitive ears and musical soul. In the hands of talented folk artistants, each gong plays the role of a musical note in an orchestra to perform different pieces of gong music.
As for ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, gongs and gong culture present a means to affirm the community and its cultural identities. As time went by, gongs have become an attractive and appealing symbol of the culture of the Central Highlands. It is an activity associated with cultural and spiritual life, and beliefs of ethnic people when they are born, grown up and return to the soil.

The Central Highlands gong comes from long-standing historical and cultural traditions. In the past, community of people in the Central Highlands knew how to play the gong. Its sound is either deep or strong, moving and combining with the sounds of streams, wind and the hearts of people so that it can live with the heaven, the earth and people in the Central Highlands.
However, different ethnic minority groups arrange different orchestras. Listening to the sound of the gong, people in the Central Highland can know which ethnic group is playing.
Gong players in the majority of ethnic groups in the Central Highlands are male. Only in a minority of ethnic groups in the region, gong players are female.

Visual description of the picture
It is a bright sunny day and a group of seven men are outside playing brown tambourines. Only five of the seven men are clearly visible. Their bodies describe a semi-circle facing the left of the picture. They all wear calm expressions. Each man holds the tambourine in his right hand, hitting it with a short thick piece of wood held in the left. The tambourines all have white characters written on them. All the men are wearing the same costume: a dark-blue long-sleeved shirt with multicoloured cuffs and a red square piece of material with golden buttons down the front. Some of the men wear caps; the first man from left to right wears a yellow cap, the second from right wears a blue cap. In the background we can see a forest with blue sky just visible through the dense foiliage of the trees. Smoke is spiralling upwards from the dirt floor. On the far left of the frame we can see the entrance to a hut.

The Central Highlands’ gongs, together with the epics, the treasure of folklore, folk sculpture and folk knowledge, constitute the unique cultural heritage that have attached to the life of the highlanders for over thousand years.