Saturday, October 10, 2009

D.Sc. Pham Le Hoa



1. The world history is on a new page with complicated changes in all fields of social life. This current era is developing dramatically, which is recognized by fabulous achievements of information technology. It is also the era of intellectual economy in which globalization is seen to be of great importance for the development. It means that the preservation and development of traditional cultural values play a very important part in every nation in the world today. These traditional cultural values are the precious assets/essence of art creation left by our forefathers, which is the base for developing national culture in the modern society. To many countries in the world, finding the way to develop traditional culture is not an easy task. Obviously, cultural identity will be the “passport” for a nation to integrate into different cultures of different countries across the world.

 In comparison with many other folk song regions in Vietnam, Quan ho folk songs in Bac Ninh province is a genre of folk music having relatively complete regulations. A complete singing festival usually consists of three stages: the opening stage, the middle stage and the parting stage. The opening stage begins with songs belonging to Lề lối tone. The middle stage starts with songs, which are more developed and extended than the ones in the first stage, called Vặt tone. Vặt tone is composed of two stages: the stage of songs with Bỉ sentence at the beginning and the stage of songs without Bỉ sentence. The parting stage includes farewell songs such as Golden bell keeping three door entrance, Separating phoenix, One in the North and one in the South, etc. Conspicuously, the scientific study on Quan ho folk songs in Bac Ninh province will pave the way for the preservation and promotion of cultural values of  traditional folk songs on a national scale in the future.

  Therefore, it can be affirmed that the preservation and development of traditional cultural values in general, traditional musical art in particular, is a vital issue to the musical culture of a nation.

2. To world music history, over the past centuries, traditional music has been seen as a notion including two factors: folk music and professional music. For certain reasons, the notion “Vietnamese traditional music” has been regarded as “Vietnamese folk music” for many years. This point of view may be right, because, in Vietnam, along with historical process, folk music is connected with peasants and plays an important role in the national musical life. Worryingly, that concept of traditional music does not fully reflect the overall picture of Vietnamese traditional music. As mentioned above, Vietnamese folk music is only one factor of many other ones forming the notion of Vietnamese traditional music.

               Besides, the use of musical terms, especially folk music terms by music theory researchers, has not reached a consensus for many years. This makes it difficult to study issues concerning about musical art. In this article, I, once again, want to discuss this topic. I hope that there will be conferences and seminars on the unification of musical terms especially folk music terms. These activities help to create a base for accelerating the research, preservation and development of traditional musical cultural values. To attain this end, the first thing to do is to study the concept of folk song terms.

               In my opinion, folk songs is a genre of music possessing the following characteristics:

-          unknown composers

-          orally transfered from generation to generation

-          closely connected with people’s lives and regional features.

               A few people including professors and doctors, on one hand, approved that folk songs do not have writer’s name. On the other hand, they reckoned that folk songs must be made by peasants. When conducting a research in many folk songs regions in Vietnam, we found that many folk songs were not made by peasants but accepted by them. These works, after being made, are connected with spiritual cultural activities of peasants. This fact is completely suitable for the regulations of cultural exchange among various regions in Vietnam. Many features of Quan ho folk songs can be found in other genres of folk songs in many areas in Vietnam. After many years of studying Quan ho folk songs, Mr Hong Thao – a music researcher – said, “ The music in Quan ho folk songs is not very different from the one in some other genres of music or folk songs. Each feature and characteristic of Quan ho folk songs can be found in other types of folk songs”.

               3. In my opinion, in order to preserve and develop folk songs in the modern society, we should accelerate the research on traditional musical cultural values. For many years, people working in musical field including music composers, music theory researchers, performing musicians especially many generations of musicians working at Vietnam Institute of musicology have exerted themselves to obtain great achievements in collecting and preserving folk music of a variety of ethnic nationalities throughout Vietnam ‘s territory. They overcame difficulties to approach art heritages of folk music of Vietnamese nationalities. The rich storehouse of musical materials in Vietnamese Institute of musicology is worth being admired and is valuable to Vietnamese traditional music research. Worryingly, many of them are the materials relating to sounds such as musical tapes and discs and musical notation. In other words, music here is merely seen in terms of sounds. However, a folk musical phenomenon always exists in its cultural space. This shows that it is impossible to study a folk musical phenomenon only in terms of its sound. Folk music research must be conducted basing on its existence in space and time. Therefore, in my opinion, while collecting musical materials for folk music preservation, collectors must have music study thought at necessary level. Only in this way can the collectors take up real values of folk music culture.

               In the recent conferences at Vietnam Institute of musicology I myself, time after time, have touched upon this subject. In my opinion, one of many important changes in the researching method of traditional music at Vietnam Institute of musicology in recent years is the  musical study in its general cultural space of a cultural phenomenon.

               To cut a long story short, the research of traditional folk music including Quan ho folk songs in Bac Ninh province must be done from every aspect and by concerned fields. The reason for this is that a folk music culture phenomenon always possesses the general property of folk culture phenomenon.

               4. Recently, there have been various opinions of music theory researchers about the ways to preserve and develop traditional folk music values in Vietnam. Each group of people have their own theoretical bases, which stems from the reality of the preservation and promotion of Vietnamese traditional musical values.

               Some people think that it is compulsory to keep the originals of traditional musical heritage in a variety of ways. Thus, they are making every effort to preserve all the originals of things existing in the living environment of folk music culture phenomenon. However, I believe that by doing so may these people have trouble in defining which are the originals and which are the changed factors of the folk music phenomenon. This is a very complicated issue if not impossible because  the time and space of a folk music phenomenon always change along with the dramatic changes of human – being ‘s society.

               Some people think that the continuation and heightening help to promote the development of traditional music towards the advance and modernity. Only when traditional music develops powerfully can it reflect life vividly so as to meet the need in enjoying music of people. This group of people also reckon that modern music contains the factors of traditional folk music. This thinking may be right. Undeniably, the original factors may suggest many ways of developing traditional folk music. The question is, how can we keep the identity of folk music while developing and promoting it?

               It is obvious that the people from the two groups mentioned above are right to express their viewpoints about the future of Vietnamese traditional music. However, in my opinion, it is necessary to combine both. Moreover, we should take in the experience in this area from many countries all over the world selectively and creatively. Only by doing so can we do well the preservation and promotion of folk music culture values.

                It is the most urgent that we collect and store traditional musical values, which are in danger of being lost in traditional musical activities. This task is of great important because music researchers living in the modern society need to be knowledgeable about this field. This current era is developing rapidly, which creates favorable conditions for the preservation and development of intangible cultural values across the world in general, in Vietnam in particular. Yet, it also sets up big challenges to this task. In reality, folk music culture values and many types of Vietnamese traditional folk song including Quan ho folk song in Bac Ninh province are in danger of being changed and lost. Therefore, the scientific and systematic preservation is the most pressing problem creating the base for the development of traditional folk song in the current society and in the future.

               A folk music phenomenon does not exist dependently. It is strongly influenced by its time and space. Clearly, cultural exchange among cultural regions is always in existence in our world. Therefore, there are various opinions about the ways to preserve folk culture phenomenon in general, folk music phenomenon in particular. In fact, man’s taste varies along with time and space. For instance, many factors belonging to the past are no longer suitable for the present animated society. In my opinion, there should be a thorough and scientific research on the preservation and promotion of traditional musical values. This guarantees that it can be conducted in specific cases. It means that we should consider carefully each method of preserving and developing musical cultural values before putting it into use. Only in this way can we find out the most practicable and suitable solutions to the problem.

               5. The preservation and development of traditional folk song in the contemporary society is a huge and complicated issue. For many years, Hanoi Conservatory (the former college of music in Vietnam) and Ho Chi Minh Conservatory have already had Traditional  music Departments and have trained numerous generations of artists who have played successfully the traditional instruments in the country and in the world. Thanks to these artists, Vietnamese folk music has been promulgated through the world. The great achievements obtained by the traditional music departments of Hanoi Conservatory and Ho Chi Minh Conservatory were acknowledged. However, whether these two conservatories have combined their training with the preservation and development of traditional folk music culture values or not is still open to doubt. This responsibility is not of only the conservatories and other services of art music training in Vietnam. In fact, there still exists a big gap between the training and the real requirement of the preservation and promotion of folk songs in the modern society. Luckily, we always have a feeling of responsibility for overcoming the difficulties and narrowing the gap between training and the requirement of life’s reality.

               There is a fact that, in recent years, the authorities of many folk song regions in Vietnam, where many local colleges of arts located, have not paid due attention to the preservation of their folk song heritages in terms of training. Worryingly, only few of them such as Bac Ninh, Thai Binh, Hung Yen and some others have taken care of this issue.

               The secondary school of culture and art located in Bac Ninh province – the homeland of famous Quan ho melodies – opened a department for Quan ho folk songs training with the teaching of Quan ho master – artists. This activity has made a great contribution to the preservation and development of folk culture values – the pride of Kinh Bac people. In the same way, in Thai Binh province – the home of well – known Chèo troupes – Thai Binh college of culture and art has trained many generations of artists and musicians for Chèo theatre. The annual number of students graduating from this college help to meet the requirement of preserving and promoting Chèo theatre in the region. More importantly, Thai Binh college of culture and art is capable of providing a great many artists and musicians for art units throughout the country. We think that colleges of culture and art especially the local ones should pay more attention to the teaching of the national traditional cultural musical heritage in their home towns. This is not only the advantage of local colleges of art and music but also an effective measure to preserve traditional musical cultural values right in their native villages on the condition of globalization.

               When studying folk music in general, folk songs in particular, some musicians are right to say that the usage of five line musical notation system instead of classical musical letter makes it impossible to note down the typical sounds of traditional music properly. This reminds me of AliNagy Vadiri – a famous Iranian music researcher, who left many theoretical projects of music to mankind. In 1961, at a scientific conference on music held in  Iran, he presented an article named “ Musical notation on five line music score: a measure to preserve or destroy music. This method of  musical notation can not be used for traditional music”.

               For many decades, musical notation system in traditional music is a controversial problem in the history of world music development. Numerous methods of musical notation came into being but only existed for a short time. Today, methods of musical notation is still an issue that many musical theory researchers put much interest in. It should be noted that in their scientific projects, many music researchers as well as collectors invented new means of musical notation in the hope of noting accurately the sounds of Vietnamese traditional music. Unluckily, there have not been any ways of musical notation being accepted by almost all the researchers.

               However, in my opinion, we should use the method of musical notation on five line music score with modified symbols to note down more accurately the wanted sounds. This way may not allow to note down entirely accurately the sounds of Vietnamese traditional music. Yet, it is marvelous that with the help of modern means of recording and video recording, we are able to record truly all the sounds of traditional music. Thus, in our opinion, in order to preserve traditional musical cultural heritage, we should combine various methods. Only by doing so can we record musical values truly and scientifically, which is useful for musical training at present and in the future.

                It goes without saying that “the preservation and promotion of folk song in the current society via Quan ho folk song case in Bac Ninh province in Vietnam is a scientific issue playing an important role in our complicated society”. This is a big problem, which is neither too new nor old. It is essential that researchers of culture and art as well as state organizations of culture and art continue to conduct more practicable activities so as to tackle the issue more perfectly.


[1]. Tran Linh Quy, Hong Thao. A study of Quan ho folk song in Bac Ninh province. National cultural Press, 1997.

[2]. Bulletin of International scientific conference on “Traditional music development – cultural sense and art achievement”. Hanoi, 2004.