DR. NGUYỄN BÌNH ĐỊNH : A TIMELY JOB, SATISFYING THE EXPECTATION OF THE PEOPLE, WHO ARE CONSERVING AND PRACTISING SOUTHERN ĐỜN CA TÀI TỬ

A TIMELY JOB, SATISFYING THE EXPECTATION OF THE PEOPLE,
WHO ARE CONSERVING AND PRACTISING SOUTHERN ĐỜN CA TÀI TỬ

                                                                                   DR. NGUYỄN BÌNH ĐỊNH

 

On 11th February 2014 at the Reunification Palace in Hồ Chí Minh city, with the presence of Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, the ceremony of receiving the certificate of UNESCO for recognizing the Art of Đờn ca tài tử Music and Song in Southern Vietnam to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage was held solemnly. This is the eighth intangible cultural heritage of Vietnam, which has been acknowledged as a cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. Southern Đờn ca tài tử deserves this title and this is a big victory at the international level, marking the development and the maturity of the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology, who was assigned to build the nomination file of Southern Đờn ca tài tử for the submission to UNESCO.

While the Huế Nhã nhạc court music is only practised in Huế; the Quan họ folksong is popular only in Bắc Ninh and Bắc Giang; Xoan singing is practised only in Phú Thọ; the cultural environment of the Central Highlands gongs exists only in 5 provinces of the Central Highlands; and Ca trù singing is performed only in 15 provinces; Southern Đờn ca tài từ is practised in up to 21 provinces. This fact proves that Southern Đờn ca tài tử is the most pervasive legacy, compared to other Vietnamese cultural intangible heritages, recognized by UNESCO.

Southern Đờn ca tài tử is professional and folk music. Its professional and scholar characteristics are manifested in the regulations of repertoire, modes or harmony styles. Its folk nature is expressed in transmission through the mouth and transmission through the fingers (known as truyền khẩu, truyền ngón). The folk nature allows performers to perform their music with improvisation and creation to create diverse effect without violating basic principles. These are the special and prominent characteristics of Southern Đờn ca tài tử and UNESCO has ranked this art as intangible cultural heritage.

Nevertheless, the more special and pervasive a cultural intangible heritage is, the more difficult the conservation and the development of this heritage are. Accordingly, during the process of building the nomination file for the submission to UNESCO and right after receiving the certificate from UNESCO, granted to the communities in 21 provinces for their creation of Đờn ca tài tử, as an organization of building the nomination file, the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology has quickly implemented the national plan to safeguard and promote the values of Southern Đờn ca tài tử in the best way.

The first job is making an agreement on twenty principal musical pieces of Southern Đờn ca tài tử because they play a very important role in safeguarding and promoting the values of the Southern Đờn ca tài tử heritage. This is the original and fundamental repertoire. These principal musical pieces include the basic principles in performance techniques, which need to be followed to convey the features of the Đờn ca tài tử art. Each musical piece requires specific performance techniques and styles, which can express its typical contents and feelings (painful, happy, or hopeful). The twenty principal musical pieces are 20 basic styles of Đờn ca tài tử.

For Đờn ca tài tử practitioners, the twenty principal musical pieces are very important when they start to learn it, when they are capable enough to perform it, and when they are successful until the end of their life. In short, they are the handbook for the people, who want to become tài tử with the ability of performance and teaching. Especially, instrumentalists must be taught the way to play these twenty principal musical pieces. The role and values of the twenty principal musical pieces of Đờn ca tài tử art are similar to those of “Bình quân luật” of J.S. Bach for piano learners, Chinese musical book “Thần kỳ bí phổ” in the Đường dynasty (the 9th century) for the learners of the Cầm instrument or the tranh 16-chord zither, or collection “Nhạc học qui phạm” (including 9 volumes) in the Lý dynasty in Korea (in the reign of King Thành Tôn IX in the latter half of the 15th century) for traditional-music performers, who got formal training.

Twenty principal musical pieces contain all the essence of the Southern Đờn ca tài tử art; thus, it is difficult to learn this art if they do not have enough patience and talent. The people, who can play all twenty principal musical pieces correctly, are qualified to be called master musicians. Moreover, the master musicians, who can teach their students all twenty principal musical pieces, are certainly excellent.

In 21 Southern provinces, in which Đờn ca tài tử is currently practised, there are only some people who can play twenty principal musical pieces correctly, and they are certainly very famous in the Đờn ca tài tử circle, for example, master musician Vĩnh Bảo (the tranh 16-chord zither in Hồ Chí Minh city), meritorious artist Ba Tu (the kìm lute in Hồ Chí Minh city), folk artist Phạm Công Tỵ (with nickname Út Tỵ, the fiddle in Hồ Chí Minh city), master musician Hoàng Cơ Thụy (the tranh 16-chord zither and the tỳ bà pear-shaped lute in Hồ Chí Minh city), meritorious artist Văn Môn (the guitar with sunken frets in Hồ Chí Minh city), MA. and musician Huỳnh Khải (the kìm instrument and the tỳ bà pear-shaped lute, working for the Hồ Chí Minh Conservatory of Music), meritorious artist Thiện Vũ (the kìm lute and the guitar with sunken frets in An Giang).

One hundred years of performing Đờn ca tài tử has formed 2 performance styles of Đờn ca tài tử: the performance style of the Eastern South (in Long An, Tây Ninh, Hồ Chí Minh, Vũng Tàu, etc) and the performance style of the Western South (in Cần Thơ, An Giang, Tiền Giang, Cà Mau, Đồng Tháp, Bạc Liêu, Bến Tre, etc). Each style complies with the basic principles of principal  musical pieces. In addition, they apply new creation in instrument playing, singing, and performance in accordance with their Western Southern or Eastern Southern styles. The formation of two Đờn ca tài tử performance styles creates the richness and the diversity of this art, encourages the development of Đờn ca tài tử practitioners, and promotes the creation of each individual and each musical group. Both styles have given birth to many talented folk artists, instrumentalists, master musicians, composers, or singers. They have created excellent works, which are highly appreciated by the public, such as “Dạ cổ hoài lang” of Cao Văn Lầu, “Ngũ châu Minh phổ” of Nguyễn Văn Thinh, etc.

However, in addition to the positive effect of the formation of two performances styles, the divergence gradually appears, which leads to non-objective and lack-of-goodwill evaluation and perception. This fact sometimes negatively impacts colleagues and audiences.

Oral transmission of folk music leads to the fact that students always consider their teachers’ techniques to be standard; thus, they do not recognize the creative ability and the success of other people and they become conservative and narrow-minded. Furthermore, the Western South and the Eastern South conserve their own techniques in teaching their students. They set some professional regulations by themselves and regard them as performance standards. Those facts cause different artistic standards in performing 20 principal musical pieces.

Through the study and the discussions with folk artists, artists, master musicians, composers, instrumentalists, and singers, the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology are aware that there should be an agreement on the performance styles of twenty principal musical pieces.

On 25th December 2013, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Vietnam issued Decision No. 4492/QĐ – BVHTTDL, which indicates that the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology, belonging to the Vietnam National Academy of Music, was assigned to organize a conference on making an agreement on twenty Southern Đờn ca tài tử principal musical pieces, producing a CD of these principal musical pieces, and publishing explanation documents. Since the beginning of January 2014, the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology has implemented this project. This is a timely job before receiving the certificate from UNESCO to list Southern Đờn ca tài tử into the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Literally and figuratively, we welcome the spring, but not forget our tasks. This project is the first activity, opening the professional journey of work in 2014 of the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology. Moreover, after 5th December 2013 when the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Southern Đờn ca tài tử into the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, this is the first work in implementing the National Action Program of preserving and promoting value of Southern Đờn ca tài tử.

The purposes of this project is organizing a conference to make an agreement on the skeletal melodies of the twenty Southern Đờn ca tài tử principal musical pieces, produce CD of these principal musical pieces, and publish explanation documents, which are used for conservation, dissemination, study, and teaching of Đờn ca tài tử.

To ensure theoretical and practical accuracy, on 9th January 2014 at the Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism in Hồ Chí Minh city, the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology formed the Art Council of Vietnamese Southern Đờn ca tài tử (hereinafter the Art Council). The members consist of senior folk artists, composers, master musicians, researchers, people with the deep understanding of Đờn ca tài tử, instrumentalists, and singers in the provinces, in which Đờn ca tài tử is being practised. The Art Council are in charge of consulting people about the content and the agreement on twenty principal musical pieces and producing CD of these twenty principal musical pieces. Furthermore, the Art Council will evaluate quality of the project products together with other relevant organizations. The Art Council include 10 people, who are master musician Trương Văn Tự (meritorious artist Ba Tu, Hồ Chí Minh city), composer Thanh Hiền (Tây Ninh), Đờn ca tài tử researcher Võ Trường Kỳ (Long An), folk artist Nguyễn Văn Ny (with pseudonym Hai Ny, Đồng Tháp), composer Tấn Nhì (Hồ Chí Minh city), meritorious artist Thiện Vũ (An Giang), folk artist Tăng Phát Vinh (with pseudonym  Ba Vinh, Cà Mau), Dr., meritorious teacher Nguyễn Bình Định (Director of the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology), etc. Mr. Nguyễn Bình Định was selected as the president of the Art Council and MA. and musician Huỳnh Khải (the Hồ Chí Minh Conservatory of Music) was elected as the Secretary.

It is surprising that before the delegation of the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology went to Hồ Chí Minh city for discussion about organizing the conference on making an agreement on twenty Đờn ca tài tử principal musical pieces, some musical researchers in Hanoi were worried. Howeverthe Southern tài tử circle has made an agreement on twenty principal musical pieces long time ago. Since the beginning of the 20th century, many books about twenty principal musical pieces have been published and disseminated in Southern provinces, for example:

– Five books of 116 Southern tài tử musical pieces, written by Đinh Thái   Sơn,  Đặng Đắc Lợi, Nguyễn Tòng Bá, and other authors and published from 1909 to 1915 by the Imprimerie Publisher, 55-57 Ormay Janvier street, Saigon.

Cầm ca tân điệu, written by Trần Phong Sắc and Lê Văn Tiểng, published by the Joseph Publisher in 1926 in Saigon.

Vietnamese classical music, written by Nguyễn Bá Châu, published in          1939 in Saigon.

Cổ nhạc tầm nguyên, written by musician Năm Hưng (Võ Tấn Hưng),
published in Saigon in 1958.

Classical music, written by Trịnh Thiên Tư, published in Bạc Liêu
in 1962.

Southern tài tử music, written by musician Nhị Tấn for the internal use at  the Đờn ca tài tử club, district 8, HCM city and published in 1977 (including 5 volumes)

Southern tài tử music, written by Đỗ Dũng – The Association of Literature and Art in Tiền Giang, published in 2000.

Tài tử songs, written by Lâm Tường Vân – The Department of Culture and Information in Cà Mau, published in 2002.

Southern Đờn ca tài tử – Twenty principal musical pieces, published by the Cultural Center in Hồ Chí Minh city in 2011.

In the meeting on 9th January 2014 at the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Hồ Chí Minh, the Art Council quickly approved and agreed on the skeletal melodies of the twenty principal musical pieces, including 6 Bắc, 3 Nam, 7 Lễ, and 4 Oán. The Art Council assigned MA. and musician Huỳnh Khải – the secretary of the Art Council – to compile twenty principal musical pieces from different documents, record these musical pieces in the computer, and send them to all members of the Art Council and 21 provinces, in which Đờn ca tài tử is practised for opinion contribution. After that, the Art Council will gather all opinions, revise musical notations, and firstly publish the book of twenty Southern Đờn ca tài tử principal musical pieces.

For producing CD of twenty principal musical pieces, in the meeting on 9th January 2014 in Hồ Chí Minh city with the participation of all members of the Art Council, provincial representatives of Đờn ca tài tử, composers, researchers, and cultural administrators, the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology chaired the confe-rence and decided to choose Đờn ca tài tử professional artists and folk artists for forming two performance groups. One group performed the Eastern Southern style, led by meritorious artist and master musician Ba Tu. They practiced and recorded their singing in Hồ Chí Minh city. The other performed the Western Southern style, led by meritorious artist Thiện Vũ. They practiced and recorded their singing in Bạc Liêu city, Bạc Liêu province. The recording program of principal musical pieces of the Eastern Southern group was done by master musician, meritorious artist Ba Tu (the kìm lute), MA. and musician Huỳnh Khải (the kìm lute and the Tỳ bà pear-shaped lute), meritorious artist Văn Môn (the guitar with sunken frets), folk artist Út Tỵ (the two-string fiddle), Kim Thanh (the singer), Ngọc Đặng (the singer), Minh Đức (the singer), etc. The recording program of the Western Southern group was implemented by Trường Giang and Minh Phú (the guitar with sunken frets), Hai Ny (the kìm lute), meritorious artist Thiện Vũ (the kìm lute and the guitar with sunken frets), Thanh Nhàn and Thanh Sử (the tranh 16-chord zither), Tấn Khoa and Bùi Lê Văn (the two-string fiddle), Hoàng Kha (the bầu monochord), Hồng Toán, Hồng Thắm, Ngọc Huệ, and Hà Thu (the singer), etc. Each group performed 10 principal musical pieces, sang the ancient lyrics and played the skeletal melodies on the score provided by the Management Board. During the process of recording, if they played instruments or sang wrong, they would be asked to correct their performance immediately. With the spirit of working hard and seriously, all instrumentalists, singers, recording technicians, and project officers, recording twenty principal musical pieces was finished on 5th May 2014. These recordings are not technically processed. Next, the sound technicians and the recording staff of the Institute will conduct the post-production work, including editing or doing harmony and then give this CD of 20 principal musical pieces to the Art Council for quality evaluation. They have to correct the parts that the Art Council ask. If the Art Council are pleased, people will do the rest of work, consisting of designing the CD cover, writing the introduction, or asking for the publication license and then produce the final product.

In the musical market, there are many CDs of twenty principal musical pieces, produced by individuals, Đờn ca tài tử musical ensembles, Đờn ca tài tử clubs, provincial and city houses of culture, and even Cải lương artists and musical bands. However, it is the first CD of twenty principal musical pieces of Southern Đờn ca tài tử, published by the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology – the leading organization of musical research and the organization in charge of building nomination file Southern Đờn ca tài tử for the submission to UNESCO, pursuant to the Decision given by the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Vietnam. Therefore, this product has the national standard.

The final products of this project are 300 CDs and 300 brochures of twenty Southern Đờn ca tài tử principal musical pieces. In addition, a musical book of skeletal melodies of the twenty Đờn ca tài tử principal musical pieces written in traditional notation of Đờn ca tài tử will be published. The Vietnamese Art Council of Đờn ca tài tử will evaluate this musical book and will make a decision of publishing this book in the first time for national use.

The Vietnamese Institute for Musicology was assigned by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Vietnam to organize the conference on making an agreement on the twenty principal musical pieces of the Southern Đờn ca tài tử and producing the CD of these principal pieces. This task received the consent, enthusiastic support and participation of instrumentalists, singers, composers, researchers, recording technicians, the Departments of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Hồ Chí Minh city and Bạc Liêu, and other relevant local organizations. Therefore, the work has been done effectively and achieved good quality.

This project is the first necessary job in the first stage of implementing the national action of conserving and promoting the Southern Đờn ca tài tử heritage, Hoàng Tuấn Anh – the member of the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Vietnam – committed to protect this heritage on behalf of the Vietnamese government and the communities of creating Đờn ca tài tử when receiving the certificate The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on 11th February 2014 at the Reunification Palace in Hồ Chí Minh city. Hopefully, this beautiful beginning will be the first victory of safeguarding and promoting cultural heritages in particular and building Vietnamese culture, imbued with national identities in general.

http://vienamnhac.org/projects/a-timely-job-satisfying-the-expectation-of-the-people-who-are-conserving-and-practising-southern-%C4%91on-ca-tai-tu

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