Étiquette : TRAN QUANG HAI : Teaching Asian Traditional Music Through School Concert in Europe

TRAN QUANG HAI : Teaching Asian Traditional Music Through School Concert in Europe


Trân Quang Hai

Since 1966 I have given more than 1500 school concerts in Europe for
children from three to sixteen years old. My school concert tours have been
proposed and organized by various official organizations, such as Jeunesses
Musicales de France, Jeunesses Musicales de Belgique, Jeunesses Musicales
de Suisse and Rikskonsertene (Norway).
In Norway, the Rikskonsertene organizes 5000 school concerts per year. This
organization invites musicians specializing in various styles, such as
classical music, pop, rock, jazz and traditional musics, to perform their
music for children. I worked for Rikskonsertene from 1977 until 1983, each
year for a three-week tour with two concerts per day. Teachers and pupils
of the schools I visited were prepared before my arrival through a booklet with
photos, explanations on history and geography and short comments on
Vietnamese music and the musical instruments I performed.
The Jeunesses Musicales de ßelgique and the Jeunesses Musicales de Suisse
prepare the school concert tours in the same way as the Rikskonsertene. The
difference remains in the fact that I always had a guide from the
organization to be with me during the tour. His rôle was to present me to
the headmasters or other responsible persons of schools where concerts took
place and to give a short introduction about my musical activities and my
music to the pupils before each concert. Most of these concerts are held at
the gymnasium of the respective schools for an audience of about 100
children of the same age.
In France there are two systems of organizing school concerts : one inside
and one outside the schools. The concerts inside schools are organized by
the Association Départementale pour Initiation et Animation de la Musique
(ADIAM) and the Association Départementale pour le Développement de
l’Initiation Musicale (ADDIM). Such concerts are organized for three to
four classes (80 to 100 children) at a time. As the financial budget is
restricted, the number of school concerts is less than the one offered by
the Jeunesses Musicales de France. The musical impact on the children,
however, is important.
Concerts proposed by Jeunesses Musicales de France are organized for school
children in a theatre or a concert hall for ten to twenty classes (250 to
500 children) at a time. According to the contract, I am commissioned for
three concerts per day, which means an audience of 1000 to 1500 kids
altogether on one day. Each concert tour is organized in one region, and in
every region there is someone responsible for sending to school headmasters
and mayors of various towns in any particular area information concerning
the music I shall perform. For every concert children are transported by bus from schools in different towns and villages to the concert hall.
The impact on the children is not great.  In a large concert hall it is difficult
to hold  their attention, and the less familiar the music is to them, the more
do they tend to lose interest.

Method of presentation

My contact with various European musical styles, such as folk music (1),
popular music (2), jazz and electro-acoustical music (3), in addition to
Western classical music, have helped me to understand the European people
and to communicate with them when I perform music in general. Moreover, I
have had occasions to teach at many universities, and these teaching
experiences improved my personal method of performing Asian music to
European audience.
After 28 years of giving school concerts in Europe, I can summarize my
teaching method along three criteria: progression 1) from the familiar
to the unfamiliar, 2) from the easy to the difficult and 3) from the
concrete to the abstract. During my school concerts in Europe I always give
short explanations to children before playing any music. For the Jew’s harp
example, I show the European children first the European Jew’s harp, which
they are familiar with. Then I show them the Asian Jew’s harp made of
bamboo; this instrument is unfamiliar to them. Then I give a short
demonstration of how to produce sounds with the European Jew’s harp. For
progressing from the easy to the difficult , I produce isolated overtone
sounds on the fundamental sound first (the fundamental sound is the sound
obtained when you pluck the lamella of the Jew’s harp which vibrates inside
of the mouth cavity without modifying the mouth shape). Then, I play
rhythms, create a melody and make sound effects. In going from the concrete
to the abstract, I play a European melody, for example, which the children
are familiar with and then transform the Jew’s harp into a talking
instrument sounding like a robot voice .
The same method is applicable to playing spoons. Showing the European
technique of playing spoons first and then the Asian technique is
the familiar to the unfamiliar. Hitting the spoons on the
thigh, then showing how to scrape them along the fingers to create a sound
of scrapers, and finally resonating a melody in the mouth by hitting the
spoons against the chin are different steps of spoons techniques from the
easy to the difficult. Making rhythm and melody sound like a synthetizer is
reaching the abstract. For a vocal demonstration, I begin with the bel
canto, the familiar, and contrast it with Chinese falsetto voice, the
unfamiliar. Then I use the chest voice as it is used in the European
operatic style, the easy, and show the voice-change from chest to throat,
nose and head, the difficult, as it is used in Japanese puppet theatre. I
also demonstrate the normal voice, the concrete, in contrast with the
diphonic voice (overtone singing), the abstract.
My concerts for children are conceived for 40 minutes with 20 items ranging
from ordinary, simple instruments to complex, authentic musical
instruments, such as the sixteen stringed zither dàn tranh , the Chinese
two stringed fiddle nan hu and the Iranian drum zarb . I sing folk songs,
including lullabies, work songs and love songs, which children can join by
singing the chorus part with some easy syllables.
How to present the unfamiliar music to European children to catch their
attention, this is the pedagogy of teaching music for children. The key of
success is to make children laugh during the concert and at the same time
make them learn many things. I transform my concerts into “entertainment
shows”. Thus children learn music with joy and interest.
During my career as music teacher and performer, I have had many good
results as is proved by press reviews and commentaries from teachers after
the concerts. I think that European children can accept all kinds of music
if the performer is a good teacher , a refined musician and an experienced

1. I was a founding member of the first French folkclub, Le Bourdon,
created in Paris in 1969.
2. I have composed more than 200 songs.
3. I studied this music in 1965-66 and composed some works which have been
performed in France and other European countries.
4. I have always asked teachers to write thir impressions in a book I
brought with me during my trips. I have now 52 books with many thousands of
positive commentaries from teachers.


Music of the World
A Teacher’s Guide and Pupil’s Workbook

Trân Quang Hai

Music of the World is a package consisting of a teacher’s guide (320p), a
pupil’s workbood (48p) and three CDs or three cassettes with music examples
from the five continents. This material was written and compiled by Trân
Quang Hai (musicologist), Michel Asselineau (editor) and Eugène Bérel
(musicologist and co-editor). It has been published in Courlay, France, by
J.M. Fuzeau Publishers in 1994. (1). In 1993, this publication came out in
French. In 1994, it was released in English. In 1995, it is translated into
German and Spanish.
The material has been developed for use in teaching traditional music of
the world at the teenager’s level in primary and secondary schools. The aim
is to give students and children an appreciation for the extraordinary
diversity of human creativity and productivity and to make them able to
understand unfamiliar musical cultures and modes of expression.
Two CDs or cassettes comprise almost two hours and thirty minutes of sound
sequences organized aound four areas : human voice, percussions, wind
instruments and string instruments. The teacher’s guide, which suggests
teaching method and content, contains detailed information on the 71
musical examples from the world over. Particular emphasis is placed on the
geographical context, anecdotes and technical aspects of musical
production, such as the instruments, their families, methods, tonalities
and systems used. This guide is also accompanied by a table clearly showing
themes which each user can draw on depending on his or her own needs.
The pupil’s workbook contains numerous precise and varied questions to help
the student to explore the aspects covered by the teacher. The third CD or
cassette contains all the sound tests in conjunction with the pupil’s
Within two years (1993-1995) this book Music of the World has been edited
in 4 languages (French, English, German, Spanish). It is an important and
useful tool for studying traditional music and for understanding various
musical traditions in the world without being an expert of music. This is
the aim of this publication.


Trân Quang Hai is part of the fifth generation of traditional musicians in
Vietnam and has learned traditional Vietnamese music orally from his
father, Trân Van Khê, a well-known musician and musicologist. Trân Quang
Hai has also studied Western music at the National Conservatory of Music in
Saigon to become a violinist. He then studied musicology, ethnomusicology
and Oriental music in Paris before taking up his present post as researcher
of Asian music in the Music Department of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris
since 1968.