Traditional music festival gathers expat Vietnamese players

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A “dan tranh” (16-chord zither) festival, which kicked off on Monday, is attended by several expat Vietnamese ensembles the world over who have been dedicated to their home country’s traditional musical instrument.

“Hoi Ngo Dan Tranh” (The Zither Reunion), an annual event since 2010, is running in Ho Chi Minh City until Friday, July 4.

Last night’s show, which took place at the Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory of Music, featured enchanting performances by many bands including Vietnam’s Duyet Thi Trang, the U.S.’s Huong Viet, France’s Phuong Ca Music School, and the U.S.’s VA’V Tranhsemble, led by Vo Van Anh or Vanessa Vo – a composer, Emmy winner and Oscar nominee.

According to veteran local zither artist Hai Phuong, this was the first time that a zither show had sold tickets, though they cost a mere VND100,000-200,000 (up to US$10) each. 

“The performance was a resounding success. This is a good opportunity for traditional music artists to gauge audiences’ interest in the genre, as people typically go to traditional music shows which offer free admission,” Phuong shared.

Love for ‘dan tranh’ from faraway

To make last night’s show a success, its artists, who are both professional and amateurish and aged from five to 70, had practiced hard.

The overseas Vietnamese artists’ contribution was integral to the show’s success.

One of them, Hong Viet Hai, an alternative medicine practitioner in Seattle, the U.S., has devoted a major part of his time to practicing on the zither and running his Huong Viet zither ensemble in the past 10 years.

There are times when its membership rose to more than 100.

Hai bought the instruments from Vietnam and shipment fees made them even more expensive.

Other Huong Viet members are 14-year-old Thuy Tien, who was born in the U.S. and speaks rudimentary Vietnamese which she learned from her zither classes; and Minh Ngoc, who settled in the U.S. quite a long time ago and encouraged her 8-year-old son to take up the zither. 

Another member, Japanese-American woman Etsuko, who calls herself Huong in Vietnamese, has played the zither for more than seven years and is now a zither instructor.

They were all elated to join the show.

Similarly, VA’V Tranhsemble, based in San Francisco, was founded by veteran expat Vietnamese artist Vo Van Anh, or Vanessa Vo.

Among Vo’s accolades are the 2009 Emmy Award-winning soundtrack for the documentary “Bolinao 52,” which she co-composed and recorded; and the soundtrack for the Sundance best documentary and 2003 Academy Awards nominee “Daughter from Danang.”

She also co-composed and recorded for the recent documentary “A Village Called Versailles,” winner of the New Orleans Film Festival Audience Award.

Apart from taking part in the show, Vo is in Vietnam this time to raise funds for her “Music Bridge Under 25” project, which aims to nurture the love for traditional Vietnamese music among under 25-year-olds who are capable of composing and performing with the instruments.

These youths’ compositions will be selected, performed in public and compete for awards, which is part of Vo’s plan to preserve her home country’s traditional music heritage and pass on her knowledge and skills to younger generations.

Meanwhile, Thuy Trang and her 19-year-old son Van Hieu, from Paris, France, represented Phuong Ca Music School in the festival.

Despite his modern, Western-style looks, one would be surprised to learn that he has practiced playing the zither for over 10 years.

After some time taking her son to his zither classes, Trang also fell in love with the instrument and both of them have been enrolled at Phuong Ca since.

This year’s “Hoi Ngo Dan Tranh” festival also features “Giai Dieu Que Huong” (Homeland’s Melodies) show, which will take place at 7:30 pm tomorrow, July 2, at Lao Dong (Labor) Cultural Center (55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, District 1).

Free tickets are currently available at the center.

Another highlight is a free-admission workshop on traditional Vietnamese music and the zither, which is set to be held at 8:30 am on Thursday.

This year’s festival will wrap up with a talk show themed “Dan Tranh Xua va Nay” (The Zither Then and Now) at 7:30 pm on Friday at Prof. Tran Van Khe’s home (32 Huynh Dinh Hai Street, Binh Thanh District.)

Source: (Jul 1, 2014)