Culture - Society
Festival honours traditional musicians
Traditional artists from the Thăng Long Puppetry Theatre won gold and silver medals at the Traditional Musical Instrumentalist and Ensemble Festival 2017 which was held from April 15 -23 in the central province of Thanh Hóa.
At the festival they performed Khoảnh Khắc Hà Thành (Moments in Old Hà Nội) with traditional instruments such as the đàn tam thập lục (zither with 36 brass strings), đàn đáy (a long-necked three-stringed lute) and đàn nguyệt (Vietnamese two chord guitar), accompanied by folk singers. The performance was staged by the theatre director, People’s Artist Nguyễn Hoàng Tuấn.
Director Tuấn spoke about the performance.
Could you tell us about Khoảnh Khắc Hà Thành?
First, I want to stress that I staged Khoảnh Khắc Hà Thành for traditional artists at the Thăng Long theatre, and not for puppeteers. The musical performance was performed by 15 artists featuring traditional xẩm and ca trù.
Xẩm (blind busker’s singing) is a form of northern Vietnamese folk music that dates back to the 13th - 14th century. This kind of music was normally performed by blind buskers who wandered from village to village and earned their living by singing. Ca trù (ceremonial singing) appeared in the 11th century but it wasn’t until the 13th - during the Lý Dynasty, that it was officially recognised as a form of entertainment for the royal court.
It’s easy to see the distinction between these two genres of music. I wanted to combine and harmonise them in a musical performance which helps spectators enjoy and learn more about the musical genres. This combination proves that music is able to eliminate the gap between social classes.
The performance features instruments like the đàn nguyệt, đàn nhị and đàn đáy. At the beginning, I named the performance Cậu và Hành Khất (Master and Beggar) which I hoped would make audiences curious. I intended to convey that there is no barrier between rich and poor when it comes to art. Rich and poor people are equal in establishing themselves as poetic souls. However, I changed the name to make more easily understood.
Your theatre mainly uses puppets. What difficulties did you face when staging the musical piece?
We are an art theatre and we usually make traditional musical productions. Our productions are being enjoyed by audiences inside and outside of Việt Nam. So we are confident enough to stage Khoảnh Khắc Hà Thành with ca trù and xẩm. Our artists practise for three months. They understand their work and the message I want to convey.
The musical performance conjures scenes of old Hà Nội. We took the time to stage not only music but also illustrations by actors, so spectators could enjoy xẩm and ca trù and get a feeling of old Hà Nội’s unique characteristics, such as young rich people hanging out in rickshaws.
Many people asked me why we were confident to participate in the Traditional Musical Instruments Festival, despite being a puppetry troupe. Our artists are talented and they studied at the Việt Nam National Academy of Music. It is not the first time we attended the festival. This time is the third we have joined the festival and our musicians have won gold medals on previous occasions.
How do you think the festival went?
Khoảnh Khắc Hà Thành was highly appreciated by the professions and it is one of six repertoires to be awarded a silver medal. Furthermore, meritorious artist Đặng Tố Như and Nguyễn Thanh Hùng were given gold medals for their solo performances with đàn tam thập lục and đàn đáy. A solo performance by đàn nguyệt artist Phạm Đức Bình also won silver medal.
Musicians play traditional musical instruments at the theatre to accompany puppetry performances. The musicians are talented but they are not popular because there are not many competitions for traditional musicians.
Will Khoảnh Khắc Hà Thành be performed at the theatre?
Absolutely, it will be in the theatre’s performance schedule. Besides the folk tales, we want to have more performances concerned with modern themes.