He has devoted himself to making the seemingly simple and rustic traditional bamboo instruments express academic music in an impressive and creative manner.
Dong Quang Vinh was born into a family with a rich tradition in arts. His father is Meritorious Artist Dong Van Minh, a performer and maker of traditional musical instruments, and his mother is Meritorious Artist Mai Thi Lai, former teacher of the string-instrument subject at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. Therefore, Vinh was familiarised early with traditional music.
When he was seven years old, the then conductor-to-be was taught by his parents about music theory and how to play traditional Vietnamese instruments. At the age of nine, he joined a regular course on the bamboo flute at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. Since then, Vinh has followed in his parents footsteps, performing folk instruments in many countries around the world, but he remembers the tour to six major cities in Japan the most. At that time, Dong Quang Vinh played the songs of the host country with the bamboo flute and t’rung (bamboo xylophone) of Vietnam. His performances received great applause from Japanese audiences. The 12-year-old boy began to realise that music is a miracle than can unite countries around the world together and that his country’s national music will affirm the position of Vietnamese music internationally.
Dong Quang Vinh started learning and practicing many kinds of traditional musical instruments. Besides improving his performance skills, he also made music notation and re-wrote and composed many artworks the Department of Traditional Musical Instruments under the Vietnam National Academy of Music. He then was sent to study orchestra conducting at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in China in 2004.
After nine years of successfully completing the graduate and master training programmes, the young conductor refused many opportunities to develop his career in the foreign country to return home with the aspiration to do valuable things for Vietnamese music. In addition to the role of main conductor of the Vietnam National Opera and Ballet Orchestra and a lecturer specialising in orchestra conducting at the Vietnam National Academy of Music, Dong Quang Vinh has been a conductor at many domestic and international concerts. He has aspired to bring national music to the world and make academic music closer to the Vietnamese public. Therefore, he formed the orchestra “Suc song moi” (New Vitality), the only orchestra playing symphony music using the bamboo musical instruments of Vietnam.
Dong Quang Vinh shared that bamboo has an image attached to Vietnamese people for thousands of generations. The sound from the bamboo musical instruments is the soul of Vietnamese music. Therefore, Dong Quang Vinh has devoted himself to finding ways to promote the national instruments even though he knew this path would not be smooth. Despite being cruder and simpler than many Western musical instruments, bamboo musical instruments are not burdened with technological factors so they have the advantage of being able to express pure emotions.
Vietnam’s music has also long been famous for plucked instruments such as dan tranh (Vietnamese 16-string zither), dan nguyet (two-chord guitar), ti ba (four-chord lute) and tam thap luc (a zither with thirty-six strings). If the string instruments are considered the soul of Western music, the plucked instruments are the soul of Vietnamese traditional music. According to Dong Quang Vinh, with skillful application, Vietnam’s national music will go a long way towards conquering international friends. However, while Western musical instruments have been used and innovated upon for hundreds of years for their harmony in a symphony orchestra, Vietnamese traditional instruments have not experienced such a process.
In order to arrange Vietnam’s bamboo instruments such as t’rung, bamboo flute, khen (panpipe), pi (a kind of bamboo flute of the Thai ethnic minority people), dan tranh, tam thap luc, dan Nguyet and drums together to play symphonies bearing a modern spirit, Dong Quang Vinh had to work rigorously and diligently, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of each kind of instrument in order to improve, adjust and re-write the works. Fortunately, during his journey, Vinh has received great support in improving the instrument from his father.
It is difficult to play symphony with bamboo musical instruments and the combination between these and western instruments is much easier. For example, violin has a wider interval than Vietnam’s dan nhi (two-chord fiddle) although they both belong to the string family. Regarding wind instruments, many western instruments are in the woodwind and ottoni/brass families, while only bamboo flutes are popular in Vietnam. In addition, Vietnam’s dan tranh is usually for only pentatonic scale, so it is difficult to play it in timbre or semitone. These challenges forced Dong Quang Vinh to study deeply the musical features and styles of each instrument to find out the best interval for the instruments in a piece of music. Accordingly, his "two in one" role as both conductor and performer came into full play.
The worthy reward for that serious artistic spirit were classical music concerts where Western jazz and chamber music resounded impressively through bamboo musical instruments. Dong Quang Vinh and “Suc song moi” orchestra have created cultural dialogues by music, contributing to building a solid bridge connecting Vietnamese and world music.