If the answer is ‘yes,’ which it often is, the veteran music teacher responds, “That’s understandable. Even with only 15 minutes a day, you can make great strides in learning music!”

Phuong Oanh, also known as Vo Quang Tung Phuong Oanh, is the first Vietnamese professor to teach traditional Vietnamese music in France. Her illustrious career began in 1978 at the Louis Kerven Academy of Music in Sevran, a suburb northeast of Paris. For over five decades, she has nurtured and mentored countless students.

Her groundbreaking ’15-minute question’ has resonated with generations of learners, making the prospect of learning music seem less intimidating and more accessible.

An enduring inspiration

Huynh Phi Thuyen, who married at 21 and now resides in Canada, has built an outstanding ‘family music career’ spanning three decades.

She performs alongside her three children in ‘Phuong Ca Norway,’ a traditional Vietnamese music group founded in Oslo in 2003.

Thuyen watched in admiration as her eldest son, Tin Tin, made remarkable progress in Professor Phuong Oanh’s music classes, beginning at the tender age of six.

Tin Tin excelled in playing the ‘tranh’ (16-string zither) at a French music school under Professor Phuong Oanh, and also mastered other Vietnamese instruments such as ‘bau,’ ‘nhi,’ ‘sen,’ and ‘kim.’

Thuyen subsequently enrolled her two daughters, Uyen My and Quynh Vy, in the same class.

Uyen My has become a skilled percussionist in Phuong Ca Norway, expanding her repertoire to include bamboo flute, t’rung, drum, and ‘senh tien,’ in addition to her primary focus on ‘tranh.’

“I remember an unforgettable event where Professor Phuong Oanh guided the members of Phuong Ca Norway to play together with new instruments in just one evening,” Thuyen recalled. 

“She guided them through playing instruments they had never touched before.”

Despite her humble and reserved nature, Professor Phuong Oanh’s influence in promoting the learning of traditional music is undeniable.

“She remains an inspiration that drives me to keep Phuong Ca Norway thriving to this day,” Thuyen affirmed.

Quynh Vy (L) and Tin Tin, two members of the Phuong Ca Norway club, perform the song ‘Mua thu que huong’ (The Hometown’s Autumn). Photo: Supplied

Finding time amidst busy schedules

Kim Thuong, head of Phuong Ca Rennes in France, remembers her initial encounters with Professor Phuong Oanh and the Phuong Ca family. 

Working as an employee at a school, Kim Thuong had only 15 minutes of her daily break to practice music.

Her husband, Dao Tan Anh Truc, a mechanic, had an even more constrained schedule.

Despite these challenges, the couple, with their three children, managed to pursue their passion for music.

“15 minutes is invaluable to me,” Kim Thuong said.

“Thanks to Professor Phuong Oanh’s approach, learning music is enjoyable, interesting, and not overwhelming.

“With dedication, I believe I can learn to play the ‘tranh’ even with just 15 minutes per day.”

Kim Thuong not only overcame her obstacles but also supported her daughters, Tam Anh, 13, and Van Anh, 11, through their initial challenges in learning music.

“I sometimes felt too exhausted to practice. Seeing my children practice after school made me feel sorry for them. Preserving their Vietnamese heritage was my motivation to stay committed,” shared Kim Thuong.

Driven by her passion, the mother of three seized the opportunity in 2019 to launch Phuong Ca Rennes, the ninth branch of the Phuong Ca family, with Professor Phuong Oanh’s guidance.

“Can you spare 15 minutes a day?” Professor Phuong Oanh’s question from years ago continues to resonate with Kim Thuong.

It emphasizes the accessibility of music learning, which many often perceive as daunting.

Through this simple question, Professor Phuong Oanh has empowered countless learners to overcome psychological barriers and embark on their musical journeys.

Professor Phuong Oanh cherishes the close bonds she has formed with her students, often referring to them as family.

She treasures their heartfelt expressions of gratitude, such as “Thank you for your patience. I will strive to improve” and “Today’s performance was beautiful and unforgettable. I loved performing with you all.”

For the dedicated teacher, these heartfelt messages are more valuable than any award.

The Phuong Ca Rennes club performs at an event showcasing Vietnamese ‘ao dai’ in Lorient, France. Photo: Supplied

About Professor Phuong Oanh

Professor Vo Quang Tung Phuong Oanh was born on March 27, 1945 in Da Lat City, located in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, Vietnam.

She currently resides in Taverny, France.

Professor Phuong Oanh graduated from the Sai Gon National Music Academy, where she majored in singing and traditional Vietnamese musical instruments, from 1962 to 1963.

In recognition of her expertise and contributions to Vietnam’s traditional music, she was awarded a professor’s degree in traditional Vietnamese music in Strasbourg, France in 1996.

Beyond her academic achievements, Professor Phuong Oanh has made significant contributions to the promotion and preservation of Vietnam’s traditional music.

She founded the Phuong Ca network of schools, specializing in traditional Vietnamese music education.

Established in 1969, Phuong Ca schools have been operating in 10 countries, fostering a greater understanding and appreciation of Vietnamese musical heritage on a global scale.

In addition to her teaching endeavors, Professor Phuong Oanh has also conducted extensive research on music, enriching her understanding of traditional Vietnamese musical practices.

Her dedication and expertise have been recognized through various awards and accolades, acknowledging her outstanding contributions to the field of traditional music.