At 8’30 am on Saturday, at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, a world heritage site, an artists group from the Vietnam Traditional Music Development Center were almost finishing up preparations for the show.

Behind the scenes, some people were working on the make up and clothing for each other, while others, however, were preparing staging techniques and decorations. 

The show was due to start at 9.00 am, so preparation must be prompt. A show normally comprises of 6 performances, by individual and combined artists. 

Nguyen Xuan Quynh is a young singer from the Vietnam Traditional Music Development Center. 

“Today’ show will last for about 1 hour and a half, with many performances. The center mobilizes more than 20 people for each show. Visitors here may include both invited guests as well as tourists,” she said.  

Among audience at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long was Ha Van Ly from Moc Chau, Son La. 

He said, “This is the first time I’ve watched this program. I’ve come here by chance. I’m eager to watch the Ca Tru performance. I know that Ca Tru was recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. Today, I go with my family and we will spend the whole day visiting this place.”

Apart from the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, the “Ha Thanh, 36 Old Quarters” program is also being held at other venues including Dong Xuan Market and Huong Tuong Temple on Ma May Street, where it can garner the attention of both domestic and international visitors. 

Except for 3 regular shows held every few weeks, the center also organizes shows through the Tet holiday or on other special occasions.

“Meeting Spring”, a Ca Tru piece was performed in the form of recitative. The shade of each nuance of a Ca Tru song and the meaning of the author’s lyrics were reflected through the combination of the singer’s voice, castanets, Chau drum, and the 3-string plucked lute or Dan Day.  

The singer’s facial expressions, which were moderate, soft, and gentle, with a touch of a tormented feeling, left a lasting impression on viewers.

Emeritus Artist Phuong Hong, Head of the Ca Tru Club from the Vietnam Traditional Music Development Center, said, “We have acknowledged our responsibility as  predecessors to pass down the passion for Ca Tru, a unique treasure of Vietnamese music, to younger generations at the center.”

“When performing Ca Tru, especially to foreign audiences, we try to impress them and introduce them to Vietnam’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. We must sing as if we can touch audience’ souls, so they can understand the significance of Ca Tru, which bears both folklore and academic aspects,” she said.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Tuyet is in charge of the preparation tasks, including preparing for the stage, make up and change of costumes for the artists. 

She said, “Performances always require strict dressing regulations. For example, in Chau Van or ritual singing, each saint has a typical type of clothing which represent each saint’s occupation and background. Other performing props represent the place where the saint lives.”

“If the saint lives in the forest, fire, candles, flowers and fruits must be required on stage. Or if he lives in a river or ocean, a layer of smoke will represent his epiphany. For such a role as the Guanyin, there must be a transparent chiffon. A bodhisattva must hold a gourd,” she said.

Tran Hung, a young Chau Van artist said, “I feel so happy that I have a chance to perform today.  I want to bring Chau Van as well as the “going to the trance” culture, which only exists in Vietnam, to international friends. In the past, only a red dress was needed to perform every character. However, today, each character require a type of clothing.”

“There are 6 colors : red, green, white, yellow, blue and black. Chau Van performance is a spiritual culture. I’ve been performing for the Vietnam Traditional Music Development Center for 5 years now. And I will be performing for the show as I want to maintain the traditional culture of Vietnam,” he said.

Watching the Chau Van performance, Holly from Canada, a visitor, said, “I haven’t watched anything like this before. I guess that’s a traditional dance. The costume are really really beautiful.”

10-year-old Vuong Ngoc Hieu is the youngest member of the center. He wooed audiences with his beautiful make up and smooth dance moves. Hieu wore a green dress for a Chau Van performane. 

He said, “The character that I performed was young Hoang Saint. I’ve studied at the Center for a month. I’m impressed by Xam singing, Chau Van and other folk music.”

Each Xam singing is a small story, which reflects the reality of the society. From different situations, Xam characters represent hope and the aspirations of the people in the old days, such as the longing for happiness. 

The character of the woman in this Xam song talks of her hope for her husband to pass the examination after a lots of hard-work.

Through inanimate objects such as fans and umbrellas, we see the charming humor in a folk song originating in Ha Nam province, called “ Umbrellas and Fans”

The Artistic Director of the “Hanoi- 36 Old Quarters” show and Deputy Director of the Vietnam Musical Development Center, Thao Giang spoke about the young staff at the center as well as the process of training and education for young artists.

She said, “Young actors, actresses, singers and accompanists here used to be young audiences who watched this show about 10 years ago. After watching it, they loved it and went to the Center to ask for admission. Through the process of training, we’ve selected some young artists with special talents to join classes taught by artists at the center and even to study at university.”

“Last year, 6 young members of the center have obtained master’s degrees to become young researchers. The “Ha Thanh, 36 Old Quarters” show is a great opportunity for them to practice their skills and also a chance to introduce their audience to other successful performances of our center,” she added.  

Senior artists at the Vietnam Traditional Music Development Center include well-known Emeritus artists such as, composer Nguyen Hong Thai, composer Van Ty and Ca Tru singer Thu Yen. They have been acting as mentors to younger generations at the center.