Trong Quan Singing in Bui Xa

Trong quan singing, a type of popular art which alternates singing with drum accompaniments, has been performed for over 700 years in Bui Xa Village, Ninh Xa Commune, Thuan Thanh District of northern Bac Ninh Province. Local villagers are well aware of maintaining it as part of their cultural heritage which was formed in the land of the country’s ancient cultural hub.

In the old days, on a moonlit night during the Mid-Autumn festival, youngsters from Bui Xa Village used to gather at the hamlet entrance to join in the singing competition, which would last throughout the night with the enthusiastic support of the villagers.

According to Pham Cong Ngat, an elder of the Bui Xa Trong quan Singing Club, the folk art was first performed in the 13th century during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400), but mostly flourished in the years prior to the August Revolution in 1945.

72-year-old Le Ba Bao, President of the Bui Xa Trong Quan Singing Club,
is one of the first members of the club for Trong Quan singing lovers. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

88-year-old Pham Cong Ngat is the one who has collected and composed
over 100 Trong Quan songs for Bui Xa Trong Quan Singing Club. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Members of Bui Xa Trong quan Singing Club prepare for a performance. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Members of Bui Xa Trong quan Singing Club help each other
with preparation before a performance. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Bui Xa children watch their grandparents singing Trong Quan on weekends. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Local records said that Bui Xa artists had become so famous that King Trung Quang in the Tran Dynasty invited them to visit the royal capital to perform for his enjoyment.

In 1993, the Bui Xa Trong quan Singing Club was established, first with only five members, then up to the current 28 members. The local artists perform not only during the Mid-Autumn festival and other holidays, but also in artistic performance competitions, and they have won numerous prizes, including First Prize at the Bac Ninh Province Elderly Singing Contest in 2003 and Second Prize at the Thuan Thanh District Artistic Performance Contest in 2005 and 2007.

Le Ba Bao, current head of the Bui Xa Trong quan Singing Club, said that this art form is an alternating singing contest between youngsters who are divided into two teams (boys and girls). Both sides express their heartfelt feelings through the verses of songs. Singers must obey the principles of “greeting-welcoming-asking-wishing”.

Unlike Trong quan singing in other localities, Bui Xa Trong quan singing is simple, but has a quick rhythm and many pauses between verses. It has few repetitions and the verses are in the six-eight word form, but when being sung they change into the ten-nine word version.

The sole musical instrument that accompanies the singers is a drum, which controls the rhythm. There is a horizontal wood plate with two poles at each end that are connected to each other by a steel wire. A drum is placed in the middle of the wire – the drum’s hollow surface is placed on the wooden plate while the bottom surface is a bit closer to the wire. When the drummer beats the steel wire, it will pluck the drum’s end and produce sounds with more echo and repeat against the singer’s words.

Anyone who enjoys performances by the Bui Xa artists would fully feel the unique feature of this folk art, particularly the smart response of the singers on various topics and
different singing voices.

Bui Xa residents sing Trong quan based on provisional call-and-response,
which is very popular in Kinh Bac area. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Bui Xa residents sing Trong quan in the form of six-to-eight syllable verses. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

With the form of alternating singing, Trong Quan singing performances are the occasions
for male and female youngsters to meet and know each other. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

Besides singing, Bui Xa residents also perform some dances or gestures
that are suitable with the verses and beats. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

28 members of the Bui Xa Trong quan Singing Club (Thuan Thanh, Bac Ninh)
often hold Trong quan singing performances. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

The farewell song performed at the end of each practice
of the Bui Xa Trong Quan Singing Club. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

To date, there are more than 100 Trong quan songs on different topics which are performed by members of the Bui Xa Club, including those praising the bumper harvest, festivals, a wedding party, the native land and people. When singing the folk songs, the artists can improvise the repartees depending on their mood.

Time has gone by, and old Bui Xa singers hardly maintain their sweet voices. However, younger generations of Bui Xa Village continue to be interested in Trong quan singing. At the Bui Xa Club, besides the elderly singers, there are youngsters, who join the training and performance. This speaks highly of the long-lasting vitality of Trong quan singing which attracts not only the local residents, but also many others across the country.

Story: Ngan Ha- Photos: Viet Cuong