Professionalism key for Xoan singing preservation

Published: 11/07/2009 05:00



Folk cultural researcher Nguyen Khac Xuong is nearly 90 years old but he still allots time to Xoan singing. He enthusiastically told VietNamNet about his concerns for the preservation of this intangible cultural heritage.

Folk cultural researcher Nguyen Khac Xuong.

When did Xoan singing appear?

This is a big question. Nobody can say for sure when Xoan singing appeared. According to my research, there are three foundations for answering the question. Firstly, it is legend. Secondly, it is the language of Xoan songs. Thirdly, it is folk belief in Xoan singing.

According to a legend, a concubine of King Hung Vuong had a difficult birth. Thanks to the singing voice of a girl named Que Hoa, she had princes. Thus, Xoan may have first appeared in the Hung King Dynasty.

Secondly, ancient Xoan songs praised Le King, a battlefield at Bo De citadel and mentioned King Le and Lord Trinh. The language of Xoan songs shows the time when it existed. Moreover, the later Le Dynasty was a bright period of Vietnamese culture.

Thirdly, Xoan singing is a ritual singing art so it is very difficult to guess about its origin if we don’t study belief. In Xoan singing, there is a part called “bat ca” (catching fish) and then “tat den” (turning off the light), which belonged to “tin nguong phon thuc” (worshiping male and female genitals or coitus to wish for a good harvest).

Based on the three above foundations, we can presume that Xoan singing appeared in the Hung King age and developed brightly under the later Le Dynasty.

Why is it called Xoan singing?

Xoan songs used to be performed in the spring (mùa Xuân in Vietnamese) so it was also called Xuân singing and gradually Xoan singing. Xoan singing is performed at communal houses in the spring only.

What are the specific musical instruments of Xoan singing?

The musical instruments for Xoan singing are similar to many other kinds of folk songs, including drums, wooden bells and castanets. Drums and castanets are played by men while singing and dancing are done by women. There are dances performed by two 10-year-old boys.

What is the most interesting thing that you have discovered in researching Xoan singing?

Xoan singing has two parts: ritual and festival singing. The language of Xoan is the most interesting. It is very romantic, popular but not ordinary, even the parts related to “tin nguong phon thuc”.

Have all ancient Xoan songs been collected?

Senior artisans perform Xoan singing.

I don’t dare affirm that all have been collected but we have collected many songs, including songs written in Han script and songs related by old people.

Has any composer recorded Xoan music?

The Music Institute is holding Xoan songs collected by myself and Xoan pieces of music recorded by musicians Tu Ngoc and Cao Khac Thuy.

What do you think about Phu Tho’s young people’s interest in this traditional music art?

The ones who love and still sing Xoan songs are the elderly, not the young as in the past. Old people sing well but it is not romantic for old people to perform love songs. Xoan is ritual songs but they are very romantic.

I think to restore Xoan singing in Phu Tho, this art must be professionalised, with directors, nice costumes and other factors to attract audiences, not just have old people performing Xoan like at present.

What were the standards to choose Xoan singers in the past?

The group leader was middle-aged, he did not have to be old. The performers were young, not old people like today. So I have said that we need to restore Xoan singing by professionalising it and bringing new blood to this art.

Old artisans should teach youth, not perform.

Do you think that we should expand Xoan troupes?

I think it is a must.

Xoan singing is closely connected to communal houses. If it is professionalised, will its characteristic be changed?

If we bring Xoan to stage, we have to use symbols of communal houses on the stage. Moreover, there are Xoan songs for rituals and for festivals.

Do you think that Xoan can develop thanks to these methods?

I think Xoan is more attractive than ca tru thanks to its exchanges with the audience. Xoan is attractive because it has music for rituals and festivals.

Do you think that we should give new lyrics to Xoan songs to bring it nearer to the young?

I think we should not do this because we have to preserve the real value of Xoan as folk music, which is completely connected to agriculture and the countryside.

The young don’t like Xoan, I know. The mission of cultural officials and folk art researchers is provoking them to like Xoan.

Interviewer: Tuan Hai

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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