Artist’s mission to save old monochord

Published: 29/01/2009 05:00



Lookatvietnam – In the face of new fashions and technology, People’s Artist Nguyen Xuan Hoach is trying to save the original Vietnamese monochord, dan ba, from extinction.

Upbeat: Artists play the restored dan bau in an attempt to find the true sounds of the instrument of the instrument.

When Vietnamese artists began to use modern electric instruments, the dan bau also went electric to project a louder sound.

“When musical troupes performed for soldiers and large audiences, the change was necessary,” said Pham Minh Khang.

“To play for large audiences, the sound needs to be loud, that’s the reason why musicians improved the simple dan bau.”

The new instrument still has the basic characteristics of dan bau, Khang said.

However, several years and a few “improvements” later, the dan bau is barely recognisable.

In 1978, the Dan Bau Music Society was organised by late musician Luu Huu Phuoc to help protect the traditional musical instrument from disappearing.

“Phuoc held performances to restore the traditional dan bau to its-esteemed position,” said musician Thao Giang. “He also wanted to develop and use the improved instrument.”


Hoach was granted the title People’s Artist for his contribution to preserving the dan nguyet (moon zither). While studying the dan nguyet professionally at the Viet Nam Music Academy, he learned to play the dan bau from master Ba Sach.

“The passion of dan bau has haunted me and urged me to bring the true musical instrument to The people,” Hoach said.

Hoach began his work by examining old French photographs of the instruments from the early 20th century.

Restoring dan bau is not an easy task. Hoach drew a sketch and then chose materials to build the instrument.

“After a lot of thought, I chose bamboo for the sound board,” he said.

“It was difficult to buy dried gourds in Ha Noi. I asked my friend to buy me a slender-necked gourd from Quang Tri Province.”

The work was finally finished in 1990. After hearing the melody of Hoach’s dan bau, musician Thao Giang composed a song, Du Thuyen Tren Song Huong (Rowing on Perfume River), which was performed by drums, bamboo tocsin, cymbals and dan bau.

“This song will help musicians show off their skill and the instrument express its features,” Giang said.

Hoach successfully performed the song by himself, playing the dan ban with his hands and the other three instruments with his feet.

“Many excellent artists in the past were able to do that, performing various instruments at the same time on special occasions,” Giang says.

Both Giang and Hoach work at the Music Art Development Centre on Hao Nam Street, Ha Noi, and they are trying to preserve the traditional art.

Whenever he is free, Hoach teaches music to students of all ages. Anyone who is interested can come learn the dan nguyet, dan day (long-neck three-chord zither) and xam singing.

“In spite of the large number of students, until now, I haven’t found a satisfactory heir to learn all the secrets of dan bau from me,” Hoach said.

It takes at least three years of dedicated study to learn the basic lessons of dan bau, but playing the instrument skilfully will take a lifetime, he said.

Hoach is looking for a disciple who will sacrifice everything for the traditional instrument.

(Source: Viet Nam News)

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