Memory of world-famous whispering singer

Published: 15/02/2009 05:00



Vietnam’s leading ca tru (choral chamber music) artisan Quach Thi Ho couldn’t sing for tens of years. During that time, she did many manual jobs.

Singing ca tru at Thang Long Club.

Talent goes with misfortune

Mrs. Quach Thi Ho is praised for her special singing and phach beating technique.

Dang Hoanh Loan, the former head of the Music Institute and one of the experts who compiled the ca tru files to submit to UNESCO for recognition as a world intangible cultural heritage, commented: “Quach Thi Ho broke the rules to push the art and musical nature of ca tru to its peak.”

When Quach Thi Ho opened her ca tru club in Van Thai (Bach Mai, Hanoi currently), ca tru singer Nguyen Thi Chuc was singing at several clubs in Hanoi and Ha Dong. Mrs. Chuc, 78 (20 years younger than Quach Thi Ho), just listened to the voice of the older singer on tape.

“I don’t know whether Mrs. Ho sang ca tru the best but her singing style was unique,” Mrs. Chuc said.

She said many people sang ca tru very well but Mrs. Ho’s voice was very special. She sang like she was angry but very nice.

Ca tru researcher Dang Hoanh Loan recalled: “In 1980-1985, Mrs. Ho was still healthy but that time ca tru was seen as an unserious art. She taught ca tru to her niece but the woman didn’t have talent so she couldn’t become a famous singer.”

At the time ca tru was neglected, Mr. Ho still sang in whispers. “She told me that she worked as a hired labourer during the day and at night, she sung ca tru songs in whispers.

Thanks to her great effort to preserve ca tru, after over 20 years singing ca tru in whispers, she was honoured in 1978, at the introduction of professor Tran Van Khe.

The last image of the late artisan that Loan remembers is when he paid a visit to Mrs. Ho with professor Tran Van Khe a short time before she passed away. He shot a short clip of the artisan, who was very weak but tried to sit to read her own poem to welcome guests.

Ca tru’s prosperity

Senior ca tru singer Quach Thi Ho.

Seven years after Mrs. Quach Thi Ho passed away, a ca tru club again sings her old songs to commemorate the talented singer. Though now they sing her songs in another style, which is called Ngai Cau (a ca tru village in Ha Tay), taught by Mrs. Nguyen Thi Chuc.

The Thang Long Ca Tru Club’s Director, Pham Thi Hue city, said: “It is not good to imitate Mrs. Ho’s style. We should copy her standards but we have to keep our styles.”

Hue, a 17-year-old student of the Hanoi Conservatory of Music, first learned about ca tru when she listened to a cassette tape of Mrs. Quach Thi Ho. “A genre of music came from a far-away world. I couldn’t understand its vocal technique,” she recalled.

Hue is now a student of Mrs. Nguyen Thi Chuc and the teacher of nearly ten girls born in the 1980s and 1990s.

One of her students is Nguyen Kim Ngoc, a student at the National Music Institute. Ngoc is the daughter of Honourable Artist Kim Sinh, who played music for Mrs. Quach Thi Ho.

When Ngoc hadn’t yet fully come to understand ca tru, she didn’t agree with her father when he praised Mrs. Ho’s voice. “But when I understood ca tru, I saw that she really was the top ca tru singer,” Ngoc said.

“Ca tru is my future career,” Ngoc confirmed.

With the assistance of ca tru lovers, the Thang Long club organises a free ca tru performance on a monthly basis.

Thang Long and other ca tru clubs are trying to transmit the fire from such artisans like Quach Thi Ho.

According to the National Music Institute, there are around 40 records of ca tru songs performed by Mrs. Quach Thi Ho, which were produced in the late1970s. This number of songs accounts for around one-fourth of Mrs. Ho’s total songs. However, only 15 records are available to be enjoyed, the remaining can be used for research only.

The most valuable record is a 45-minute one named “Ty ba hanh”, which was listed as one of the nine best items at the Asia Music Forum in 1983.

This song requires excellent phach beating technique. “Of all ca tru artisans that I’ve met, nobody could play phach and sing the whole Ty ba hanh,” researcher Dang Hoanh Loan stated. This song is now on the website of the National Music Institute. So far, Mrs. Ho is still the champion for the number of records she had.


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