A 10-member harmonica ensemble has made it's debut in Ha Noi amid development of professional harmonica playing in Viet Nam. The event follows the Viet Nam Harmonica Orchestra (VNHO) establishment in HCM City in 2013. The VNHO was the country's first harmonica orchestra with 50 members by Hoang Manh Ha.
Culture Vulture speaks with Ha about the VNHO's participation in the Seoul International Harmonica Festival last month and the group's plans for the future.
Could you tell us about the VNHO's time at the Seoul International Harmonica Festival (SIHF)?
SIHF 2015 gathered orchestras, troupes and soloists from all over the world. Many of them were from Asia. The SIHF is held annually by the South Korean Harmonica Education Association. The festival included performance, seminars and a harmonica market.
We brought two folklore pieces, Trong Com (The Cylindrical Drum) and Chim K'Tia (K'Tia Bird), and Bay Toi Hoa Binh (Fly to the Peace), which was composed by Nguyen Huong Thanh based on music from Tay Nguyen (the Central Highlands).
The VNHO's performances were ranked fourth and fifth. We are happy and satisfied with our first time at an international competition.
We made a strong impression on other competitors and the jury board.
Could you tell us about the VNHO, as you are its founder?
The VNHO was set up two years ago. All members at the orchestra and I remember many memories over the two years. I nurtured the idea setting up a professional harmonica orchestra long time ago. But I could not do it until December, 2012.
I met and discussed with conductor Nguyen Bach, chief executive Officer of B.A.C.H Music School in HCM City. He gave his hands to me setting up the VNHO. I also received support from Nguyen Hoang Lien Son – an administrator of a harmonica website. After one month, we launched the VNHO with 30 members. Since then I have been a trainer and manager of the VNHO.
What were the advantages and disadvantages when you set up the VNHO?
We began with nothing. Before joining the VNHO, our members played mainly tremolo harmonica. This kind of harmonic is more of a toy, it doesn't sound as in tune. An orchestra needs chromatic harmonicas, which are more professional but expensive.
We were lucky enough to get sponsorship from Vu Van Muoi, the director of Gado Company. He donated a sum of money that enabled us to buy German Hohner chromatic harmonicas.
Two of the chromatic harmonicas we received were bass harmonicas and chord harmonicas. They are expensive. You could buy a piano with that kind of money.
How well-known is the VNHO? Does it promote professional harmonica playing in Viet Nam?
UK National Harmonica League Chairman Ben Hewlett knew about the VNHO and listened to the VNHO's performance clips on YouTube. He visited us last May. He will return in November to give some short training courses in HCM City.
I see there's a big change when it comes to playing harmonica in Viet Nam. In the past, it was just a hobby. The VNHO has trained more than 200 chromatic harmonica players. We plan to establish trios, quartets and ensembles. We also want to develop harmonica soloists.
Additionally, the harmonica market has been busier in the last two years. World producers such as German Hohner and Japanese Suzuki have paid attention to the Vietnamese market.
Why do you – a journalist – like playing harmonica?
I work as editing manager at HCM City Phap Luat (HCM City Law) newspaper. Music is my passion. I was keen on music at a young age and I studied several instruments, including harmonica. But it was for fun until I bought a chromatic harmonica – a professional type that charmed me. When I pored over documents about chromatic harmonicas I became addicted to them.
I studied on my own through books. I wrote a curriculum called Making Friends with the Harmonica to teach chromatic harmonica. — VNS