Huong Lan, the renowned singer of romantic folk music and cai luong actress, told Thanh Hiep that she feels an enormous sense of gratitude to the composers of her songs.
Inner Sanctum: You are not only a singer but also an actress of cai luong (reformed theatre). What are your plans for this year in both fields?
This year I hope to get the chance to perform on the reformed theatre stage.
In recent years, I have had many tours to perform for overseas Vietnamese in the US and Australia as well as other countries. Last year, the domestic stage had few performances so I had few opportunities to participate.
Inner Sanctum: Many audiences commented that you possess a "timeless singing voice". Do you have any secret method to keep your voice fresh?
I stay in good health – both physical and mental. At home, I often joke around with family members so that my family is always filled with laughter.
Psychology is very important. The innermost feeling can make a singer extremely successful – or lose all sense of emotion.
Inner Sanctum: Any artist who reaches glory also risks falling hard. Have you ever worried about the fall that often accompanies success?
Anyone reaching the top must find a way down. We cannot keep living on that peak, surrounded by cold loneliness.
I do not think of success as a mountain that I must climb while living in constant fear that one day I will fall down. The folk music genre will always survive in the hearts of the public; many generations have listened to it and fallen in love with it.
I'm not cocky – I don't think that I am in a "unique" position in my profession – but I am well aware of my responsibility to comply with this principle: work hard and do not put on false emotions, because to perform a song (or a role) without true emotion would be to cheat audiences.
Inner Sanctum: You are known as a punctilious singer and have never been criticized for forgetting song lyrics, a problem that many young singers now suffer.
Before setting foot on the stage, I have to learn the lyrics and practise until I can perform the song smoothly.
If the show organisers or audience members ask me to sing a song when I have not yet mastered the lyrics, I ask them to let me hold the text while singing.
I often go to see the song composers to study the meaning of their lyrics, so that I can fully understand the song and thus perform it better. Some singers, because they do not understand the song, sing some lyrics wrong. Others understand the lyrics but do not understand the composer's intentions.
I feel happy that I have met the composer of every song that I have sung, and all of them expressed satisfaction with my performance.
Only once, around 2007, when I heard that my mother was seriously sick in America, I was really distracted, so on the stage I forgot some words. Problems like that are normal, but it's important that you know how to correct them later.
Inner Sanctum: Are you pleased with the success you've achieved?
I feel I must have been blessed by the art's ancestors, as I have had so much luck on my career path.
When I was little, my father sent me to learn how to sing under musician Chau Ky, who also taught me other necessary skills.
I grew up with traditional ballads, which today we call "songs for life". I'm not rich, but I'm not poor in emotion. In my life, that is what I am most pleased about.
Inner Sanctum: Many have said that musician Bac Son made the name Huong Lan famous within the genre of country music ballads. You have also said that you love all the songs that he composed for you, is that right?
Musician Bac Son is a Southern man. He loves images of peaceful countryside, with rivers, boats, bamboo and thatched roofs.
He can compose beautiful lyrics based on simple material like blue cooking smoke produced by burning rice stubble.
His songs like Con Thuong Rau Dang Moc Sau He (Still Loving Bitter Vegetables Behind the House), Em Di Tren Co Non (You Walk on Young Grass) and Sa Mua Giong (Stormy Rain Falling) follow me everywhere.
Anywhere I go, in any country, overseas Vietnamese ask me to sing Still Loving Bitter Vegetables Behind the House.
Every time I met him, we talked all day about music. He analysed each song, each note so that I could understand and accurately represent his feelings.
I was also honoured that he edited some songs to suit my singing voice.
Inner Sanctum: With more than 50 years of artistic activities, will you retire any time soon?
I don't intend to, even when I face difficulties and hardships. I have been singing since I was five years old. Today I am 57. My father was very strict. He taught me the essential skills of a singer and forged me a strong will so I could cope with all the challenges of show business.
Any occupation has its own difficulties, but as artists, we have to bear the pressure of creating and maintaining a reputation.
Inner Sanctum: After you retire, what will you do?
After leaving the stage I will record CDs to preserve my singing and engage in charity work. I myself came from hardship, so I want to support younger singers who come from the same background. However, I would teach only students who are really capable and who do not plan to use the singing profession to get rich.
Inner Sanctum: Have you drawn any lessons from your career that we can take away?
You should love your job and respect your teachers and senior colleagues.
I like the Vietnamese saying: "Without teachers, you couldn't have success." I feel enormous respect and gratitude to the composers who wrote the songs that I have performed, no matter what generation they come from. — VNS