Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, 23, graduated Summa Cum Laude from Berklee College of Music in the US. Continuing what has the makings of a sparkling career, he has just won the excellent conductor award in the Chorus Show Viet Nam-Dat Nuoc Anh Hung (Viet Nam–The Heroic Country) held by the Ho Chi Minh Youth Federation and HCM City Television. He talks to Luong Thu Huong about his path to stardom.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you decide to become a musician?
Music has been with me all my life - I started playing piano when I was 3 and singing when I was 4. It just seemed like the most natural thing to me. It is beyond a passion; it is what keeps me going. It gave me so much, so I have to keep pursuing it. I want to create and teach to keep music alive and help it to grow.
Inner Sanctum: What have you learnt from American music while attending Berklee College?
Music really has no borders, so we didn't just study American music. We listened, studied and collected different elements and aspects of music from across the world. The most important lesson, however, is that I have to keep listening, studying and collecting ideas from music traditions everywhere. That's how we can find out what we want to include in our own music. My majors at Berklee were Composition and Contemporary Writing & Production. I also did a minor in Conducting. Therefore, that process is part of my every day musical life.
Inner Sanctum: Which musicians have most influenced your work?
I have listened to and studied a lot of different composers. I like the power and efficiency of Beethoven's music. I enjoy the beauty and sophistication of Mozart. I love the music and orchestrations of Ravel and Stravinsky. The revolutionary work of Webern greatly intrigues me. The drama in the music of John Williams, Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown amazes me. The quirkiness of Imogen Heap inspires me. I love the edge of Michael Jackson and Queen. I am also in awe of the simplicity in the music of Trinh Cong Son. Leonard Bernstein and Peter Schickele - they have all opened my mind to so many things in music.
Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, what's the biggest challenge facing young musicians like you these days?
I think one of the biggest challenges is finding a way to define oneself and one's music. There have been many who came before us. They did - and are doing - fantastic things. Just like many of my friends, I learn from them, but also try to establish my own musical identity. It is particularly hard and discouraging when the quality of music in general and the interest of the audience is not what I am expecting.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about the musical industry of Viet Nam nowadays?
It is a developing industry. However, classical music and traditional music don't get as much attention as pop music. We have fantastic talents working in those fields, but they generally don't get the recognition and attention they deserve. I want to lend a helping hand to change that picture. I think we should start with providing better music and art education in school.
Inner Sanctum: What was it like receiving your excellent conductor award?
It was great - a challenging yet rewarding experience. I got to work with very talented kids from the Singing Club of the Children's House of Ho Chi Minh City. We performed a song composed and arranged by my teacher, composer Tran Thanh Tung called Viet Nam Men Yeu (Lovely Vietnam), which won the gold medal. I was lucky to have the trust of my teachers, Ms Vu Anh Tuyet, chair of the Performing Arts Department, and composer Tran Thanh Tung, to lead the children's choir. Compared to working with adults, it was a little bit more challenging with the children. When it came down to the wire, however, they did everything I asked them to do. And we had fun!
Inner Sanctum: What have been the most significant moments in your composing life so far?
In 2002, when I was 12, I wrote a song for my mother called Me Oi! (Dear Mom!). It was included in my second album, released when I was 15. In 2005, I participated in a competition held by UNESCO Bangkok called "Sowing Seeds of Peace in the Mekong River Basin". I wrote the song Let's Light Our Peace in both Vietnamese and English. I was given the only Music award of the competition. They were both performed at my live show Khuc Hat Yeu Doi in June 2006.
In January 2011, I had my very own Composition Recital entitled Acoustic. It was to showcase some of my work up to that point. Most of the pieces were premiered live for the very first time. It was amazing to get to show off my work and receive fantastic reviews from my friends, colleagues and lecturers.
Inner Sanctum: What are your future plans? Will you pursue classical music, modern, or both?
I would like to pursue both classical and contemporary music. I hope to keep on composing, writing, performing and producing music. I am also a huge fan of musicals. I have watched and studied over 30 musicals and plays on Broadway. I would like to help popularise this genre in Viet Nam. And I would definitely like to continue into higher education. — VNS