Last August, violinist Hoang Rob's debut music video, a cover of Say You Do by songstress Tien Tien, received more than 100,000 likes in a single day. The video featured the fairytale landscape of Tien Cave and other beautiful places in Quang Binh Province, Hoang Rob's hometown. The young man has continued to release videos filmed at famous tourist spots with the aim of showing people "how beautiful Viet Nam is." Hoang Rob, whose real name is Truong Nhat Hoang, talks with Thuy Hang about his deep love for the stringed instrument.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you choose to play the violin?
I have been fascinated by the heart-touching sound of the violin since I was a young boy. It is hard to explain why I am attracted to the sound. I just felt as if it were a part of me and suited my personality and ego.
The cost of a violin at that time was much more than the amount I had in my piggy bank and I lusted for a violin so much that I even created one from cardboard. Of course, that cardboard violin is non-functional, and it was just there to satisfy my hunger for playing the instrument.
A few years later, when I was 15, for the first time in my life, I owned a real violin that I bought from a second-hand music shop in Hue. I spent all the "lucky money" I got during that Lunar New Year on the violin. By owning the instrument, I felt that I could be in touch with my dreams.
Since then, I devoted all my free time to searching and reading about how to play the violin. Because I was learning by myself and practising on a violin which was below quality, I got complaints from my neighbours, who said they were perennially tortured by the sounds of my playing.
My violin skills have improved significantly since then with the help of lecturers at the National Academy of Music after I moved to Ha Noi in 2008 to study economics at the Ha Noi National University.
Inner Sanctum: Ha Noi is a big art hub of the country and there is an unwritten competitiveness existing among artistes and performers. As an unknown violin player, how did you get involved in performing activities?
I have never forgotten my debut performance in public. It was in a small cafe and I was paid VND50,000 (US$2.2) for the performance. The amount was very humble and it was just enough to buy fuel to drive from my rental room in Cau Giay District to the cafe. However, I did not care about the money. For me, standing on the stage to perform for an audience was worth it. Playing together with other members of a music band was also an effective way to perfect my skills. That is why I sometimes performed for free.
In 2010, when the H2T concert – a music event for teenagers – opened casting to select young and potential performers for the show, I attended it and was lucky to be among those selected. It was an overwhelming feeling when I stood on a big stage, in front of 10,000-strong audience at the Giang Vo Exhibition Centre to perform with my violin. I came back to the H2T concert's stage twice, becoming the only one to perform thrice in a row.
In 2012, I challenged myself in a new role – music and stage director of a violin concert featuring members of Viet Violin, a group of amateur violin players, including me. The concert brought a fresh experience for the audience because we performed world music. The show's success was beyond our expectations and it received applause from both, the audience and the experts.
Since then, I have had more opportunities to work and perform with some famous singers such as Thanh Lam, Tung Duong, Ngoc Khue, and Trung Quan Idol. I have also had the chance to represent Viet Nam at some international music festivals abroad.
Inner Sanctum: How has your life changed since your debut MV went viral last August?
Of course, I was very happy to see the way my music production has been received. And I never imagined that I could earn money playing my violin. I have received more invitations to perform in different events. I am busier with the heavy performing schedule that causes me sometimes to fly several times a week in between Ha Noi and HCM City. However, I still control my time to be able to complete my MBA degree as well as enjoy my life – hangout with friends or taking care of the garden in my balcony.
Inner Sanctum: So far, you has released four MVs, which were all filmed at famous Vietnamese sightseeing spots. Where did the idea of filming at such places come from?
I was unsure about the path I should take for my music. By chance I heard the song Tu Nguyen (Voluntariness) sung by Nguyen Thao, and I saw the light. The lyrics were 'neu la nguoi toi se chet cho que huong' (if I were a man, I would die for my homeland). From that moment I started planning a music project dedicated to my homeland, my home country.
Normally, an MV is produced to support the song. However, I do not follow this usual way. Instead, I think about the location first, and then I select a suitable song to cover. And the song must be one by a Vietnamese composer.
Video Tu Nguyen was shot at Hue's royal citadel – my mother's homeland. The poetic landscape of the ancient town of Hoi An is definitely suitable for video Cau Vong Dem Mua (Rainbow of Rainy Night). The Vung Dat Lang Quen (Oblivion Land) shows the picturesque landscape of my home province Quang Binh, where is dubbed the "Kingdom of Caves". The MVs depict the beauty of each location, through my eyes and my impressions.
Inner Sanctum: Together with the launch of your latest MVs, you have also released a book penned by you? Can you tell us more about this book?
Alongside playing the violin, I also like writing. In the book, I explain the reasons why I nurtured the music project Tu Nguyen. The book is about my passion for music, my sincere love for my homeland and my deep impressions of all the places I have put my footprint to.
The book helps me to pour out my feelings that I sometimes cannot express enough even through my violin.
Inner Sanctum: Where will be the next location to be featured in your MV?
If nothing changes, this summer I will produce a MV filmed inside Son Doong Cave – the world's biggest cave, with the support of Oxalis – an adventure tour operator in Quang Binh, and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. It will be my most expensive production with estimated cost of more than VND1 billion (about $50,000).
I also plan to present charming Ha Noi in another MV.
Inner Sanctum: Can you comment on your own success?
I am ambitious and lucky. I do not wait for opportunity to knock. I search for it all the time. And I do not hesitate to try something new.
Inner Sanctum: You are soon to get the MBA degree, how you will use the knowledge you have harvested from the course while you are involved deeply with playing the violin?
At the moment, playing the violin is still my major concern. The MBA degree is just a back-up plan. Despite what many people think, that there is no connection between playing the violin and the MBA degree, I disagree. Along with making me a well-organised person, studying the economy also helps me to think practically, to map out working plans specifically, and to have a clear vision of the future. — VNS