by Thu Anh
"Today I know what dan bau (monochord) is. I like playing the instrument because its sound is part of our country's spirit."
These are somewhat deep words for a second grader.
But Phan Hoang Thu Anh, a student of the Viet Nam-Australia International School (VAS) in HCM City, has had a profound experience this summer holiday.
Anh is one of the primary students in her school who have participated in a music programme as part the school's summer course.
No less a person than music professor Tran Van Khe has been part of the course. He and his colleagues have opened the hearts and minds of their young wards to the rich musical heritage that Viet Nam boasts, but is most often not taught to children as part of their normal curriculum.
Indeed, in a setting almost obsessed with getting high marks in match and science, music in general, and traditional music in particular, gets short shrift.
Before the course began, Anh and her friends could not name a single Vietnamese traditional musical instrument, but the knew of Western and Korean pop and hip-hop music.
Now, after a few days of talks and performances by Prof Khe and his colleagues, the chlidren have a good understanding of the history and growth of instruments like the dan bau and tam thap luc (a zither with 36 brass strings).
Anh can tell others proundly that Viet Nam has more than 200 kinds of traditional instruments that are played by ethnic groups all over the country. She has learnt much more in a weeks about the country's history and culture.
"The country's rich and diverse traditional music should be made more accessible to the younger generations, so that it can be valued and preserved," said Khe, an internationally reknowned Vietnamese-French music researcher who now lives in HCM City.
"I'm trying to sow the seeds of passion for traditional music in their souls and I hope the seeds will grow to a big tree in the future," said the 91-year-old scholar and musician.
He also exhorted young parents to teach folk songs and lullabies to their children even before they join school.
Khe has convinced primary school teacher Nguyen Kim Thoa of what is possible. "I believe that it's time for us to promote traditional music forms and help our music thrive despite the massive flood of modern Western music coming from outside." — VNS