Kids club a boost for 'quan họ' folk singing

May 07, 2023 - 07:32
The Quan Họ Bamboo Shoot Club established by Nguyễn Thị Nguyên and several other artists, is helping spread the passion for folk singing and other traditional activities among the community, contributing to the conservation of this UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Quan Họ Bamboo Shoot Club has attracted participation of more than 30 children whose ages vary from 4 to 17. VNA/VNS Photos Thanh Thương

The love and talent shown in quan họ folk singing has been flourishing at a children's club in the northern province of Bắc Ninh's Tiên Du District for nearly 10 years.

The Quan Họ Bamboo Shoot Club established by Nguyễn Thị Nguyên and several other artists, is helping spread the passion for folk singing and other traditional activities among the community, contributing to the conservation of this UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Quan họ folk singing is alternate singing between male and female singers. They perform quan họ songs at local festivals as well as in their daily routine. The songs' lyrics are often from folk verses expressing love and friendship.

A 'quan họ' artist who is also teacher for the folk singing class rearranges the headscarf for a kid member of the club.

The club has performed in many cultural activities in Bắc Ninh, such as the annual Lim Festival, and received huge applause from visitors for their beautiful melodies.

Nguyên, a local woman who is also a quan họ lover and performing artist from Hoàn Sơn Commune, said when the club opened in 2015 it had only 10 members. It now has more than 30 whose ages vary from 4 to 17.

The club, which is separated from another with adult singers from the area, aims to build a special playground for children and inspire preservation of cultural folk activities.

Through a love of the songs and the dedicated guidance of older artists, the children have slowly grown in confidence to stand on stage and perform many popular songs in the genre.

Inviting betel nut is an indispensable ritual in 'quan họ' folk singing culture.

Nguyên fell in love with quan họ at an early age by listening to her grandmother’s singing, which inspired her to join the local troupe in her village.

She soon realised there were many local children passionate about this traditional art, but lacked the conditions to practise. This encouraged her to boldly create the Bamboo Shoot club where free teaching is provided to children.

The club faced many challenges in the beginning due to a lack of finance and finding the appropriate teaching methods for very young students. Nonetheless, with her indestructible passion, Nguyên combined traditional singing lessons with contemporary games to engage students. She also invited master singers to teach at her class.

"Apart from learning to sing, students were also taught about the meaning of folk poetry to understand the traditional cultural value of quan họ singing," she said.

Nguyễn Thị Nguyên (standing) together with other artists have established and organised the Quan Họ Bamboo Shoot Club helping spread the passion for folk singing among children and the community.

The club operates two sessions per week. At the session, the teacher and child learners, including boys and girls, often wear traditional customs special for the folk performances such as áo tứ thân (four-panel dress) and nón quai thao (large round hat) for female singers, and long dress and turban for men, while attentively listening to the teacher’s guidance.

Nguyễn Bich Ngoc, a club member, said that she had mastered dozens of quan họ melodies after following the club.

"Participating in the club helps me gain more useful knowledge about Vietnamese culture, and performing arts, and allows me to communicate more confidently, make friends, hone life skills, and relax," Ngoc said.

Meanwhile, Nguyễn Hiền Hoa, from Đại Sơn Village, said she always looked forward to attending the classes in the club.

Hoa is being trained carefully by her teacher Nguyên, and at home by watching a quan họ teaching programme on TV.

"I often wear a costume to practise quan họ performing in front of the mirror in my spare time. Thanks to that, I can be more confident in cultural activities at my school," Hoa said.

"It is my passion and helps me spread the love of quan họ music to my younger sister who is now also a member of the club, and we have joined others to perform at many folk singing programmes in the province."

Nguyễn Thị Thoa, Hoa's mother, said she was very proud of her children who deeply love the club.

"Since joining the club, our girls have arranged their own time to study, completing all assignments from teachers at school and at the quan họ singing class. I see them improve day by day, making friends and being bold in performances," the mother said.

Hoa said she wanted the class to develop more to help quan họ folk singing in Bắc Ninh last forever, as many of the young lose their interest in folk melodies, preferring modern pop music.

The Quan Họ Bamboo Shoot Club had proved a step in the right direction in preserving the traditional singing in the community, while nurturing young people’s interest in the folk art.

Intangible Cultural Heritage

In September 2009, at the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage held in the United Arab Emirates, Quan Họ Bắc Ninh folk songs were inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Since then, Bắc Ninh has implemented Việt Nam's commitments to UNESCO on preserving quan họ through teaching, building traditional performance space and investing in facilities to promote the unique folk art.

The province has not only obtained significant economic achievements, but also led the conservation in the promotion of heritage. So far, it is the only province in the country that has a monthly stipend for quan họ folk singers.

Since 2009, Bắc Ninh has honoured over 70 master singers with the title "Living human treasures", and provided monthly financial support for artists of the Quan Họ Folk Singing Theatre.

In terms of protection of heritage, the province has expanded the teaching of quan họ music in the community and included folk songs in the formal school curriculum.

It has also promoted performance spaces for quan họ songs, restoring and embellishing the historical relics of its ancestors, creating many quan họ hosting houses in many localities.

Many quan họ cultural activities have become annual events, such as programmes about the land of quan họ songs, as well as singing on boats and at night, attracting thousands of tourists.

Hundreds of quan họ villages and clubs operate in the province, attracting over 10,000 participants each year. Moreover, the province has also built a centre for conservation of the folk art, conducted research and published books about the rich folk tradition.

Quan họ tradition continues to spread throughout the villages, in every hamlet and street corner, becoming a cultural feature of Bắc Ninh residents' lives.

As the folk singing expands to all regions of the country, it serves as a cultural symbol, actively contributing to cultural integration with the wider world.

Bắc Ninh has pledged to continue to perform better in preserving the values of tradition, history, and cultural identity, especially when it comes to the romantic and storied tradition of quan họ. VNS