|Striking a chord: Schoolgirls at Dinh Hoa High School learn how to play the tinh guitar and sing then folk songs thanks to the careful tutelage of artisan Hoang Thi Bich Hong. — VNA/VNS Photo
A high school in Thai Nguyen Province has been teaching its young pupils the art of traditional then singing in a bid to preserve the genre and pass the baton to a new generation of artisans. Dong Xuyen and Trung Hieu report.
The small classroom fills with the sound of young students singing folk songs and playing indigenous guitars. Soon, students from other classes gather and watch from outside the windows.
This is the first time the Culture Office of Dinh Hoa District in the northern province of Thai Nguyen has joined with Dinh Hoa High School to collaborate on a very special musical programme that teaches students how to sing in the then style and play the tinh (two-stringed) guitar.
Then is the folk singing of the Tay, Nung and Thai ethnic groups in northern mountainous provinces such as Bac Kan, Lang Son and Ha Giang.
Each region has their own then tunes. While these folk songs in Bac Kan are like murmuring lullabies, they are unhurried in Lang Son, and hearty and rapid-fire in Tuyen Quang.
During performances, then singers always play the tinh (a local guitar with a long handle and a gourd as the sound box).
"This class aims to create a healthy playground for students and plant seeds for young generations of singers and tinh players to gradually spread among the masses," says Nguyen Thi Thu Hoai, chief of Dinh Hoa District's Culture Office.
In order to implement a project to restore, preserve and promote cultural values of ethnic groups in Dinh Hoa District up until 2015, the Culture Office decided to teach high school students this art, she says.
"The reason we choose to teach young students is because they are the key to the future and the owners of cultural values in their own right.
"Furthermore, training students in this art is a way to preserve folk singing for the long term and help it spread to many places, because after graduating high school the students will bring then to many parts of the country."
With that purpose in mind, the Culture Office has invited artist Hoang Thi Bich Hong, head of the Thai Nguyen Province Then Club to visit Dinh Hoa High School to teach the art.
The school chose dozens of gifted students to enroll in the class, as they can all acquire knowledge quickly and efficiently.
Hong is joyful at the progress made by her students in just two weeks of afternoon lessons. "These students did not know how to sing then songs or play tinh but they have artistic talent and have learned very quickly.
"During the first lessons, I had to guide each student's posture and show them how to hold the guitar. After just a few days, they basically knew how to play the guitar and then they learnt how to sing some popular songs such as Mua Xuan Hat Mai Cau Then (Singing Then in Spring), Mua Hoa Le (Pear Blossom Season) and Viet Bac Que Em (Northwest, My Homeland)."
Hong says that the enthusiasm and perception of the children was so great that she was inspired.
"They are really a young generation of artists, who should have more time and care spent on them in the future," she says. "They are remarkable."
Teachers and students at the school have been equally happy with the progress made.
The corner of the main classroom contains many tinh guitars hung on the walls.
When we visited the school and asked to hear a Tay folk song, two schoolgirls named Ma Thi Nhung and Nong Thi Phuong from the music class excitedly picked up the instruments and started to play.
Their fingers glided on the fingerboard and their singing voices were very clear as they performed fluently and skillfully. And all after just two weeks of training.
"After learning with teacher Bich Hong, I went home and practiced regularly. My guitar sounds echoed around the hamlet, so many neighbours heard and also wanted to learn. I've taught quite a lot of them now!" says Nhung.
School head teacher Hua Duc Toan says that after the course ended, the school set up a club for folk singing that has attracted a lot of students to participate.
"The students who attended the first class now promote folk singing in the school. They teach the other members in the club and organise group activities as well as performing across the district," he says.
The chief of Dinh Hoa District's Culture Office, Hoai, says the curriculum to learn how to sing folk songs in the school has achieved positive results.
"This is just an experiment. In the time to come, we will do further research on this model and apply it to other schools throughout the district.
"We hope that, in the future, these folk songs will sound out forever in all the schools in this district, and spread to all schools in the country that have Tay and Nung students. It is a wonderful way to keep then singing alive and well." — VNS