Saturday, August 15 2020


A professional stays true to amateur music

Update: June, 15/2014 - 16:30
Music for everyone: Don ca tai tu is a folk music genre popular in southern Viet Nam that is often performed during festivals and after harvests. — VNA/VNS Photo Duy Khuong

One man's undying devotion to a music genre that swings along with all kinds of moods inspires people from different backgrounds to attend his affordable classes. Ngoc Lien and An Vu tune in.

It was only a few metres ahead until we heard a soft melody resounding from the house of amateur artist Le Khac Tung. Seventy years of hardship has not stopped him from performing don ca tai tu (amateur singing), a popular type of traditional music form.

Tung, sitting firmly on a rudimentary chair under a 150-year-old tree, was singing Bai Ta and Ngu Diem songs ardently, with his hands grazing skilfully on the zither's fret. Surrounding him were his cousin, Nguyen Thi Hang, 50, playing monochord and flute, and his nephew, Nguyen Minh Quan, 21, playing lute with six strings. The sounds of the instruments mingled with each other, and I could feel the excitement in each note.

In his class, the oldest student is seventy and the youngest is six. They enrolled in with different purposes: some learn by passion, some seek for fame, but all are moved not only by his devotion, but also by the affordable fee.

"The sound of the music is sometimes loveable like a young girl's soothing voice. It will be fierce at times and desperately sad at other times. It will be happy when you are happy, and become wicked when it is angry," says Tung to his students.

Attracted to the guitars since he was eight, Tung has played for many cai luong (reform theatre) troupes and weddings. Yet, he never intended to make money by amateur singing, but became a barber when he was young.

"Some told me that if I had chosen to be a performing artist, I would have had fame and money. And it is true for me, as I only know, and passionately fond of two things: playing amateur singing and teaching," says Tung.

When composing a song, Tung usually takes priority in writing about his home country, Hoc Mon. He even writes songs in praise of the rice seed, and water morning glory, the thing that is close to the farmers' lives. As he said, amateur singing is how you play with your heart and soul, and is only available to be heard in quiet places. "Only in the countryside the music is peaceful and idyllic. For me, it is pure love," says Tung.

Nguyen Minh Quan, one of Tung's youngest students, says that Tung's skills amazed him so much that several times he wished to let down his guitar to show his admiration for his master.

"I have been learning to play the hollow-fret guitar from uncle Tung for two years. While other young people are pursuing modern music, I am bewitched by amateur music. At first, I tried to play as I live next door and have heard him playing each day. Then I was drawn to it magically. Now, I have made up my mind to learn to play devotedly and wholeheartedly, says Quan.

Doyen: 70-year-old Le Khac Tung (C) leads adon ca tai tu music performance. — VNS PhotoT.T.D.

Nguyen Thi Hang, another student of Tung, is extremely touched when she talks about the music master.

"My teacher is a talented musician. He can play various kinds of instruments, and most of the works he plays are beautiful and draws me in intensively. Whenever I see him play anything, I want to learn that immediately. I never wish to learn from anyone else but him," says Hang.

To Tung, his students are a dynamic world in his mind. He follows them and knows each's strengths and weakness, so he can raise the flame of amateur singing in them.

"Playing amateur music means you learn the lyrics by heart. It is different from other kinds of music, where you can view the lyrics of the songs. Therefore, it is much more difficult as you will have to mull over the lyrics after learning it by heart. The part of the song you put your heart in is the part that will vibrate through your fingers. Because each student's heart is different, the way they play is different as well," Tung told Viet Nam News.

Folk artisan Le Khac Tung was born in 1945 in Hoc Mon District, one of the cradles of Southern Viet Nam's don ca tai tu (amateur music) art. At the age of eight, he was able to attend the classes of great teachers in the region. Two years later, he mastered other musical instruments, including 16-chord zither, monochord, guitar and violin. He has contributed to the construction of forty local amateur music clubs and groups and has completed the composition for 200 amateur pieces of music.

From 1982-2008, he was appointed vice director of Hoc Mon District Culture Centre and former leader of HCM City amateur singing club. In 2008, he opened an amateur singing class, which played all the musical instruments at Tan Hiep hamlet.

To raise the flame successfully in his students, the master has devoted himself wholeheartedly to each song that he has played. What makes him proud the most is the tranquil yard where his students come and play music every day, and no noise of life out there can bother them.

Trinh Van Duoc, a handicapped tailor, has been attending Tung's class for more than ten years. Considering the class as the loving second home, he has not missed one day sitting with his fellow students.

"I have no other purpose but a real passion for this class. I also have my livelihood, so I do not see amateur music a job to live on. Teacher told me I have mastered seventy per cent of the skill, but I still have a lot to discover on the artistic way," says Duoc.

For Tung, to be able to see his students attending class more and more each day is a simple happiness. "To preserve the Southern amateur folk music, artists must put the heart for students on top. I think the scale of each class must also be expanded, and we need to have a basic method for beginners, so that we can pass our love for this traditional music to our younger generation," he adds. — VNS

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