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Singer breathes new life into ca tru genre

Update: October, 05/2014 - 20:28
Recital: Pham Thi Hue (middle) during a ca tru performance. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

Pham Thi Hue fell in love with ca tru when she heard a recording at age 20. Now, she's fighting to preserve the songs. Nguyet Ha reports.

Ca tru, or ceremonial singing, has had a lively season in Viet Nam following the recent national ca tru festival in Ha Noi City.

Children's faces were seen among the nearly 300 contributing artists at the festival, as well as household names familiar to ca tru enthusiasts. One such name is Pham Thi Hue.

With a lingering sadness on her gentle face, the ca tru diva has distinguished herself as one of those rare artists who could sing as well as play musical instruments.

For years, people have known Hue to be a ceremonial singer, but few know that, before practising the ca tru - an ancient genre of chamber music featuring female vocalists - she was a lecturer of zither at the Viet Nam National Academy of Music.

Born in Quang Ninh, Hue revealed her talent and passion for music and musical instruments early. With this in mind, Hue's parents made her take entrance tests to the Viet Nam National Academy of Music when she was only eight years old. Since then, Hue has studied dan ty ba (four-stringed mandolin) with the People's Artist, Mai Phuong.

After graduating with honours in 1996, Hue was retained as a lecturer of the academy. Numerous generations of students have studied dan ty ba under her with passion, even when she had already become famous for ca tru.

Hue said she fell in love with ca tru for the first time in 1992, when she heard a tape of singer Quach Thi Ho. Hue was barely 20 years old at the time. Upon hearing the tape, she felt like she was lost in a different world.

Nearly 10 years later, when Hue first met traditional singer Nguyen Thi Chuc in a Ha Noi ca tru club called Bich Cau Dao Quan, the ancient music genre again made a passionate call to her. Chuc fuelled a smouldering fire in Hue's heart for quite some time.

Hue repeatedly asked Chuc to teach her but was repeatedly turned down. For several years, Hue conducted self-study using books and imitation. In late 2005, Hue's passion for ca tru softened Chuc, who finally took her in as a trainee.

Chuc then passed on to Hue a technique which helped her become a famous singer in Ha Noi.

On the same year, famous musician Nguyen Phu De received Hue as his student in dan day, a stringed musical instrument.

For quite some time, Hue and her daughter would go to Hoai Duc District in Ha Noi for a week to learn how to sing ca tru songs, then go to the northern city of Hai Duong on the following week to learn how to play the dan day. With natural talent and a rare acumen, Hue quickly mastered the musical instrument.

By mid-2006, Hue's teacher decided that she was ready to celebrate Mo Xiem Y, the first public appearance for those taking the path of professional singers. Hue's Mo Xiem Y ceremony was also the first, after nearly a half-century, without ca tru singing. She became the first ca tru artist who could sing and play musical instruments at the same time, as acknowledged by researchers.

Multitasking: Hue became the first ca tru artist who could sing and play musical instruments at the same time.

In 2009, Hue and her teacher De debuted with a CD entitled Ca Tru Singing House. The CD includes six famous ca tru songs, mainly based on ancient verses of poets Nguyen Cong Tru and Cao Ba Quat.

Recently, Hue started to care more about training future generations. She also expressed hopes that in the near future, ca tru art would be taught formally in schools.

"The setting up of the Ca Tru Thang Long Club is one of the ways I try to fulfill my dream," she said.

"I hope that there will be more ca tru performances, although at present the audiences for these are still few. And I hope that ca tru artists will have more opportunities to perform and earn their living with a career in ca tru. It helps the art to exist," added Hue.

Along with the Ca Tru Thang Long Club, Hue has brought ca tru to many countries around the world such as France, the United States, Sweden, Japan and South Korea. Always desiring to bring Viet Nam's culture, an intangible cultural heritage, to the world, Hue's special performances have won the admiration of numerous foreigners.

"Since that night in 2006, when I performed with artist Nguyen Thi Chuc on the stage of the Ha Noi Opera House, I became aware that my mission in life was associated with ca tru," noted Hue.

"I will never give up ca tru, although right now the future of the ancient music genre is still obscure," she said. — VNS

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