Tuan’s magical flute: a love affair in notes

December, 04/2016 - 09:00

Flute means a true passion and soul mate to Phạm Anh Tuấn who won the third prize at last year’s national contest for young talents.

Simple love: Phạm Anh Tuấn with his collection of flutes.
Viet Nam News

by Nguyễn Bích Hường

The flute is the soul mate of Phạm Anh Tuấn who won third prize at last year’s national contest for young talents.

The first-year student at the Việt Nam Academy of Music (VNAM) came to academic music training much later than other students who usually start music classes at secondary school age or earlier.

After graduating high school, Tuấn went to vocational school under VNAM, learning to play the flute. His talent and efforts helped him complete the programme within four years instead of six years, as usual. Now he is a freshman at VNAM’s Vietnamese traditional instrument faculty. He has been receiving instruction from musician Tiến Vượng who has 40 years of experience studying, performing and teaching flute.

“Vượng is the person to whom I would like to express my deep gratitude for what he teaches me, not only music lessons but also about life, and for inspiring in me a love for the flute,” Tuấn said.

The work New Countryside that Tuấn played at the talent music contest in Huế was composed by Vượng.

“I spent almost one month practising the work for the contest,” he said.

At a rehearsal several days before the contest, he played it for Vượng.

“I played the work with my flute almost perfectly, very smoothly, orderly, no technical faults, no wrong notes,” Tuấn said, adding that after playing, he expected to get a compliment and encouragement from the teacher he respects so much.

“But I was astonished. Vượng said it was not OK,” he recalled. Tuấn remembered every word Vượng told him at that moment: “It’s too perfect to be you.”

“You and your flute embody for me the plain, the natural, the simplicity that is typical of northern rural areas, northern people. I prefer you with those traits than with great skills.”

Vượng’s words reminded me to stay in touch with my original love and feelings whenever playing flute, he said.

Childhood memory

Tuấn’s love for the flute dates back to his childhood. On the annual festival held on the third day of the Lunar New Year in his hometown in the northern province of Phú Thọ he would watch a procession that included drum, flute and other musical instruments.

At the age of four or five, Tuấn was already listening to 30-minute radio programme on folk songs and traditional music with his grandfather.

Such programmes nurtured the love for flute of a poor boy who did not have enough money to buy one.

“My father made my first flute and taught me to play, even though he could only make random sounds with it,” he said.

Tuấn said that he taught himself to play the flute. He put it in his mouth, adjusted his breath and moved his fingers on the holes until he found the right notes to play of a few folk tunes. He had no idea about musical notes, but played according to what he heard, Tuấn said.

Seeing Tuấn’s passion for the flute and folk tunes, Tiến Vượng was determined to teach him, helping the young man combine his talent, passion and academic technique to produce beautiful sounds.

Soul mate: Flutist Phạm Anh Tuấn. — Photos courtesy of Phạm Anh Tuấn

Enthusiastic audience

Like many music students, Tuấn usually spends most of his day time learning and practising at university. In the evenings, he plays flute at cafés, restaurants or on other stages to improve his performance skills and earn some money.

He has been welcomed by audiences, particularly those who love traditional music or those seeking a peaceful interlude after a busy day.

Some have even asked him to teach them - both old and young, students, office workers and businessmen.

“As long as they love flute, I don’t hesitate to teach them,” Tuấn said. “I want to bring the flute closer to people, particularly young people,” he said.

Nguyễn Đức Huy, 29, a software engineer, said he attended Tuấn’s flute class for two years, hoping to master some simple pieces. The longer he learned, the more he loved the instrument.

“Playing flute helps me relax, reduces stress, and more importantly, I find in the music the beauty of folk songs and country life. I love my country and my hometown ever more thanks to the flute,” Huy said.

The bamboo flute is a stem of fine bamboo with 10 holes. It could be said that the bamboo flute contains the musical essence of the Vietnamese countryside together with its four seasons.

By the lake

With the streets closed  recently to traffic around Hoàn Kiếm (Sword) Lake, the iconic landmark of the capital city of Hà Nội, Tuấn and his friends also perform there, attracting many pedestrians.

But the crowds don’t distract him because those who stop to listen like flute music and traditional music and are generally quiet.

“When I play flute, I forget the outside world, forget musical technique. I feel I’m part of the work and I play it naturally,” Tuấn said.

He wants to play as much as possible to introduce pieces for flute composed by experienced Vietnamese composers, including his teacher Vượng.

Tuấn’s wife, Ngọc Ánh, said that she fell in love with him as soon as she heard Tuấn play flute for the first time.

He does not often come home in Phú Thọ, being busy with his studies in Hà Nội, but their two-year-old daughter is already smitten. The toddler can already hold a flute and expresses an interest in making sound with it, the young mother said.

“She likes to imitate her father, especially when he plays flute. I think she will love the flute as much as Tuấn does,” she smiled. — VNS