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Preserving folk singing with drums

Update: December, 15/2019 - 08:48



GET INVOLVED: Children are encouraged to join Bùi Xá Hát Trống Quân Club. VNA/VNS Photo Diệp Trương

By Thanh Thương

The art of folk singing alongside drums, hát trống quân in Vietnamese, started in Bùi Xá Village, in today’s Thuận Thành District, the northern province of Bắc Ninh, in the 13th century, but locals still practise the art.

According to Lê Thị Mão, 94, the art reached its golden time before the August Revolution in 1945. 

"At that time, this kind of folk singing was the only kind of entertainment among locals," she recalls.

“In the village, all people, old and young, knew how to sing,” she says. “Many young couples got married after singing rehearsals. They courted one another through the songs.”

Mão says she loved the art at a young age and accompanied her brothers and sisters to performances.

At 18, she performed at night shows. She also got married to a drum player after performing at such shows.

After 1945, the art got less popular, until it was revived in 1993.

In 2003, the first club of folk singing and playing drums was established, which now features dozens of members.

People sing live without any musical instruments, apart from the drums of course.

“At performances, artists sing in order songs of greetings, welcoming, wishing and asking,” says Lê Bá Đạo, 77, a member of the club.

“Different from singing with drums in other areas in the north, local lyrics are simple, with quick rhythms, while the sounds echo well for a long time,” he says.

The techniques require a strong voice, passion and the capability to respond quickly at contests, he adds.

Artists in the village play a special instrument – a drum made of clay.


HARMONY: Club members often gather at Bùi Xá Communal House to rehearse. VNA/VNS Photo Diệp Trương

The instrument consists of a bar of wood placed vertically, with two bamboo sticks on the two sides of the bar. Women would stand on a stick side, while men on the opposite. The two sticks are connected by a metal string. In the middle of the string, a drum is placed on the wooden bar. The string is placed on the face of the drum. When the player beats the string end near a stick, the string vibrates on the drum and creates sound.

In the past, people used the clay drum exclusively, but now a normal wooden drum can be used instead.

The club meets each weekend night with about 30 members in attendance, where they practise old songs and write down lyrics and record songs on CDs based on ancient melodies composed by the artists.

As many as 130 songs have been recorded.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism added the art to its list of national intangible cultural heritages, and three veteran artists have been honoured for their contributions to teaching the art to youths.

Thư says her biggest fear is that teaching activities are now mostly aimed at those above the age of 50 in the club.

“Our first and foremost desire is to be supported by local cultural authorities to open more training classes for younger people,” she says.

“Besides training at the club, we also should set up a teaching programme at schools for children,” she suggests. VNS


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