In the past 15 years, symphony orchestras have gained increasing attention from Vietnamese people. As one of the country's few flute soloist, Nguyen Dieu Hong has been a key member the Viet Nam Symphony Orchestra, performing at more than 60 concerts a year. She talks to Luong Thu Huong
Inner Sanctum: Why did you take up flute, a rare musical instrument in Viet Nam, instead of other popular pursuits?
I have been living in a world full of music since I was young. My parents, despite not being artists, have always been keen on art, especially my father. I used to be lulled to sleep by my father's gentle singing and poems.
At nine, I was accepted into the Ha Noi Conservatory to learn the oboe, but it is such a huge and heavy musical instrument for a young girl like me, so my grandfather advised me to pursue an instrument that I really liked. At that time, I loved turning on my small radio whenever symphony songs were on air to listen to the flying sound of flute, I found it light and fitting to my tastes.
Blowing a flute is like singing, but without words, to demonstrate the artists' feelings. As a reserved person, I'm particularly keen on showing my inner feelings via music, so I blow the flute just like a vocalist would emphasise their singing. The difference is that my songs are wordless, but they still have to transmit the feelings sufficiently. Additionally, the sound universe of the flute is as rich and varied as the other main musical instruments of the orchestra. Sometimes it is blended with other wind instruments, while at other times it works alone to play a distinctive tune in the song.
Inner Sanctum: Like singing? So do you have to practice your breathing frequently?
Yes, of course. Like singers practicing their voice, I have to practice my breathing so that I can control it properly. However, it is not good to use all of your breath while blowing; instead, it should be controlled to follow a certain standard. There are also pauses when blowing the flute like commas in literature, while like maths, breaths must be precisely divided.
Unlike other musical instruments, flutists rely not only on technique but also inner strength, so health is an important factor. I have always tried to eat nutritiously and take time to relax before any performance.
Inner Sanctum: How do you interact with other positions in the orchestra?
Each musical instrument has its own characteristic but in an orchestra, they have to share the same breath. An orchestra performance is like a conversation - when one person raises their voice, another has to give a response.
Inner Sanctum: What are the most important factors for succeeding as a flutist?
First and foremost, the artist has to train his breath. Each wind instrument is basically the same but the ways of releasing breath differ greatly.
Sound is the second factor that needs to be practiced. The clearer it gets, the more beautiful and organic it becomes.
Last but not least, aptitude is very important, but practice makes it perfect. Unlike other branches of study in which the students can instantly apply the theory after graduating, it might take a lifetime to master the flute.
Inner Sanctum: Have you ever thought of giving up the flute to pursue a more convenient lifestyle?
No, art has been an indispensable part of my life. It doesn't matter what will happen, I still pursue it and live my own life. Honestly, my life still has its own excitements despite its strenuousness. Each show might require weeks of practicing for one or two performances and each conductor has his own working method. Presently, Viet Nam Symphony Orchestra works mostly with foreign conductors whose demands are very strict, so at times it is very exhausting. But however exhausting it gets, we still feel happy working in a professional environment and showing off the best of our abilities.
Inner Sanctum: As a major flutist in the orchestra, have you ever dreamed of your own live show?
I used to perform solo after graduating. I was also lucky to perform solo with the symphony orchestra of the European Union in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City, which are my most memorable and impressive performances. I have learned a lot from such performances. But my own liveshow? I have never thought about it, let alone dream of it!
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about the development of flute in Viet Nam?
In the past few years, the number of flute students has been relatively small. There are dozens of students at the Ha Noi Conservatory now, but very few are dedicated to pursuing the flute. It is often said that practice makes perfect, but in reality, not many can learn flute, as it requires huge amounts of aptitude and endurance.
But the good news is that audiences for symphony shows in Ha Noi Opera House have been increasing. Symphony has been enjoyed by more people and particularly youngsters. This brings huge encouragement for flutists like me to perform more enthusiastically and inspire future generations. — VNS