by Phuong Mai
Noted record-holder creates new version of monochord
Traditional musician Mai Dinh Toi devoted an entire year making small changes to Viet Nam's one-string traditional instrument dan bau, often used in folk music performances and as an accompaniment at poetry readings.
Toi, who in 2012 was recognised by the Asia Book of Records for creating unique musical instruments, presented his new dan bau to player Hoang Cam in HCM City this week.
Toi says his changes make the instrument easier to play. The dan bau is made of four bamboo parts, a wooden rod, half of a coconut-shell, and a silk string.
"Because of its construction, the dan bau can only make a sound when musicians pluck a fixed position on the string. But now they can pluck anywhere on the string," the 56-year-old artist says.
He cites his love for both the instrument and his wife, who is a professional dan bau player, as motivation for changing the monochord.
"My work is just a tiny thing in promoting traditional music," he says.
Toi, a native of the northern province of Thanh Hoa, graduated from the Viet Nam Academy of Music in 1983 with an emphasis in folk music.
In 1992, he won the silver medal for his performance of flute and drums using his mouth and feet (an act that took him seven years to perfect) at the National Musical Instrument Performance Festival.
Since then, he has practised music in different ways, including playing the flute with his nose. He has created more than 10 musical instruments made of various materials like water pipes, bowls, bottles and glasses.
Toi has performed in Viet Nam and 30 other countries, including the US, France and the UK.
Artist Huu Luan, director of the HCM City Performance Organising and Filming Centre, says his company will use the new dan bau at its traditional music performances in front of the city's Opera House every Saturday and Sunday morning.
New theatre offers ‘enjoy first, pay later' ticket service
The entrance ticket for Tam Ngoc Home Theatre in HCM City's District 10 is an empty envelope imprinted with the sentence "Mat ve ra cua phat 30 ngan dong" (You will be fined VND30,000 if the ticket is lost).
Pham Vu Kien, the theatre's director, explains that the "enjoy first, pay later" service encourages audiences to attend performances, after which they can return the envelope with or without money.
"Our policy aims to bring people, especially the poor and students, to the theatre," Kien says.
"We also want to hear opinions about our performances."
Nguyen Quynh Trang, a student at the HCM City University of Social Sciences and Humanities, who see one of the plays, is impressed: "The play was so good. But we could give back only about VND10,000-30,000."
Kien says the envelopes collected after the show usually contain between VND10,000 and 50,000, and sometimes even 500,000.
"Some people do not leave money, but they leave apologies and encouragement," he says.
"Although the ticket sales can only handle our operation fees, we're happy and proud of our work."
The Tam Ngoc Theatre opened last October with 450 seats and modern visual and audio technologies. Its latest play is the horror comedy Coi U Me (The World of Delusion) directed by Hoang Duan, depicting family and marital problems.
The theatre is open from Thursday to Sunday. — VNS