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Late composer's music lights up Hue on rainy afternoons

Update: January, 09/2015 - 09:12
Collection: Son's belongings displayed at Gac Trinh. — Photos courtesy of Gac Trinh

by Phuoc Buu

It rains a lot in Hue during winter. Rain can last for half a month, casting a shadow over Hue, making the view quiet and the people passive. However, coffee shops have sprouted up around the silent former capital, offering cozy spaces to take refuge from the cold.

Many of them play the music of late composer Trinh Cong Son, a Hue native who spent part of his life in the quiet city.

With almost 600 songs produced from 1960 to 2001, Son is known best for his anti-war songs. His music draws fans from different generations, who are attracted to the Zen-influenced philosophy of his lyrics.

Many of his fans, such as Jason Gibbs, who holds a music doctorate degree from Pittsburgh University in the US, have translated these songs into English in an attempt to help international audiences understand the music.

Lee Kirby and Kyo York, foreign singers who have recorded many hits in Vietnamese, are big fans of Son's songs. In a performance to mark Son's 13th death anniversary last year, York told a local newspaper that there were no boundaries and ages for comprehending Son's music.

To Hue residents, Son's songs are especially significant because the spirit of the land, locations of Hue and lifestyle of local residents can be found in the songs, hiding under layers of meaning. Many close friends of Son still live in Hue, meaning his presence lives on in the city.

Sipping Vietnamese coffee, which is usually stronger that Western-style brew, and listening to Son's music in the silence of Hue is an ideal way to relax. One of the best such coffee shops is Chieu (Sunset), located several steps from the northern gate of the former Royal Palace.

Vintage feel: Lotus flowers in full bloom at Chieu coffee shop. — VNS Photo Bao Minh

Chieu is a very small and old shop, but it has become an emotional place for Son fans.

Many choose this place, where Son songs are played all day, to immerse themselves into Son's philosophy.

Surrounded by the small streets of Dang Thai Than and Phung Hung, its old wooden walls decorated with flowers, Chieu has a nostalgic feel.

The shop also offers a good view of the ancient royal palace wall and the palace's Tu Phuong Vo Su (Peace from Four Directions) pavilion.

When it rains, you can hear Son's words: "The rain still falls on the ancient temple. Your slender long arms, your pale eyes. Autumn leaves fall, the sound of soft footsteps. My eyes look to the distance, straining to see."

After a long walk around the former Royal Palace, Chieu offers a comfortable seat with friendly people. It's also affordable, costing less than US$1 for a cup of coffee.

Vu Minh Nhat, a Hue native living in HCM City, visits Chieu every year.

"The shop gives me a very good feeling to enjoy Trinh Cong Son songs," he said.

Gac Trinh (Trinh's Flat) is another Son-themed coffee shop convenient for visitors to the kings' mausoleums on the southern bank of the Huong (Perfume) River.

Mementos: Lotus flowers and a photo of Son displayed in Gac Trinh.

In the 1960s, Son lived in a second-floor flat in a building near Phu Cam Cathedral. From the balcony, he could see schoolgirls in white ao dai riding bicycles, an observation that appears in several songs.

For Son's death date anniversary in 2013, his friends gathered in Hue and mobilised resources to reclaim his flat so it could be used as a rendezvous for those who loved his music.

Like Chieu, Gac Trinh opens in the early morning and serves coffee at the standard price.

Duy Dang, who attended many events commemorating Son in Gac Trinh, said the flat was ideal for gatherings of Son's fans and friends.

At night, you can dance to Son's music at Da Trinh (Night with Trinh) at 99 Bui Thi Xuan. Owner Ngo Duy Loi is a very big fan of Son and while he has another coffee shop playing Son's music, he opened Da Trinh ballroom to serve as a place for audiences to entertain each other with Son music. Music plays on a keyboard while the singers are the audiences themselves. For those who are not fluent with lyrics, a screen gives perfect support for singing.

Loi said: "Music and Trinh Cong Son exist in the mind of almost every native of Hue, so I opened this as a rendezvous for Son fans."

Rain in Hue is long and boring, but it has happened during winters for centuries. So if you find yourself in Hue on a rainy day, enjoy the rain and remember: Trinh Cong Son is somewhere around you. — VNS

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