Don ca tai tu has won international admiration, especially among connoisseurs of traditional music. South Korean expert Sheen Dae-Cheol is one of them with his report on the charm and special characteristics of the genre.
He is one of dozens of experts who will take part in an international conference on don ca tai tu to be held in Ho Chi Minh City from January 9-11 ahead of its presentation for UNESCO recognition as a world heritage.
Tuoitrenews makes some excerpts of his report prepared for the meeting.
Since the influx of western and foreign music, Vietnamese traditional music genre of don ca tai tu has survived and not lost its unique musical flavor or aesthetics.
Don ca tai tu is comparatively young Vietnamese music, appearing in the 19th century. However it is loved by many southern Vietnamese people and openly holds a very good position in the nation’s music.
Lyrics of don ca tai tu can be accompanied by several musical instruments as dan tranh (16-stringed zither), dan bau (one-stringed gourd zither), dan nguyet (moon shaped two stringed lute), dan nhi (two-stringed fiddle), song lang (two pieces of bamboo struck against each other to keep rhythm, guitar phim lom (concave-fret guitar) and also likely with western violin, flute of Chinese origin.
Vietnamese musicians accepted the Western guitar for don ca tai tu but they transformed and Vietnamized it to be a suitable one for playing their don ca tai tu.
They improved the guitar by making the frets deeper, turning them into deep fret guitar and changing the way to attune the instrument.
The instrumentation to accompany the song is very peculiar and unique. Upper mentioned musical instruments are used to accompany the songs of don ca tai tu as ensemble, however, the instrumentation is very flexible as only two or three of them can form up an ensemble.
Vietnamese doctor Tran Van Khe said, “Of the instruments for the ensemble, the dan nguyet plays the most important role. The dan tranh embellishes center tones of music and dan nhi ornaments other tones. Off all musical instruments of the ensemble, the role of these three is more important than any other.”
The monochord dan bau is a very peculiar and charming musical instrument. It is one of real Vietnamese traditional musical instruments and its sound is amazingly beautiful. Vietnamese musicians widened the range of it and dan tranh to play higher and lower tones respectively.
Originally the musicians of don ca tai tu did not perform for their livelihoods, just to entertain themselves or others and that is a reason why it is called amateurs’ music. But it doesn’t mean to be a musician of don ca tai tu is easy. Its musicians have to practise very hard for a long time so that don ca tai tu musicians can be called as professional musicians even if they don’t perform it for materialism.
As an amateur, it needs not any special prepared stage as professional art music. Accordingly it can easily and deeply goes into every corner of usual Vietnamese life so that it can be played at festivals, various parties, after harvests, under shade of trees, on boats, temples and romantically under a bright moon night.
It can be said it possesses a musical and magical power of charming Vietnamese people. Especially it is said that the emotion and the soul of southern Vietnamese people are melted in it.
Don ca tai tu has some extemporaneous nature when musicians perform it, but maintaining the integrity of music is very important. Don ca tai tu has to learn it by heart the basic tune of each repertoire from which they can improvise, yet still maintain the integrity.
Don ca tai tu players are free to create their own musical style as the spirit if impromptu is highly respected in don ca tai tu as such.
Accordingly it can be concluded that don ca tai tu, from the point of musical and cultural view, is very valuable traditional music to be preserved, disseminated and enjoyed. Naturally, don ca tai tu is qualified to be the center of public attention from Asia and the world. In addition, it is qualified to be designated as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity as well.