On November 7, 2003, UNESCO bestowed world heritage status on 28 relics of nations as masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage of humanity. Among the 11 masterpieces of Asia, nha nhac (royal music) represents the first intangible legacy of Vietnam to have been put on this list.
The UNESCO Council appraised Vietnamese royal music in the following terms: “Vietnamese royal music represents an elegant and refined music. It deals with the music performed in the imperial courts and on different anniversaries, religious festivals, and on such particular occasions. Of the different categories developed in Vietnam, only the royal music was national.”
Nha nhac (Vietnamese royal music) and its principles came to Vietnam under the Ho Dynasty (1400-1407). The Ho Dynasty, however, only existed for a short time, so nha nhac rapidly fell into oblivion. In 1427, Le Loi defeated the Chinese Ming invaders and liberated the country. However, nha nhac only began to develop in the reign of King Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497) and reached its peak under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).
Nha nhac is genre of scholarly music. It attracted the participation of many talented songwriters and musicians, with numerous traditional musical instruments.
From now on, nha nhac will have opportunities to preserve, develop and popularize to the public, inside and outside the country.
Quan ho Folk songs
The birth place of quan ho folk songs is Bac Ninh Province. During village festivals, which are held every year, particularly in spring, young men and women gather in the yard of a communal house or pagoda, on a hill or in a rowing boat, and sing quan ho. This is a style of singing where songs alternate from group to group.
Quan ho singing is a folk art of a highly collective nature. Those who sing are not entertainers, but all are part of the performance, and anyone is welcome to join.
Quan ho Bac Ninh folk songs is inscribed on the list of Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on 30th September 2009.
Ca tru singing (Intangible Cultural Heritage)
Fortunately, ca tru is now being restored and is more liked by the younger generation. Research scholars have traced the origins of ca tru to areas of high culture, such as the ancient imperial capital of Thang Long (present-day Hanoi), Ha Tay, etc. Artists of great talent have practiced the art, including Quach Thi Ho, Thuong Huyen, Kim Dzung, etc. Some of them are now in their seventies, but a successor generation has blossomed and holds great promise.
Ca tru is where poetry and music meet. People familiar with such ancient verse as luc bat (the six eight-syllable distich) and hat doi (singing tossed back and forth between groups of young men and women), and who are capable of sympathizing with the sentiments expressed in the sound of a small drum or a two-string viol, are more likely to fully enjoy a recital of ca tru.
Ca tru music is most enjoyable when there is complete harmony between the words being sung, the rhythm marked by a pair of small bamboo sticks held by the singer who strikes a small block of wood or bamboo called phach, and, last but not least, the appreciation shown by a man among the audience beating a small drum at the appropriate moments.
Ca tru singing is inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of Urgent Safeguarding on 1st October 2009
The Cultural Space of Gong in the Central Highlands
The space of gong culture in Central Highlands of Viet Nam covers 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic groups of Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’Nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De, Gia Rai… The gong performances are always closely tied to community cultural rituals and ceremonies of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands. Many researchers have classified gongs as ceremonial musical instrument and the gong sounds as a means to communicate with deities and gods.
The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places.
In most of ethnic groups, namely Gia Rai, Ede Kpah, Ba Na, Xo Dang, Brau, Co Ho, etc., only males are allowed to play gongs. However, in others such as Ma and M’Nong groups, both males and females can play gongs. Few ethnic groups (for example, E De Bih), gongs are performed by women only.
As for the majority of ethnic groups in Central Highlands, gongs are musical instruments of sacred power. It is believed that every gong is the settlement of a god who gets more powerful as the gong is older. "God of gong" is always considered as the tutelary deity for the community’s life. Therefore, gongs are associated to all rites in one’s life, such as the inauguration of new houses, funerals, buffalo sacrifice, crop praying rite, new harvest, ceremony to pray for people’s and cattle’s health, ceremony to see-off soldiers to the front, and the victory celebration.
The spaces of gong culture in Central Highlands are heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music.
On November 25, 2005 in Paris, France, the space of gong culture in Central Highlands was recognized by UNESCO as an oral-transmitted masterpiece and intangible cultural heritage of the humanity.
Vietnamese water puppet
Water puppetry is a traditional performing art of Vietnam dating back to a very old age. The Sung Thien Linh stele at Doi pagoda (in Duy Tien district, Nam Ha province) dating back to 1121 (under the Ly dynasty) bears the inscription that the first water puppet was then staged in honor of the King longevity.
Due to the natural condition and their agriculture activities it was the Vietnamese peasants who were the creators of this performing art. Water puppet shows usually took place in the past when the farm work had been generally completed, in spring time, or in festivals. The French formerly called this performing art with gentle puppet figures "the soul of the Vietnamese rice fields with creativeness and a sense of discovery". Water of puppetry should rank among the most important forms of Puppet Theater.
The way of using water to activate the puppet and to hide the manipulating apparatus and the manipulation of the show constitute the most splendid creativity. Water give breathe to puppet figures, and make them looks fresh. Water also involved in the show, as the saying has it that: "Water also becomes a character of the puppet show".
The water surface gently undulating with a flock of swimming ducks becomes romantic in the illusory veil of smoke when a group of fairies landing for singing and dancing. But it also becomes seething and furious during naval battles or when powerful dragons are emerging.
A French newspaper wrote: “The puppet figures are manipulated with an unimaginable cleverness. It's like they are commanded by a magical power." This remark also manifests the attractiveness and creativeness of water puppet show.