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Chau Van Singing - Hat Chau Van

In many ways the Vietnamese are both religious and patriotic. Compared to other categories, cult music was not widely developed. The most significant cult song type is Hat Chau Van. This is a kind of incantation music (although it was classified as ritual music), but its purpose was to hypnotize the person who was estranged from the spirits through musical airs, rhythms and lyrics.

Hat Chau Van combines trance singing and dancing, a religious form of art used for extolling the merits of beneficent deities or deified national heroes. Its music and poetry are mingled with a variety of rhythms, pauses, tempos, stresses and pitches.

It is in essence a cantillation where the tunes and rhythm depend on the contents of the sung text and may be linked together into a suite, used in relation to a mythical happening, with hints at some features of modern life.


The art of Hat Chau Van originated in the Red River delta and dates back to the 16th century, spreading later to the whole of the country. During its development course, Hat Chau Van has taken in the essential beauty of folk songs from regions in the north, the centre and the south. In North and Central Vietnam it was called Hat Chau Van, whereas in the South it was also called Roi Bóng.


Giao Duyen Singing - Hat Giao Duyen

Ho (calls) are classified into two categories: calls during work and calls during rest. Work calls were usually transformed into love songs. Thus, after the word ho we always see the words giao duyen (dual love). Nevertheless, because ho are songs inspired by daily work, ho giao duyen still keeps the characteristics of work calls, reinforcing and entertaining. Facing the needs of a song type as a means to express personal affections, the actual hat giao duyen (dual love songs) was born.

In the North, hat giao duyen do not especially serve the rhythm of the work.


Meeting here like this before any courtship
I want to know: are you married?


Love, as expressed through hat giao duyen, was very simple and as gentle as its tune:


Sit down here, break a branch and draw on the ground,
Take off the scarf, promise a marriage.


Hat giao duyen in the North were called Ly giao duyen in Central Vietnam and Ly giao duong in the South. In Central Vietnam, ly means villager's song compared to the music of Hue which was the production of nobles (imperial family, mandarins, etc.). All folk songs in Central Vietnam and in the South are either ho or ly. Ly is developed from children songs to songs for fun, popular theater songs, ritual songs, music of Hue, traditional and reformed theater music. Ly songs were named after the content of the song or the first few words of the lyrics. The following song was sung in the pentatonic scale nam, nuance ai (RE nearly flat, FA vibrato, LA nearly flat) and was named "Ly vong phu" (Waiting for husband):


Spring wind blows, my eyes fill with tears,
I feel empty when I think of you,
Summer wind blows, cicadas call crickets,
Waiting for you, the days decline, the moon fades,
Autumn wind blows, I lull you, my child,
Where does your father dawdle?
Winter wind blows, resting here alone,
Missing you, I feel deep pain.


Ly giao duyen turns from a self-evolved love song to a declaration to the love objects:


On the Milky Way a cloud sadly flows,
In a moment the sky and the sea will separate us,
My dear!
Don't forget what I tell you:
This short life is just like the light breeze,
One step from you, my heart hurts much,
My dear!
Remember what I tell you, don't forget....



Quan Ho Singing - Hat Quan Ho

Hat Quan Ho started about the 13th century in the Bac Ninh province and was always heard during spring festivals, especially of the Buddhists. Bac Ninh is the province where numerous pagodas were built, therefore, big Buddhist offering ceremonies were celebrated each year in spring. Boys and girls came to adore Buddha and after that, gathered together in front of or inside the pagoda or in the field to sing "Hat Quan Ho".

Originally Hat Quan Ho were exchange songs between two mandarins' families. Gradually, it spread out and became popular among the northern people. Groups were formed just for singing, and many marriages were formed at these get-togethers. After centuries, Hat Quan Ho became the most significant Vietnamese folk-song type.

Hat Quan Ho, also called Quan Ho Bac Ninh singing, is an antiphonal singing tradition in which men and women take turns singing in a challenge-and-response fashion drawing on a known repertoire of melodies. Usually a pair of women starts, presenting in unison a complete song called cau ra (challenge phrase") lasting three to eight minutes. A pair of men of the opposing team responds with another song called cau doi ("matching phrase"), which must match the melody of the women's song in order to be considered correct. Next it will be the men's turn to challenge the women with a song that can be completely different from the previous pair of songs.

According to the tradition, only young people used to sing quan ho songs, as the major body of song texts centers on the subject of love and sentimental desire among young adults. Nowadays, elderly singers are quite enthusiastic about singing for guests.


Musical tunes in Quan Ho Singing is rich in tunes and rhythms because it received all the influences of both lullabies and poem recitation.
There are four major airs in Hat Quan Ho


1. Giong song (transistor air)
2. Giong vat (diverse air)
3. Giong ham (recitative air)
4. Giong bi (tunes borrowed from other sources)


The most popular Quan Ho songs, "Qua Cau Gio Bay", "Treo Len Quan Doc" (also known as "Ly Cay Ða"), "Se Chi Luan Kim", were sung in Giong vat. The singers also imitated the musical sound, the sound of rice grinding, crying, etc. When one of the two singing groups used any specific tune, the other one was to reply in the same tune. The singing ends with songs in the farewell category, a feature that has never been changed giving the singing session a sense of completion.

Following the textual content of quan ho songs within the festival reveals a striking contrast between the open, public setting and the intimate characteristic of the songs. Virtually all songs heard in festivals express personal subjects such as unfulfilled love, expectation, longing, and intimacy.

Quan Ho songs are unique in the sense that they place men and women on an equal basis, with mutual respect in spite of good-natured teasing, and place a high value on genuine feelings -not money. The songs address the joy of nature and the satisfaction of hard field work when the labour is shared or lightened by singing together.

One of the Quan Ho characteristics that have endured through time is the proper verbal and poetic introduction to each and every tune. Quan ho singers are not only appreciated for their singing ability, but also for their skill in leaving an impression of their gracefulness and literary adeptness on the audience. Usually one of the singers will say something to praise the opposing pair and express how fortunate her/his pair has been to be allowed to sing with them, before she/he goes on to recite the verses of the song. The poetic introduction also provides listeners with the basic content of the song text, which otherwise can be difficult to follow in singing. Not only that, the rhetoric used in the introduction is so polished that it gives the impression of a theatrical act. As a result, singers often try to imitate the speech tonality and pronunciation of official media announcers, even though quan ho researchers have asserted that speeches in the quan ho region vary from one village to another.

Hat Quan Ho were spring festival songs. The farmers left their farming for a while to enjoy the beautiful weather, especially during the New Year (Tet).


Lullabies - Hat Ru

Hat Ru (Lullabies) are a sort of folk music often heard in Vietnam, especially in the countryside. Ru, certainly, are songs to lull babies, but Vietnamese women use them to consign their fates and also to express human feelings such as homesickness, wife missing her husband, etc. As the function of a lullaby song is to make the child slowly fall into sleep, the song is quiet, the tones stretched and melodious.
The melodies of Ru vary from one region to another. Ru are original or modified six-and-eight foot/line popular poems put to music. The rhythm is determined by the meter of the poem, but the lines are elongated with nonsense syllables à oi, ù o, à á o, à oi oi.
In North Vietnam, Ru are sung in a straight pentatonic scale DO-RE-FA-SOL-LA. The following songs are lullaby songs sung by a mother to her child.


My child, sleep well,
So mom can carry water to wash the elephant's back,
If anyone wants to see, go up the mountain
To see Mesdames Trung, Tri?u riding the elephant's golden backs.


Still the six-and-eight foot/line poems with nonsense syllables o o inserted, the following song is from Nghe Tinh (Central Vietnam). It lies only in three notes LA-RE-FA:


Lullaby sleep well,
So mother can go to the market and buy an earthen saucepan,
If she goes to the southern market,
She will buy you a long and bent sugar cane,
Or if she goes to the northern market,
She will buy you a bent and long sugar cane.


In Southern Vietnam almost all lullabies begin with the words vi dau (imagine):


Imagine walking on a board-bridge fastened with nails,
It is hard as walking on an unstable bamboo bridge.



Cheo (popular opera)

Cheo is one form of theatrical music, a unique artistic product of the Viet people in the North and Central North of Vietnam. Derived from artistic game, Cheo stage is an original synthesis of folk songs, dances, and narration, full of comedy, tragedy, fact and stylization. The Cheo orchestra becomes outstanding with the leading role of percussion set, especially de drum, and the accompaniment of instruments like nhi, ho, tieu (vertical bamboo flute), and flute. Each Cheo melody is as complete and independent as a song. Cheo melody usually links to a specific character. The words of the play are imbued with the lyricism of folk songs, proverbs, and popular sayings.


A cheo play could be put on stage in a large theatre, but it could also be performed successfully on one or two bed mats spread in the middle of a communal house with a cast of only three: a hero, a heroine and a clown.

he sound of the cheo drum has a magical power and upon hearing it, villagers cannot resist coming to see the play. The clown in a cheo play seems to be a supporting role, but actually he or she is very important to the performance. The clowns present a comic portrayal of social life, with ridiculous, satirical words and gestures, they reduce the audience to tears of laughter.

Tuong (classical opera)

Tuong, also called hat boi in the south, is a stage performance that came about during the Ly-Tran dynasty and that became very popular nationwide during the following centuries. During the Nguyen dynasty, 19th century, tuong was occupying a good position in the cultural lives of the royals.

Tuong stage has a very concise symbolization. Only with some actors on the stage, the whole scene of the court with all the officials who are attending royal ceremonies could be seen, or two generals with some soldiers fighting also show a battle with hundreds of thousands of troops and horses fighting fiercely, and even a gourd of wine and four wooden cups also express a lowest banquet. It is a mistake to deal with Tuong without mentioning the art of making up. It is because just looking at a made-up face, we may guess the personality and social class of that character. For example, a canthsus drawn toward one's ears show that he is a great gentleman and hero. As for beards, a black, curly beard is for a fierce man, three-tuft beard for a gentleman; a dragon's beard for Kings and mandarins and for majesty; a mouse's whisker, a goat's beard and a fox's whisker for cunning and dishonest men. Beardless man must be students.        

In tuong, space and time are captured by songs, dancing, and simple music. In the past, tuong did not require any elaborate stage accessories; nowadays, backdrop and make-up in tuong performances are more elaborate and sophisticated.


Cai Luong (renovated opera)

Cai Luong (Renovated Opera) appeared in the year tenth of the twentieth century. It was first officially performed abroad under the form of a modern opera in 19931 and then developed as a theater for amateurs.

Cai Luong first appeared under the form of chamber music. Later on, one part of it was shifted into a kind of gesture performance (with different ways of speaking, declaiming, singing) and could be seen as a gestured form of singing. This new form was thus a renovated form of chamber music, and was called Cai Luong (Renovated Opera).

The Cai luong performance includes dances, songs, and music; the music originally drew its influences from southern folk music. Since then, the music of Cai luong has been enriched with hundreds of new tunes. A Cai luong orchestra consists mainly of guitars with concave frets, and danakim.


Over the years, Cai luong has experienced a number of changes to become a type of stage performance highly appreciated by the Vietnamese people as well as foreign visitors.