Researcher Bui Trong Hien: I understand the beautiful past of our forefathers

Saturday, 2017-11-18 16:41:13
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Vocalists, instrumentalists and leading spectators are trained according to the methods of researcher Bui Trong Hien.
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NDO – Researcher Bui Trong Hieu had a pleasant experience trying for two years to restore ‘Cua Dinh’ folk singing (singing in front of the communal house), the original form of the ‘Ca Tru’ (ceremonial singing) musical genre.

He said that he now understands the forefathers’ beautiful past that would be forever forgotten if those like him did not want to learn.

Racing against time to find the truth

Q: What was the motivation for your decision to spend two years researching and restoring ‘Cua Dinh’ folk singing?

A: I used to research traditional music in the past. However, when I began learning ‘Cua Dinh’, I was very surprised because I did not think that this genre of music has many ‘reserves of arts’. It is a traditional music form that was discontinued for 60 years. In 2014, I was invited to join the jury for the National Ca Tru Festival, along with dan day (long-necked lute-like instrument with three silk strings and 10 frets) player Nguyen Phu De. He sat next to me and wondered about mistakes in the performances. Witnessing the rights and wrongs at the festival, I saw that he was the last person who could answer my questions. I went to artisan De’s house in Hai Phong city. I think that none of us but arts workers have the right to talk about the rights and wrongs of performances of Ca Tru. Therefore, I began to seek the truth.

Q: Are you the first person using a new approach, theorising Ca Tru in diagrams, while the training form of this genre has been oral transmission from generation to generation?

A: At first, I raced against the time, trying to finish my research soon, because artisan De was too old. At the beginning of 2016 when I had just finished my last basic studies, De suffered a stroke. Two weeks later, I had a severe gastric haemorrhage, so I had to stop my work until the end of 2016.

At that time, the Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Arts Studies wanted me to implement a conservation project, not just research. By the beginning of 2017, I began developing the project. I used the theories that I studied for the past two years to train vocalists. Vocalists and instrumentalists have traditionally learned to sing and play musical instruments by feeling. It can be said that now they are at a disadvantage compared with old generations. In the past, vocalists and instrumentalists showed their skills in a professional environment. They sang in the theatres and in front of the communal house, along with other professional artists; therefore, they could continue to improve their skills.

Nowadays, after learning from artisans, vocalists and instrumentalists perform by feeling because their performing skills have not been theorised into a transcibable prosody; which has gradually created the deviation from classical standards.

Q: What was the basis of the classical standards of ‘Cua Dinh’ singing that you provided?

A: After two years, on the basis of artisan De’s knowledge as well as all records of master instrumentalists and vocalists of the 20th century, I could provide the final answer on the rights and wrongs of this singing form which were diagrammatised. I provided training for vocalists who had learnt from artisans according to standards to avoid their deviation. They are sometimes very vague about the beats and tones. Artisans of old generations have different styles of performing. I mentioned many styles in my theoretical framework, helping vocalists and instrumentalists to understand the versatility of singers.

Q: As you know, Ca Tru has existed for hundreds of years and there have been many variables over generations. What do you say if anyone refutes what you call the standards?

A: I based my findings on numerous valuable documents of the 20th century as well as the knowledge of many master instrumentalists and vocalists. What I said was the summation of the past. I can affirm that my theory is the standard. I summarised the views of three veteran folklore artists Nguyen Phu De, Nguyen Thi Chuc, and Pho Thi Kim Duc to set out the last theory.

Accepting the parallelism

Q: In fact, over many years, Ca Tru has existed in the daily life. However many researchers said that the original values of Ca Tru has not been preserved due to its changes. What do you think about this?

A: It can be said that it is too late to restore Ca Tru because there are now only a few masters, including instrumentalist Nguyen Phu De and vocalists Pho Thi Kim Duc and Nguyen Thi Chuc. Moreover, they all are old and feeble. At present, vocalists learn Ca Tru through records. However, I affirm it is very difficult for them to learn this art form through records. Therefore, the last Ca Tru artisans of the last century said that younger vocalists and instrumentalists performed without standard beats. Obviously, over time, Ca Tru has changed, depending on the singers’ styles.

Q: What do you receive from your research?

A: I received innumerable achievements. Notably, I can understand the past and the artisans as well as the rights, wrongs, good and bad of Ca Tru. All the mysteries of the past have been brought to the light of modern science, which will be advantageous for both learners and listeners. For example, I used the theory in a training course for ‘quan vien’ (leading spectators - who beating ‘trong chau’ or ‘praise drummer’). In the past, they listened to songs and practised beating the drum by feeling. Nowadays, before playing the drum, they listen to Ca Tru songs in a different way to feel and understand them more profoundly.

Q: Do you think your theory can create a new development or the conflicts among those who love Ca Tru?

A: I hope the vocalists and instrumentalists can be calm enough to look back at themselves. If they are willing, I will help them correct their deviation. They should overcome themselves. I know that it is difficult for them to change; so we have to accept the parallelism of the mistakes. I hope younger generations will be trained according to ancient standards.

It is essential to open regular training courses for vocalists and instrumentalists, which requires the strong participation of cultural management agencies. It was very strenuous to restore 'Cua Dinh' singing. If I had not tried my best to work with artisan De, his knowledge of Ca Tru would have disappeared forever, and vocalists and instrumentalists would have continued to perform without standards.

Researcher Bui Trong Hien