Researcher Mai Van Lang: I hope for more supportive policies to be designed to safeguard folk music

Monday, 2018-11-05 10:21:14
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Researcher Mai Van Lang has had more than 20 years collecting, researching and rewriting new lyrics for folk songs.
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NDO – The absence of traditional music in contemporary life has raised concerns among art enthusiasts of the potential disappearance of long-standing cultural values. In his interview granted to Nhan Dan (Newspaper) Weekly newspaper, researcher Mai Van Lang, who has had more than 20 years collecting, researching and rewriting new lyrics for folk songs, spoke more about the threat and suggested solutions to address the problem.

Question: Can you tell us why you developed a passion for traditional music?

Composer Mai Van Lang: I spent my childhood with my maternal grandmother, who could sing many folk songs, poetry and proverbs by heart, as well as numerous plays of cheo (traditional opera) and cai luong (reformed theatre). When I was 5, I heard my grandmother singing xam (ballads once sung by wandering blind musicians), I found it exceptionally beautiful. Folk music has been in my blood from that time.

You have spent years collecting ancient lyrics of folk singing, do you have any difficulty in this work?

I have faced a lot of difficulties, but the most challenging aspect is that folk tunes are dispersed across different regions throughout the country, whilst veteran artisans and practitioners are becoming older and their memories decline with age. These factors require a lot of time and patience from collectors.

You have rewritten new lyrics for folk songs, with hundreds of them having been recorded and broadcast on the Voice of Vietnam. Do you have any criteria for this work?

It is undeniable that folk songs have beautiful lyrics. However, to make them survive and become more popular in modern life, they should be “coated” with a new appearance.

For instance, there are folk songs about rituals, customs, ceremonies and community activities, which are no longer practiced nowadays. So, how to maintain the archaism of folk songs and folk music while blending them with a new fresh breath, thus making them more adaptive in contemporary life? I think the answer is new lyrics.

For me, the new lyrics should be composed as a poem, which means that they must conform to the standard rules of structure, verse forms and rhythm, while having a new approach, being rich in wording and mentioning issues in modern life.

The difference between poems and folk music’s lyrics is that poems are for reading and recital while lyrics are for singing aloud. Therefore, while rewriting new lyrics for a folk song, the composer must ensure that his lyrics will fit into the song’s melodies.

While discussing traditional arts, people often mention aged and established artists rather than artists from the younger generation. Is it the result of the shortcoming in training for the successive generation or the ineffectiveness of promotional campaign, in your opinion?

Both, I think. Firstly, although there are a large number of young artists in the genre of folk music, only a minority of them have worked in a highly professional way. Despite possessing good singing techniques, they have not yet succeeded in conveying their love and passion through their performances and delivering the composers’ messages to the listeners.

Secondly, it is a fact that people nowadays show less interest in folk music. There are not many talent contests or competitions on folk music. In addition, folk music artists have not yet received proper care or treatment. Therefore, folk music is not greatly appreciated by young students from music training facilities.

Do you have any recommendations to increase public appreciation, particularly among the youth, towards traditional art forms?

For me, national identity is strongly featured through folk melodies and traditional music. It is not unreasonable that many Vietnamese folk art forms have won UNESCO’s recognition as intangible heritages.

Whether these heritages will be well preserved and promoted or not depends on the efforts made by artists, appreciation from the community, and the support from functional agencies.

I hope for more supportive policies to be designed to safeguard folk arts, including traditional music, so that there will be more performing spaces to bring folk music closer to the community and more young talents in folk music will be found and receive proper training.

Thank you so much for your sharing!