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The traditional music of Vietnam
written by Ingo Stoevesandt

1. Invitation
When I was in Hanoi the first time I was very surprised to hear someone practise Chopins second piano concert on a detuned piano. I soon figuered out that the old building in front of me was a local music school. But still, what I heard did not match with the world I was standing in at that moment: In a typical small dusty road some corners away from the asphalt streets, in between pigs and ducks and chicken, with tin roofed small houses and people chilling out and trying to ignore me, I still could not put in the virtuosity of Chopins drama - even more as I did not expect it to happen.
This was my first motivation to search for the “real” music of Vietnam:  A short glimpse of a well-known piano piece by Chopin!
Three months later, I found out that listening to the real traditional music is not as easy as I expected it to be. I was experiencing a warm welcome at the V.I.M. institute in Hanoi, and afterwards things got much more clear to me. It seems like most of the traditional music disappeared or changed, and the main “traditional” fact is that the old instruments are still used. Another point is that many ensembles which one might listen to today mix up with instruments of the ethnic minorities of Vietnam. So, speaking about traditional “Vietnamese” music always means speaking about the music of these people too.  Sometimes, instruments of these ethnicities just get assimilated and turn into a “Vietnamese” instrument.
There are not so many opportunities left to listen to traditional Vietnamese music: Festivals like new year, weddings and funerals (if experienced at the country side) and sometimes shows on TV and radio. Vietnamese theatre and opera are, if still alive, more interested in following Western styles, and the other occasions for experiencing music are questionable if to be “traditional”, like bigger hotels serving food while ensembles play for entertainment purposes. Even in aspects of folk music like children songs, more and more traditions perish and are hard to be experienced today.
There are many webpages that introduce the traditional music of Vietnam very well. So why writing another article about it?
I would like to do something else. I would like to invite you to a short presentation of actual music performed and lived in Vietnam compared with the “typical” aspects of the traditional music and its appearance for a Western first time listener. I will try to keep the “dry facts” as short as possible in order to give a quick overview of what someone might listen to in Vietnam now and in future.

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