Xoan singers pass art to new generation
Update: 22/01/2013 07:55:15
Nguyen Thi Hoa from Viet Tri City in Phu Tho Province, is a very proud parent. She is filled with happiness every time her nine-year-old daughter performs some traditional xoan songs learned at school for the family.
New kids on the block: Young people from Phu Tho Province learn to perform hat xoan, a traditional style of ritual folk singing he

Hat xoan is a traditional style of ritual folk singing performed in spring festivals. It is attached to a particular method that people once used to worship the Hung kings, the legendary founders of the Vietnamese nation.

Researchers believed that during the period of 1945-75, the singing stopped being performed because of the war and people's awareness of the art's role in the community began to diminish.

In the past, xoan singing was performed in Phu Tho and Vinh Phuc provinces but now it is executed in four communes of Phu Tho only. Of 31 old xoan performance sites found in the provinces, 15 were lost and two seriously damaged.

Hat xoan was recognised by UNESCO as an example of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Protection in late 2011.

"I learn a lot about the singing now from my daughter and I also hear more xoan songs being performed on local TV programmes," says Hoa. "Now I regret that I have not spent time learning this traditional music genre myself to try and keep it alive and see it grow. However, I'm just proud that the singing comes from this area and is now being honoured."

Immediately after it received the UNESCO title last November, the provincial authorities issued a programme to preserve and promote xoan singing. They have expanded teaching of the music in schools and increased the number of live performances, with 20 being organised in 2012 and regular appearances taking place on the province's television and radio stations.

A huge VND36 billion (US$1.7 million) investment has also been funelled into Lai Len Temple, one of the most important vestiges for xoan singing. Artists have come to bring offerings for the gods and perform the songs in the venue, which has been renovated.

The provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism co-operated with musicians and artists to release 4,000 CDs and 3,000 books on Phu Tho's xoan singing.

Although she joined only one singing course, Nguyen Thi Phuong, from the Tien Du Commune's culture unit in the northern province of Bac Ninh, felt confident enough to teach the style to children in her home.

"Artists taught me carefully and explained that the old songs have lyrics that importantly reflect ordinary life clearly," she explains. "Thanks to their instruction and my own passion, I collected some documents and xoan songs to teach people in my commune."

Phuong's classes have received support from many people, especially children, which has encouraged her even more.

"Being recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Protection has made xoan singing the pride of Vietnamese people, especially those from Phu Tho. We now have the responsibility of preserving this traditional art," says Pham Ba Khiem, vice director of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

"Xoan singing is performed at all festivals and art performances in the province, which shows the vitality of a thousand-year-old art."

Nevertheless, Khiem argues that much work still remains to be done to ensure the protection of xoan singing and has pledged that the community will continue to support this most special of song styles.

Source: Viet Nam News
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