Art of Don Ca Tai Tu Music and Song in Southern Vietnam
Art of Don ca tai tu Music and Song (hereinafter referred to as Don ca tai tu) is a musical art that has both scholarly and folk roots. The creators of Don ca tai tu came from many social classes: farmers, fishermen, industrial workers and intellectuals.
Don ca tai tu has been developed in the Southern Viet Nam since the late 19th century. People in Southern Viet Nam consider it as an indispensible spiritual cultural activity and a highly valued part of their cultural heritage. It is performed at numerous events such as festivals, death anniversary rituals and celebratory social events like weddings and birthdays. The audience can join practicing, making comments or creating new song texts.
Don ca tai tu has been influenced by some other forms of cultural heritage from the Central and South of Viet Nam such as ceremonial music (nhac le), classical theatre and folk song (hot boi). The repertoire of Don ca tai tu is based on 20 principal songs (boi to) and 72 classical songs (boi nhoc co). These songs consist of skeletal melodies which are used as the basis for improvisation and variation. Don ca tai tu performers express feelings and sentiments by improvising, ornamenting and varying the skeletal melody of pieces and the main rhythmic patterns.
According to the inventory implemented in 2011, it is estimated that there are more than 29,000 practitioners of Don ca tai tu in 21 provinces and cities in South-1 ern Viet Nam including An Giang, Ba Ria - Vung Tau, Bac Lieu, Ben Tre, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Binh Thuan, Ca Mau, Can Tho City, Dong Nai, Dong Thap, Hau Giang, Ho Chi Minh City, Kien Giang, Long An, Ninh Thuan, Soc Trang, Tay Ninh, Tien Giang, Tra Vinh and Vinh Long.
On 5 December 2013 at the eighth session of the Intergovernmental Committee held in Baku City (Azerbaijan), UNESCO recognized officially Don ca tai I tu as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity based on criteria(1) as follows:
R.l: Transmitted formally and informally from generation to generation throughout 21 southern provinces, Don ca tai tu Ị are constantly recreated through cultural exchanges with diverse ethnic groups
¡th whom it expresses mutual respect and harmony;
R 2* Inscription of Don ca tai tu on the representative list could promote exchange among communities, musicians and researchers and raise awareness of the importance of the intangible cultural heritage locally and internationally;
R.3: Safeguarding measures aim at supporting transmission and teaching in communities by oral methods and in formal educational programmes; they were prepared and will be implemented with active participation of practitioners, experts and specialized institutions and with the government's strong support; R.4: The nomination was elaborated with the participation of community members, local authorities, specialized institutions and experts, and community members provided their free, prior and informed consent;
R.5: Don ca tai tu was inventoried since 2010 by the Viet Nam Institute of Musicology, with participation and contribution of relevant communities, and was subsequently included in 2012 in the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage maintained by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Being a popular cultural activity that serves individuals and the community, Don ca tai tu resonates with the lifestyle of Southern people living on the land and rivers of the Mekong Delta region. It reflects their inner feelings and emotions, their industriousness, generosity and courage.
Don ca tai tu is a valuable cultural inheritance that combines influences from court music and folk music, and it has been influenced by cultural exchange with Khmer, Chinese and Western peoples.
D°n ca tai tu practitioners always respect, love and learn from each other. is not only applies to the realm of artistic activity, but also to broader cultural behavior, which is based on good moral virtues. Don ca tai tu performers therefore make an important contribution to the beauty and greater good of the community and society at large. Don ca tai tu stimulates artistic creativity and enjoyment not only for practitioners themselves but also amongst the public in general.
Don ca tai tu performs an important function in the ritual activities and cultural practices of the community. The performance of Don ca tai tu also helps the community preserve other cultural practices and customs that are associated with festivals, oral culture, and handicrafts. Nowadays, Don ca tai tu is not only a cultural activity of the community, it also makes a contribution to sustainable tourism in the local area.
Instruments for Don ca tai tu Performance
Don ca tai tu is played on a variety of different instruments including the moonshaped lute (kim), two-stringed fiddle (co), 16-string zither (tranh), pear-shaped lute (ty bo), percussion (song long), monochord (bou) and bamboo flute (soo). The violin and guitar are adapted. The guitar used by Don ca tai tu artists has a deep, hollowed-out finger board, enabling musicians to play special ornamentation characteristic of Don ca tai tu.
Musicians who Contribute to Don ca tai tu
Master instrumentalists (thoy don), who are highly skillful at playing and teaching numerous instruments and who have mastered all of the classical repertoire. Master lyricists (thoy tuong), who are knowledgeable and experienced at composing new song texts.
Master singers (thoy co), who have mastered the classical repertoire and who can perform and teach the distinctive
Don ca tai tu vocal techniques and ornamentation.
There are also regular instrumentalists (danh cam) and singers (donh ca).
Mr. Nguyen Quang Dai (also known as Ba Doi) and Mr. Le Tai Khi (also known as Nhac Khi) were famous masters who, after their deaths, were revered by the community and had shrines dedicated to them. They are considered to be the Late Ancestors (Hau To) of Don ca tai tu.
In the early 20th century, Mr. Cao Van Lau (also known as Sau Lau) composed the song Da co hoai lang (or Vong co), which is the most famous song of Don ca tai tu. The structure of this piece changed as it was transmitted over time. Its rhythmic structure changed from using 2-bar phrases, to 4-bar, 16-bar, 32-bar and 64- bar phrases
Methods of Transmission of Don ca tai tu
The traditional method of oral transmission means transmitting through the fingers and through the mouth. For this traditional method, which is based on imitation, the master instrumentalists and singers directly teach students who are members of ensembles or clubs. This method has also been used especially to teach within family lines.
The method combines traditional method of oral transmission with a syllabus that has pieces written out in Western staff notation and Vietnamese note names. This method is used in many of the national and provincial schools of art and culture, i Instrumentalists must study for at least three years in order to learn basic instrumental techniques, such as tremolo, glis- sando, trills, vibrato, etc. They learn to perform solo or with other musicians in duets, trios, quartets, quintets or sextets. They must also master the different musical modes such as Bac, Ha, Xuan, Ai and Oan modes to express different moods and emotions, such as feelings of happiness or sadness.
Vocal students, performing either solo or in a duet, study the traditional songs. ' They learn to subtly improvise using dif- s ferent ornamentation techniques in a way that is in keeping with the musical aesthetics of the musical community and is appropriate for the particular melody, 1 mode and song text performed.
Representative Groups of Don ca tai tu
Don ca tai tu is performed within hered- j itary musical families and by music ensembles and clubs. Some representative groups include:
- The ensemble in Binh Dai District, Ben Tre Province;
- The ensemble in An Tay Commune, Binh
Duong Province; 1
- The ensemble in Chau Thanh Town, Tay Ninh Province;
- Cao Van Lau Club, Bac Lieu Province
- Don ca tai tu Club in Tan Hung Commune, Ca Mau Province;
- Don ca tai tu Club in Thanh Phuc Com- mune, Dong Nai Province;
- The family of Mr. Nguyen Van Du in My
Tho City, Tien Giang Province; M
- The family of Mr. Le Khac Tung in Ho Chi Minh City.
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