Ca Tru Singing
Ca Tru has many names depending on each locality, each period of time. It is also called A dao singing, Cua dinh singing, Cua quyen singing, Co dou singing, Nha to singing, Nha tro singing and Ca cong singing. This is a long-standing and unique form of art which has special meaning in the musical treasures of Viet Nam, associated with the traditional festivals, customs, beliefs, literature, music, thoughts and philosophy of the Vietnamese.
Ca Tru is the subtle combination of folk music and songs with diversified regulations for each form of performing. Some Ca Tru performances also include dance. Ca Tru song lyrics are wise, meaningful and emotional. The singing technique is very sophisticated, requiring carefulness of singers. Ca Tru consists of all genres as lyric, romantic, epic, philosophic songs.
Throughout the ups and downs of history, Ca Tru has been developed to a high level of aesthetics, proving its vital value to Viet Nam and the whole world as well.
With consensus, voluntary and full understanding of Ca Tru singing community, along with action plans, responsibilities, commitments, supports and assistances of authorities at all levels of the state, Ca Tru has been safeguarded to ensure its vitality. And with the preeminent features, Ca Tru singing has been inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of Urgent Safeguarding on 1 October 2009 in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Formation and Development
According to documents, Ca Tru was able to appear in Ly Dynasty (11thcentury). According to "Viet su tieu an" by scholar Ngo Thi Si, under the reign of King Ly Thai To (1009 - 1028), a female singer (ca nuong) Dao Thi had a very good voice and was rewarded by the king. Afterwards, people called female singers Dao nuong to express their admiration to Dao Thi. In 1025, King Ly Thai To officially assigned a mandarin called quan giap to manage music guilds (giao phuong) and to select female singers and instrumentalists to perform in the imperial palace.
By the 15th century, Ca Tru took shape fully and became very popular in Viet Nam and was considered a special cultural phenomenon which strongly impacted to social-cultural environment in the Northern Delta and the Northern Central region. It is said that, at that time, a man named Dinh Le, who lived in Co Dam Village, Nghi Xuan District, Ha Tinh Province, created dan day (three- stringed lute) and a system of music
rules. Thanks to great contribution of Dinh Le and his wife (singer Bach Hoa) to folk music environment, he was honoured as Thanh Xa Dai Vuong, his wife as Man Dao Hoa Princess after they had passed away. Their disciples built a temple for worshiping at Co Dam Village.
Images of dan day was seen in folk carving works in many temples and pagodas in the North in the 16th century, such as Phat Tich Pagoda (Bac Ninh Province), Thai Lac Pagoda (Hung Yen Province), Hoang Xa Pagoda (Ha Nam Province), Huong Canh Temple (Vinh Phuc Province), Lo Hanh Temple (Bac Giang Province), Tay Dang Temple (Ha Noi).
Ca Tru was often performed at sacrifice ceremonies to honor the village's tutelary god, pray happiness for villagers and encourage working and studying. Ca Tru singing was an integral part of many village festivals held in spring, in addition to other folk games as wrestling, boat racing, swinging, bird competition...
According to historical documents, Ca Tru was much in vogue in Imperial City of Thang Long (Ha Noi today) - the ideal place for the development of this folk art.
By the late of 20th century, Ca Tru was introduced to the world with impressive performances by artisan Quach Thi Ho (1909-2001). Since then, many foreign
musicians began studying Vietnamese folk art of Ca Tru and presented it at well- known universities.
Ca Tru is now performed in 14 provinces and cities: Ha Noi, Bac Ninh, Hai Duong, Hai Phong, Hung Yen, Nam Dinh, Thai Binh, Phu Tho, Vinh Phuc in the North; Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh in the Central, and Ho Chi Minh City in the South.
According to the book "Co Tru bi khao There was a custom of hot the (card singing) in temples. The card was called Tru, which was made of bamboo piece to write the number of money equivalent to the value of each card and to reward female singers instead of cash. At the end of the performances, singers and instrumentalists counted their money based on the rewarded cards. Thus, a dao singing is also called Ca Tru, meaning hot the (card singing).
In 1978, the International Music Council of UNESCO and the International Institute of Music awarded Diploma of Honour to artisan Quach Thi Ho for great contribution to preservation of Viet Nam's valuable traditional art heritage, a treasure of mankind. Her Ca Tru records were donated by UNESCO to over 400 universities and culture houses around Europe, Asia, Americas, Australia and Africa. In 1983, the tape recording of her voice was ranked first in the International Festival of Traditional Music held in Pyong Yang (North Korea). In 1994, in Paris, the Ca Tru record published by the World Cultural Publisher with the participation of Thai Ha Ca Tru Club of Viet Nam was ranked"Choc "(concussion) - the highest rank, by Laurent Aubert, the critic of Le Monde de la Musique Newspapers.
There are some temples in the North for worshiping Ca Tru ancestors such as in Co Dam Village (Nghi Xuan District, Ha Tinh Province), Phuong Cach Village (Phuong Cach Commune, Quoc Oai District, Ha Noi). Lo Khe Village (Lien Ha Commune, Dong Anh District, Ha Noi) organizes village festival twice a year at the temple to commemorate Dinh Le - the Ca Tru ancestor (on the 6th day of the 4th lunar month - the date of Dinh Le's birth and on the 13th day of the 11th lunar month - the date of Dinh Le's death
Oustanding Values and Safeguarding of the Heritage
Ca Tru, which dates back to the 15th century, was performed in a cultural diversified space during different historical periods. Ca Tru showed a sense of identity and continuity in the art performances, being innovative and transmitted between generations by professional music guilds known as Giao phuong. These guilds have maintained the close relationship communities, forming characteristics of Ca Tru. Although undergone many social and historical changes, Ca Tru has still kept distinct vitality due to its art value in the Vietnamese culture.
Ca Tru is unique with its private art performing space, musical instruments and distinct style of poetry. According to folk artists, Ca Tru has tens different musical forms or melodies, each of which is called The cach. The singing technique is very sophisticated. The singers have to practice in very painstaking and meticulous manner. Streamlined instruments with timbres in contrast have elevated the beauty of each performing participant.
Ca Tru has been recognized as a major contributor to the culture of Viet Nam. From Ca Tru, a unique poetry was born and became a brilliant position in the Nom scripts literature of the nation. That is Hat noi (recital melody) style which has been popular for centuries. In addition, phach and dan day (three-stringed lute) has become specific instruments of Ca Tru, contributing to make Ca Tru become a classic vocal music genre of Viet Nam. With the richness of history, the depth of art and the distinct characteristics, Ca Tru has confirmed its important role in Viet Nam and all over the world.
Although Viet Nam has made great efforts and received support from international organizations to protect Ca Tru but further efforts are essentially needed to ensure its survival and development. The regular maintenance of Ca Tru performances in clubs and enhancement of the quality of performance are core issues to the protection of Ca Tru. In addition, it is also needed to raise public awareness of Ca Tru and support and encourage artists of all ages to join in preservation and popularization of Ca Tru.
Organization and Performance Space
In the past, Ca Tru folk artists were organized into different professional music guilds (giao phuong). Each music guild was headed by a leader called Trum.
There were regulations about transmitting, playing three-stringed lute, singing, allowing female singer to performance, choosing singers to participate in singing contests... The music guilds were allowed to perform in village's communal house or to invite other guilds to join performances in village's events. They also had responsibility to perform in ritual singing of the village. At that time, a stone stele was placed in front of the village's communal house to acknowledge their contribution.
Ca Tru has 5 performing spaces: at communal houses (hot cua dinh - worship singing); at royal palaces (hat cung dinh or hat chuc ho); at individual residences (hat nha to); at singing competitions (hat thi); and at theatres and singing clubs (hat ca quan).
Hat cua dinh is one of the most popular forms. It is performed in village's communal house and temples in occasions of Vietnamese traditional New Year's Eve (Tet Nguyen Dan) or village festivals for worshiping gods. It had strict regulations and very formal singing ritual. Singers and instrumentalists have to be abstinent for three days prior to the worship singing. Songs to be performed include Nguyen hoa khuc, Thai hoa khuc, Tho hoa khuc....
The content of hat cung dinh used to be decided by the Ministry of Rites (Bo Le) in accordance with different themes as offering rituals, congratulating someone on his longevity... Performance of hat cung dinh has the participation of many singers and instrumentalists who are organized into teams. Dancing is a vital part of hat cung dinh, particularly dances of Nhip Ba cung Bac, Tu quy... Singers and instrumentalists performing in royal palaces were often selected in different localities in the whole country.
Hat thi (competitive singing) aims to honour, recognize, and rank the skill and talent of singers and instrumentalists. Contestants must be capable of singing various Ca Tru genres as Bac phan, Muou, Hat noi, Gui thu... The competition includes many qualification rounds (Van, Chau thiChau cam) and a final contest. Successful singers are rewarded with money, silk, tasty tea and invited to join a formal feast.
Hat nha to (singing at individual residences) required only one female singer, one instrumentalist and some praise drummers.
Hat ca quan (singing at theatres and clubs): In the first half of the 20th century, it was changed into Co dau singing and was influenced by Western culture. It therefore step by step lost the important position in folk cultural environment of society.
Members of Ca Tru Performance
Ca Tru performance involves by at least three people: a female singer (dao nuong or ca nuong) who both sings and plays the clappers (known as the phach), an instrumentalist (kep) who plays the dan day (three-stringed lute), and a "praise drummer" known as quan vien.
Ca nuong is one of three most important members in Ca Tru performance. Traditionally, professional artists only taught their relatives in the family. After at least 3 ,4 years practicing, learners get proficient at techniques of singing and playing dappers. To perfect their techniques, they have to practice according to 8 criteria: Quon, Xuyen, Don, Thet, Khuon, Roy, Dieu, Voi, and avoid 6 mistakes: Loi, Ngang, Con, Chon, Hut, So.
In the past, co nuong had to take a test before allowed to perform publicly. On the day of the test, her performance would be assessed by artists and a praise drummer in the village to decide whether she was qualified to begin her public performance. Other procedures for co nuong before public performance included performing in the village's communal house to show her gratitude to Ca Tru's ancestors. In addition, her family hosted a party called "Le mo xiem ao" ceremony to feast the guests.
The singer has natural beautiful voice and should be able to sing in a high register. When singing, she should not open her mouth too widely. The singing voice arises from the belly and the singer must use her belly to push her breath up through her body to sing each word. She has to know how to push the breath from the belly to create the sounds “u" and using a vibrato technique and a unique form of ornamentation known as “nay hot".
Kep dan is a male instrumentalist playing the dan day (three-stringed lute) which has 3 strings and 10 frets. He should also be able to sing some specific songs as Ha nom, Giai... He should fully understand the singer to coordinate best with her in the performance. In the past, the male instrumentalists were usually brother, father or husband of the singer.And a person beating the trong chau or "praise drum" called "quan vien" can be a musician in the Ca Tru guild or sometimes an audience who is a connoisseur of Ca Tru. The rhythms played by the drummer mark the end and beginning of different sections and phrases of music. Especially, he beats drum shell instead of drumhead to show his appreciation of the music and the performers. The way the drummer beats represents his characteristics and also his sense of music and poem.
The Cach (Forms of Ca Tru Performing)
Forms (The cach) of Ca Tru performing could be melody and lyrics of a song, a dancing performance, a music instrument performance or a spiritual ritual... Depending on spaces of performance, there are different regulations on performing manner.
There are 15 forms of singing at communal house, 7 forms of singing for entertainment at theatres, 9 forms of singing for Ca Tru ancestors worship and many other forms of singing at individual residences. According to ancient documentation, there used to be 99 forms of Ca Tru singing which were divided into 3 groups: singing group (66 forms), singing and dancing group (19 forms) and ritual group (14 forms). However, only several forms have been restored so far.
Poetry in Ca Tru
Poetry plays a very important role in Ca Tru. Lyrics of Ca Tru songs are written in various Vietnamese traditional poetic styles as six-eight-word distich meter, seven-seven-six-eight word meter... From Ca Tru, a unique poetry was born and became a brilliant position in the Nom scripts literature of the nation. That is Hat Noi (recital melody) style which has been popular for centuries.
Recital melody differentiates itself from others by its tight regulation on song structure and poetic meter. A recital melody often consists of 11 sentences, may be less or more. One sentence has from 4 to 20 words but the last sentence always has 6 words.
Vocal Technique and Instrumental Accompaniment.
Vocal technique of Ca Tru singing is complex and subtle. When singing, singer should not open mouth so widely and push air all the way from lungs but keep air in larynx while ensuring every word is pronounced clearly and correctly.
In addition to vocal technique, instrumental accompaniment also plays an important role, which includes co phoch (set of clappers), Don day (three-stringed lute), and trong chau (praise drum).
Co phach (set of clappers) consists of a piece of bamboo or wood (ban phach) and two wooden beaters (dui go). The set of clappers creates strong or weak, low or high sounds. The clappers are mastered by performer's arms in harmonious manner like dancing. Co phach does not only maintain the rhythm of the song but is also an important indicator of singer's proficiency. The singer had to learn how to play clappers fluently before learning to sing.
Dan day (three-stringed lute) is only used in Viet Nam. The resonator of the lute has rectangular or trapezoidal shape. The frets on the instrument are high so that ornamentation such as glissandi and vibrato can be created by pressing and releasing the string against the fret. The timbre of the lute is muted and in the bass register.
The size and form of trong chau (praise drum) in CaTru is similar to drum in Cheo singing. The drumstick is called “roi chau" ("praise" rod). The praise drummers are known as quan vien who have high social positions, mastering in Han Nom script and knowledgeable about poetry and Ca Tru music.
Dancing in Ca Tru
Dancing is also an important element which contributes to the distinctiveness of Ca Tru. Dancing is often performed in hat cua dinh (singing at the village's communal house) and hat cung dinh (singing at royal palaces). Some dances can be named as:
Bai bong dance originated since the 13th century in Tran Dynasty. It is performed in big events of the Ca Tru guild as ritual ceremony held at village's communal house or royal palaces; longevity wishing ceremony; Ca Tru ancestor's death anniversary... There are at least 4 dancers in the dancing group and may be 8,16 or 32 dancers depending on the importance of the event.
As for performing clothes for female singers, they wear a nux-vomica dress embroidered with gold lame, the border at the end of the dress is stuck with beads, the hot is stuck with a cotton ball, the two shoulders wear lotus-shaped lamps, the hands hold the paper fan, fold and unfold very flexibly and beautifully. Accompanying by the dancing group is an orchestra: quon giop holds the large drum to keep the rhythm, instrumentalists play dan day (three-stringed lute), dan nguyet (Vietnamese two chord guitar) (often namely dan tu doan)] dan tarn (Vietnamese 36 chord zither); trong manh (slender drum), chieng (gongs) and trong com (cylindrical drum).
Dai thach (or dai thuc) dance is used in worship and competitive singing. The singers dance and sing in the lively rhythm of lutes and clappers. Lyrics of the songs are only the random combination of six-eight-word meter verses and do not necessarily express clear meaning. Bo bo dance is performed in worship singing only. The singers both sing and dance in simulating work actions. The dance requires the performance of 6 - 8 female singers or more. Performing clothes are not very formal. Lyrics of the songs describe working activities and Praise sporting spirit.
Tu linh dance is performed in worship singing only, which refers to the dance of four supernatural creatures, describing four legendary animals namely the dragon, kylin, tortoise and phoenix. The singers offer incense, wine and sing and dance around the incense altar while four instrumentalists playing the part of four supernatural creatures dancing around the yard of communal house.
Ca Tru in Modern Life
According to the researchers, by 2010, there were 63 clubs with about 769 people (including 513 dao (female singers), 256 kep (male instrumentalists) and trong chau (praise drummers) in 14 provinces and cities throughout the country. These clubs have frequently carried out activities and established plans for research, documentation, collection, preservation, performance and transmission of Ca Tru. However, the number of folk artists who can sing from 10 tunes or more is very rare.
Some Ca Tru clubs:
- Ha Noi: Lo Khe, Ca Tru Thang Long, Chanh Village (Phu Xuyen), Bich Cau.
- Ninh Binh: Nguyen Cong Tru, Co Vien Lau.
- Ha Tinh: Nguyen Cong Tru, Co Dam.
At the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology, 7 dances and 42 songs of Ca Tru have been stored. There are 26 files written in Han Nom scripts on Ca Tru and about 25 books on Ca Tru.
Distinguished by its unique characteristics, Ca Tru has become a treasure of Vietnamese folk music. Ca Tru has been warmly welcomed by domestic and international audience and honoured and supported by international organizations. That Ca Tru has been recognized by the UNESCO requires Viet Nam to constantly preserve and uphold great values of this folk art.
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