Huong Quynh

Art-lovers in Vietnam have embraced many art works inspired by traditional materials. In the field of music, young artists have found new ways to incorporate the essence of  traditional music into contemporary songs. Join us in meeting Ms. Phan Thuy. Born in the 1990s, she has 20 years of experience playing Vietnam’s traditional lute – the đàn tỳ bà.

Hi Phan Thuy. How do you feel about incorporating traditional Vietnamese music into contemporary works of art?

This is a popular trend not only in Vietnam but around the world. I am no exception. At the moment, most popular music genres and hits mix folk music elements into their melodies, lyrics, harmony, or instrumental mix. Integrating traditional music into contemporary arts isn’t easy. Some works might become popular, while some are failed experiments. Either way, the core result is to show a shifting trend in music, and adapt to contemporary trends and demands. Audiences and the artists can browse and choose the genre of music that suits their tastes and art activities. This is also a way to reach out to audiences of all ages and promote traditional melodies through various types of music.

I have played some compositions by young musicians like Phan Manh Quynh and Hoang Dung on the đàn tỳ bà. I incorporated new tunes into classical musical pieces by changing the harmony, such as in ‘I love you’ (a song about motherhood) by musician Nguyễn Văn Tý. I collaborated with musicians Manh Tien, Luu Ha An, and DJ SlimV to play the đàn tỳ bà in a world music style. I also tried a bold experiment to localize some Broadway musical hits like “Think of me”, “Phantom of the Opera” and others on the đàn tỳ bà. All these projects were amazing in terms of instrumental and overall sound and tone. They were warmly welcomed by audiences, especially the young generations.

What are the challenges of incorporating traditional resources into modern music?

When it comes to creativity in art, the sky’s the limit. Therefore, traditional resources should be considered a treasure trove of materials for composers. In my view, the greatest challenge when trying to use these treasures to compose modern music is to be mindful and sophisticated. Artists need the skill to honor the beauty of the traditional music, and not forcefully abuse their material in an unnatural way.

Musician Phan Thuy poses in traditional dress with her đàn tỳ bà

What should we do to bring young people and traditional music together?

In the current digital age, social networks have a dominant presence that artists can utilize. They can create their own channels and pages to reach audiences more easily. In terms of music content, novel genres and rhythms are highly appreciated. It is a good idea to introduce familiar, popular songs or covers, combined with many other types of music so that audiences can get used to the sounds and images of traditional instruments, and then incorporate more traditional melodies. There should also be more chances for traditional music artists to meet young audiences, and performances of traditional music aimed at young generations. This would turn it into a more familiar choice of entertainment for young people. It’s good news that more people born in the 1990s or first decade of this century are attending Ca trù clubs, and have embraced concerts by “Đông Kinh cổ nhạc” (The Ancient Music Group of Tonkin) in Hanoi .

As well as being an artist, you also teach traditional music at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. How do you inspire a love of traditional music in young people?

Most of my students are in high school. Some are primary school kids. I focus on perfect sounds, sharing professional knowledge, and introducing novel musical experiences. My efforts help students to develop a natural love of traditional music and traditional instruments. I received this inspiration and passion from my own teachers. The đàn tỳ bà is part of my life, my dearest friend. Teaching is inherently a meaningful profession. Teachers of traditional music are keepers of cultural resources, the ones who can inspire a love of traditional music in younger generations.

Phan Thuy performs in a concert

– Aside from the đàn tỳ bà, Ms. Phan Thuy has also mastered the bamboo flute, the tam thập lục (a traditional 36-stringed dulcimer), the t’rưng (a Jarai bamboo xylophone), the K’rong put (a Bahnar bamboo xylophone), the gourd zither, the đàn đá (Central Highlands lithopone), traditional drums, and more.

– Awards: Third prize winner of the National Traditional Musical Instrument Solo and Orchestra Competition 2020; Gold Medal in the National Young Talent Contest for Students of Culture, Arts, Sports and Tourism School 2012 (group category); Silver Medal in the Hanoi Traditional Musical Instrument Solo Competition 2009; Gold Medal in the Hanoi Traditional Musical Instrument Orchestra Competition 2007 etc.

– Music director for musicals including ‘Góc phố danh vọng’ (Street of Reputation), ‘Đêm hè sau cuối’ (The last summer night), ‘Mộng ước không xa vời’ (A not-distant dream)…