1. Nha Nhac -Vietnamese court music
Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2003), Nha Nhac, meaning“elegant music” refers to a broad range of musical and dance styles performedat the Vietnamese royal court from the 15th to the mid-20th century.
Nha Nhac was generally featured at the opening and closing of ceremoniesassociated with anniversaries, religious holidays, coronations, funerals andofficial receptions. Among the numerous musical genres that developed in Vietnam, onlyNha Nhac can claim a nationwide scope and strong links with the traditions ofother East Asian countries.
Nha Nhac performances formerly featured numerous singers, dancers andmusicians dressed in sumptuous costumes. Large-scale orchestras included aprominent drum section and many other types of percussion instruments as wellas a variety of wind and string instruments.
All performers had to maintain a high level of concentration since theywere expected to follow each step of the ritual meticulously. Nha Nhacdeveloped during the Le dynasty (1427-1788) and became highly institutionalisedand codified under the Nguyen monarchs (1802-1945).
As a symbol of the dynasty’s power and longevity, Nha Nhac became anessential part of the court’s ceremonies. However, the role of Nha Nhac was notlimited to musical accompaniment for court rituals: it also provided a means ofcommunicating with and paying tribute to the gods and kings as well astransmitting knowledge about nature and the universe. Certain forms of Nha Nhachave been maintained in popular rituals and religious ceremonies and serve as asource of inspiration for contemporary Vietnamese music.
2. Space of gongculture
Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005), the cultural space of thegongs in the Central Highlands of Vietnam is closely linked to the daily lifeof local people. Their belief systems form a mystical world where the gongsproduce a privileged language between men, divinities and the supernaturalworld.
Behind every gong hides a god or goddess. Every family possesses atleast one gong, which indicates the family’s wealth, authority and prestige. Whilea range of brass instruments is used in the various ceremonies, the gong aloneis present in all the rituals of community life.
Each instrumentalist carries a different gong measuring between 25 and80 cm in diameter. From three to twelve gongs are played by the villageensembles, which are made up of men or women. Different arrangements andrhythms are adapted to the context of the ceremony, for example, the ritualsacrifice of the bullocks, the blessing of the rice or mourning rites.
3. Quan ho Bac Ninhfolk songs
Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity, the Quan ho Bac Ninh folk songs are performed asalternating verses between two women from one village who sing in harmony, andtwo men from another village who respond with similar melodies, but withdifferent lyrics. The women traditionally wear distinctive large round hats andscarves; the men’s costumes include turbans, umbrellas and tunics.
The song lyrics express people’s emotional states of longing and sadnessupon separation and the happiness of the meeting of lovers.
Quan ho singing is common at rituals, festivals, competitions andinformal gatherings, where guests will perform a variety of verses for theirhosts before singing farewell. Younger musicians of both sexes may practice thefour singing techniques – restrained, resonant, ringing and staccato – atparties organised around singing.
Quan ho songs demonstrate the spirit, philosophy and local identity ofthe communities in this region, and help forge social bonds within and betweenvillages that share a cherished cultural practice.
4. Ca Tru singing
Inscribed in 2009 on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need ofUrgent Safeguarding, Ca tru is a complex form of sung poetry found in the northof Vietnamusing lyrics written in traditional Vietnamese poetic forms.
Ca tru groups comprise three performers: a female singer who usesbreathing techniques and vibrato to create unique ornamented sounds, whileplaying the clappers or striking a wooden box, and two instrumentalists whoproduce the deep tone of a three-stringed lute and the strong sounds of apraise drum.
Some Ca tru performances also include dance. The varied forms of Ca trufulfill different social purposes, including worship singing, singing forentertainment, singing in royal palaces and competitive singing.
Ca tru has 56 different musical forms or melodies, each of which iscalled “the cach”. Folk artists transmit the music and poems that comprise Ca trupieces by oral and technical transmission, formerly, within their family line,but now to any who wish to learn.
5. Giong festival ofPhu Dong and Soc temples
Inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity, the Giong festival of Phu Dong and Soc temples iscelebrated annually in outlying districts of Hanoi,the capital of Vietnam.
Each spring, before the rice harvest, Vietnamese people honour the mythicalhero, god and saint, Thanh Giong, who is credited with defending the countryfrom foreign enemies, and is worshipped as the patron god of the harvest,national peace and family prosperity.
The festival at Phu Dong temple, which takes place in the fourth lunarmonth in the village of his birth, symbolically re-enacts his feats through theriding of a white horse into battle and the orchestration of an elaborate flagdance to symbolise the battle itself. Young men receive extensive training toplay the roles of Flag Master, Drum Master, Gong Master, Army Master andChildren’s Master, while 28 girls aged 9 to 13 are selected toplay the enemy generals. The Flag Master’s dancing movements and drum and gongsounds convey the development of the battle, and paper butterflies releasedfrom the flag symbolically disperse the invaders.
The arrival of rains after the festival is seen as a blessing from thesaint for an abundant harvest. The celebrations at Soc temple, where SaintGiong ascended to heaven, take place in the first lunar month and include theritual of bathing his statue and a procession of bamboo flowers to the templeas offerings to the saint.
6. Xoan singing ofPhu Tho province
Inscribed in 2017 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity, Xoan singing in the northern province of Phu Tho includessinging, dancing, drumming and clapper beating.
It is closely linked to the worship of the Hung Kings, a belief rootedin the ancestor worship practice of Vietnamese people. Bearers andpractitioners form four guilds, in which the male and female “Trum” play themost important role: they preserve the songs, select students, transmit thesinging styles and repertoires and organise practices. They are also active inintroducing and teaching Xoan singing in clubs and guilds.
As a community performing art, Xoan singing fosters culturalunderstanding, community cohesion and mutual respect. The Vietnamese Institutefor Musicology has collected 31 Xoan songs, and thanks to the efforts ofseveral Xoan artists, four guilds have been established. Thirty-three dedicatedclubs also exist, and seminars are held to expand the knowledge of Xoan. SeniorXoan artists transmit the singing orally, combined with the use of writtensongs and audio and visual recordings.
7. Worship of HungKings in Phu Tho
The largest ceremony, the ancestral anniversary festival of the HingKings, is celebrated for about one week at the beginning of the third lunar month.People from surrounding villages dress in splendid costumes and compete toprovide the best palanquin and most highly valued objects of worship for thekey rite in which drums and gongs are conveyed to the main temple site.
Communities make offerings of rice-based delicacies such as square cakesand glutinous cakes, and there are verbal and folk arts performances, bronzedrum beating, Xoan singing, prayers and petitions.
8. Art of Don ca taitu music and song in southern Vietnam
Inscribed in 2013 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity, the art of “Don ca tai tu” music and song is anindispensable part of the spiritual activity and cultural heritage of people inthe south of Vietnam.
The music and songs evoke the people’s life and work on the land andrivers of the Mekong Delta region. Performed at numerous events such asfestivals, death anniversary rituals and celebrations, “Don ca tai tu” is thusintimately connected with other cultural practices and customs, oral traditionsand handicrafts.
Performers express their feelings by improvising, ornamenting andvarying the skeletal melody and main rhythmic patterns of these pieces. “Don catai tu” is played on a variety of different instruments, including the moon-shapedlute, two-stringed fiddle, sixteen-stringed zither, pear-shaped lute,percussion, monochord and bamboo flute. Its repertoire is based on twentyprincipal songs and seventy-two classical songs.
The musical art is passed on through oral transmission, based onimitation, from master instrumentalists and singers to students. Musicians needto study for at least three years to learn the basic instrumental techniquesand master the musical modes to express different moods and emotions. Vocalstudents study the traditional songs and learn to improvise subtly, usingdifferent ornamentation techniques.
9. Vi and Giam folksongs of Nghe Tinh
Inscribed in 2014 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity, Vi and Giam songs are sung by a wide range of communitiesin the north-central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh.
Specific songs are sung without instrumental accompaniment while peoplecultivate rice in the fields, row boats, make conical hats or lull children tosleep.
Vi and Giam lyrics use the specific dialect and linguistic idioms of theNghe Tinh region and practitioners sing with the particular singing voice of localpeople.
Many of the songs focus on key values and virtues including respect forparents, loyalty, care and devotion, the importance of honesty and a good heartin the maintenance of village customs and traditions.
Singing provides people with a chance to ease hardship while working, torelieve sorrow in their lives, express feelings of sentiment between men andwomen, and exchange feelings of love between unmarried boys and girls.
Today Vi and Giam are commonly performed at community cultural eventsand are sung by artists in theatres.
10. Tugging ritualsand games
Inscribed in 2015 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity, tugging rituals and games in the rice-farming cultures ofEast Asia and Southeast Asia are enacted among communities to ensure abundantharvests and prosperity.
They promote social solidarity, provide entertainment and mark the startof a new agricultural cycle. Many tugging rituals and games also have profoundreligious significance. Most variations include two teams, each of which pullsone end of a rope attempting to tug it from the other. The intentionallyuncompetitive nature of the event removes the emphasis on winning or losing,affirming that these traditions are performed to promote the well-being of thecommunity, and reminding members of the importance of cooperation.
Many tugging games bear the traces of agricultural rituals, symbolisingthe strength of natural forces, such as the sun and rain while alsoincorporating mythological elements or purification rites.
Tugging rituals and games are often organised in front of a village’scommunal house or shrine, preceded by commemorative rites to local protectivedeities. Village elders play active roles in leading and organising youngerpeople in playing the game and holding accompanying rituals.
They also serve to strengthen unity and solidarity and sense ofbelonging and identity among community members.
11. Practicesrelated to Vietnamese beliefs in the Mother Goddesses of Three Realms
Inscribed in 2016 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity, the practices in the Mother Goddesses of Three Realms (heaven,water, and mountains and forests) aim to meet spiritual needs and everydaywishes of Vietnamese people.
The Mother Goddesses include Lieu Hanh (a nymph who descended to earth,lived as a human and became a Buddhist nun) referred to as the Mother of theWorld, and other spirits considered legendary heroes. The traditional practiceinvolves daily worship and participation in ceremonies, rituals like the spiritpossession ritual and festivals such as Phu Day that take place at templesdedicated to the Mother Goddesses. These activities associated with thepractice help to maintain part of the community’s history, cultural heritageand identity with some aspects incorporating traditional costumes, music anddance.
Bearers and practitioners are members of the public, temple guardians,ritual priests, spirit mediums, assistants and musicians who transmit knowledgeand skills orally to newcomers and family members. The practice of sharedvalues and strong beliefs in the compassion and grace of the Mother Goddessesprovides a basis for social relations connecting members of participatingcommunities.
The worshipping of the Mother Goddesses also contributes to theappreciation of women and their roles in society.
12. The art of BaiChoi in central Vietnam
Inscribed in 2017 on the Representative List of the Intangible CulturalHeritage of Humanity, the art of Bai Choi in central Vietnam is a diverse art combiningmusic, poetry, acting, painting and literature.
It takes two main forms: Bai Choi games and Bai Choi performance. BaiChoi games involve a card game played in bamboo huts during the Lunar New Year.In Bai Choi performances, male and female artists perform on a rattan mat,either moving from place to place or in private occasions for families.
The art of Bai Choi is an important form of culture and recreationwithin village communities. Performers and their families play a major role insafeguarding the practice by teaching song repertoires, singing skills,performance techniques and card-making methods to younger generations. Togetherwith communities, these performers have set up nearly 90 Bai Choi teams, groupsand clubs to practise and transmit the art form, which attracts wide communityparticipation.
Most performers of the art learn their skills within the family and theskills are mainly transmitted orally, but artists specialising in Bai Choi alsotransmit knowledge and skills in clubs, schools and associations.-VNA
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