The only farmer violinists in Vietnam – Làng vĩ cầm nông dân – Làng Then, Bắc Giang

Làng Then, thuộc xã Thái Đào – Lạng Giang – Bắc Giang, ngôi làng duy nhất tại Việt Nam có truyền thống chơi vĩ cầm suốt gần 60 năm nay.

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2 thoughts on “The only farmer violinists in Vietnam – Làng vĩ cầm nông dân – Làng Then, Bắc Giang

    1. Indeed a Hoành. Văn hoá Kinh bắc của VN quả là có quá nhiều điều khám phá và bản tồn.

      Though, my grandparents and great grandparents actually were born and lived their whole lives in the neighbour village next to this Then village. I am so proud of that.

      CNN has an article about Then village.

      Vietnam’s farmer violinists

      http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/life/vietnam-farmer-brings-violin-classics-people-895978/

      Farmers from a rural village near Hanoi have found fame as violinists in a string orchestra
      By Helen Clark and Tran Le Thuy 18 November, 2011

      Lang Then in Vietnam’s northern Bac Giang province looks like many hamlets in the countryside. Yellow gates squat at its entrance and rice fields stretch into the distance.

      Old village lanes and single-story houses with large courtyards for drying the rice crop sit beside larger modern houses of three or four stories.

      But this is like no other village in Vietnam. What sets it apart is not how it looks, but how it sounds.

      Often, the notes of violins carry across the fields. For more than 50 years Lang Then has been famous for its string orchestra, made up of farmers.

      Nguyen Quang Khoa, the current head of the all-male orchestra (women are often “too busy” after marriage to pursue music), began learning the violin in his teens and later traveled across the country entertaining troops in wartime Vietnam, first as they fought against the Americans and later, briefly, the Chinese.

      “I learned Beethoven from the very beginning — but I didn’t understand it until quite late and now I know it’s wonderful,” he says from his house, which is filled with half-made, life-sized paper and bamboo horses he makes to burn at the pagoda as an offering during the harvest season.

      “But no one can play for you today as it’s the harvest season and we’re all too busy; our hands are too sore. And we’d need some time to practice first anyway as we’re just farmers, not professionals.”

      Then village farms mostly rice, but also cabbages, tomatoes and flowers. Orchestra practices are scheduled on weekends when musicians have more time away from work.

      vietnam farmer violinist
      Dua sold his rice crop and chickens to pay for his violin more than 50 years ago.

      Playing for the troops

      Khoa says that Lang Then has long been known for its talented musicians, but the slew of violinists it produced made it famous.

      These musicians were sent across the country to perform and included Nguyen Huu Dua, at the time a young farmer, who picked up how to play the violin in 1956 when a famed teacher came to the village.

      Before this Lang Then’s musicians had primarily played the mandolin and guitar, and before that the moon lute.

      Dua sold his rice crop and chickens to pay for his instrument all those years ago and he plays the same one today. Though scratchy at times, he can still knock out Brahms from memory.

      See Dua play in the video above

      The story goes that Dua convinced the local government to send a violinist to the village for a year to teach people.

      By the 1970s Dua had many of his own students, including Khoa when he was still a teenager.

      Khoa was soon recruited by the army and after two more years of teaching, which included voice and theater, he was employed by the propaganda department.

      “My best memory is of an army festival,” laughs Khoa. “Everyone in our village went to different units. We met up at the festival again, it was like a reunion but we were competing against each other.”

      “We played mostly military music,” he adds.

      Nowadays, state TV broadcasts military talent shows that are far removed from wartime concerts.

      “It’s very different. At that time it was mostly propaganda. Life is more relaxed now, and more artistic.”

      vietnam farmer violinist
      The violin village looks like any other, but sounds very different.

      But still farmers

      While many of the villagers have learned to play the violin, only a dozen or so get together to play regularly. The others are too busy with their farms.

      They’ll get together every few days or a couple of times a month, time permitting, to practice.

      They go on tour but despite the fame their nationwide TV appearances have brought, most travel is restricted to Bac Giang, for festivals.

      “I have to choose the music for the audience — for an international audience we might play the Blue Danube but for locals we’ll play traditional songs,” says Khoa.

      Even now classical music isn’t widely appreciated in Vietnam and Khoa feels his audiences probably wouldn’t really enjoy Tchaikovsky.

      In the beginning

      Age hasn’t wearied Nguyen Huu Dua, who is now 78, or dimmed his enthusiasm for music, although he still farms. He and his wife were drying their rice crop when we arrived, but he broke off to play for us.

      He too traveled the nation playing for the troops and remembers being shelled more than once. He’s also played at the Hanoi opera house, built by the French.

      Despite this he’s still remarkably humble. “I’m just a farmer,” he says.

      Liked by 1 person

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