Efforts made to preserve 'Then' singing
VietNamNet Bridge – Thanks to the teaching efforts made by veteran artisans and effective operation of clubs, Then singing has become wide spread in every corner of the daily life as well as in the cultural and spiritual practices of people in Na Hang District, Tuyen Quang Province.
Children enjoying 'Then' tunes from a 'Then' singing master (Photo: baotuyenquang.vn)
Then singing is very familiar to locals in Son Phu Commune. It is sung not only at festivals, but also on the field when people are doing farm work, along water wharfs when they are resting after a long, hard working day and in the forest. The lyrics not only convey people’s wishes but also help bring couples closer to become husband and wife.
According to Meritorious Artist Ban Van Son, for the longest time, Then singing has enriched the spiritual life of people not only in Son Phu Commune but also in the entire Tuyen Quang Province.
He believed that it’s the natural beauty of Na Hang that crates favourable conditions to nurturing and upholding Then singing.
Meritorious Artist Manh Tham said that Then singing is naturally part of people’s life. It not only attracts the old, but many young people and children are also interested in the art form.
He noted that Then singing clubs have been formed at Nha Hang Boarding School and Na Hang Secondary school. Members of the clubs were good enough to win top prizes at a Then singing festival in the district in 2015.
14-year-old Ban Thi Hoa, a student of Tham, shared that her love for Then singing came when she was a baby girl listening Then melodies sung by her grandmother and mother.
A Then singing club was established in Son Phu Commune roughly ten years ago as a venue for members to share their love for the art form. The same clubs have also been active in most of other communes in Na Hang District, aiming to boost cultural exchanges.
Over 10 clubs currently operating in the district have attracted hundreds of members. Na Hang is the first district in Tuyen Quang Province to host a Then singing festival of the Tay and Nung ethnic groups. The success of the event illustrated the popularity of Then singing in the community.
Then singing has developed thanks to the significant contributions of local artisans, who have actively and devotedly handed down the cultural practice to younger generations.
Prominent among them is 80-year-old Ban Van Son, a pillar of the Son Phu Commune’s Then singing club; and Hoang Lien Son in Nhung Village, Nang Kha Commune, one of the Then singing masters in his area.
There years ago, Son was trusted by the local authorities to help create Then singing clubs in the commune, as part of the locality’s programme on building new style rural areas.
Son recalled that in the past, although many people in Nang Kha were good at Then singing, he was the only one could play ‘dan tinh’ (gourd lute) – a musical instrument that accompanies the art form.
This urged him to work with artisans in neighbouring communes to increase the number of people practicing the traditional art and playing ‘dan tinh’.
He revealed that ‘Then’ in the Tay language means ‘God’ or ‘Heaven’, so Then singing is a type of art form, to some extent, imbued with religious practices. In addition to rituals, the singing also includes performing arts.
There are two types of Then singing: “Then ky yen” (praying for good things) and “Then le hoi” (Then festival). The former includes ancient tunes and is performed at rituals, while the latter is performed on varied occasions - to pray for good seasons, enter a new house or “cap sac” initiation, which declares the coming-of-age of Dao ethnic men, as well as many other functions.
According to him, it is a long and time consuming process to learn the ancient Then tunes; it is easier to teach and learn Then festival.
Son has collected and restored dozens of ancient Then tunes. He has also written over 300 pages on the beauty and legends of his homeland.
“I want to join hands to boost cultural movements in my locality and safeguard the treasured value of Then singing,” Son said.
He has planned to print his research and present the books to visitors to Na Hang.
Another outstanding Then master-researcher is Meritorious Artist Ma Van Duc, who is the author of many highly appreciated books on preserving Then singing in Tuyen Quang Province.
Many of his book titles have become guidebooks for the operation of Then singing clubs in communes and districts in Tuyen Quang.
Since 2013, at the invitation of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, he has visited many folk artisans to collect ancient Then tunes, which were archived into a 1,000-page book.
Then singing was recognised as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012.
Tuyen Quang has worked with the Vietnam National Academy of Music and other northern provinces of Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Lang Son, Thai Nguyen, Lao Cao, Lai Chau and Bac Giang – where the music is also practised – to compile a dossier, seeking UNESCO recognition as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Locals and artisans in Na Hang have exerted every effort to complete it.
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