Vietnamese Performing Arts Captured

Read all the exciting things our scholars have been up to!

In less than 10 days, I will be arriving home in New York. Today is day 90 of being in Vietnam. What an incredible journey it has been. In thinking about everything I have done, seen, and learned, I get somewhat overwhelmed with joy.

One of my main projects while being here has been studying Vietnamese performing arts. Through the Student International Initiatives Fund (HWS Center for Global Education), I have had the opportunity to explore the many wonders of song, dance, and theater in Vietnam.

This interest came from an abroad program that I recently did in Bali, Indonesia, where we spent three weeks studying traditional Balinese arts. While there, I used photography as a way to capture the feeling and experiences that I had in an effort to share this with my family and friends.

I ended up seeing both performing arts and photography as a way to share culture and ideas, which is how I came about my project title, Vietnamese Performing Arts Captured.

During our three weeks in Ho Chi Minh City, I took lessons on the instrument pictured here, the đàn bầu. This instrument is thousands of years old, and many people love the sound because of how much it represents the Vietnamese singing voice.

This monochord beauty is extremely difficult to learn. Therefore, my four lessons got me a good understanding of where the notes live in the instrument, but I am by no means fully capable of playing a good song.

As you see in the photo above, I was being taught with Western style music notations. The songs that I was taught were all written in this book, and I was able to read the notes the same way that I normally read music at home. This was very beneficial for me, but what does it mean to the traditional ways of teaching which involved getting to know the instrument on a much more intimate level?

During our trip to the Mekong Delta, we were lucky enough to see a performance that included a đàn bầu. I can remember sitting there listening, and thinking to myself “I know how to play this song!” Learning parts of this instrument made me feel much more connected to the performing arts community. But who is in that community? How available is the arts to people around Vietnam?

For Halloween our program coordinator, Lan Anh, organized a performance of traditional music by these two students. One of the students above showed up in my life just a month later while I was attending a theater class at the University of Humanities and Social Sciences…

Walking around Hoàn Kiếm Lake has become one of my favorite things to do in Hanoi. On weekends, it becomes a walking street where you can see performances, children riding in tiny toy cars, and people playing feather kick. One thing that I have seen quite a lot of, is performances using traditional instruments, but playing modern songs (often Western songs, too). What is the role of traditional Vietnamese instruments? Should they be used only in traditional performances? These are just some of the questions I set out to discover this semester.

One of the most important things that I learned about my project is that it was kind of a bad idea. Performing arts is about being in the moment, taking every second for what it is worth. When I was behind a camera, I found that I was more focused on getting a good angle, than what the performers were trying to teach me. I attended many more performances than the ones pictured here. Further descriptions and reflections to come…

This post has been sporadic and mostly just asks questions with no answers. My hope is to just to provide some points of thought and contemplation…

I will be writing a report and giving a presentation about my discoveries, failures, and stories within this project. Interested in learning more and getting answers? Stay tuned for the date of my presentation at the Intercultural Affairs Center on campus!