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An 74 Years-Old Artisan Whole-Heartedly Dedicates To Quan Ho

Photo by: Thanh Huyen

The communal house of Duong Xa village (Van An ward, Bac Ninh city) is widely known for preserving and developing the value of Quan ho (love duet singing). It is a place where Quan ho admirers have opportunity to learn and perform ancient songs under the instruction of artisan Nguyen Thi Kim Quynh. At the age of 74, she still whole-heartedly dedicates to teach Quan ho for local people of different generations.

A deep affection for Quan ho folk songs

In 2018, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Kim Quynh was honoured as a Meritorious Artist by the President of Vietnam. Over 60 years of living with Quan ho, Nguyen Thi Kim Quynh can memorize nearly 100 folk songs. The pecuniary of these songs is to use old Vietnamese wordings. Therefore, remembering the lyrics is not an easy work.

Mrs. Quynh’s passion for the traditional music dated back when she was a little girl. “I was born into a family with a long tradition of Quan ho singing. My father’s friends also had a deep love for this kind of music. They used to come to our home, sang Quan ho everywhere they could. The sweet melodies gradually absorbed into my soul. Since then, my love for Quan ho grew naturally.”, Mrs. Quynh recalled.

According to Mrs. Quynh, singing Quan ho is a kind of art. The ancient Quan ho music does not use instruments but singers’ vocals to make rhythms. They use smooth movements of their tones and tongues to create melodies for their performances. Practicing breathing and humming a tune is very essential. Singers must know “hu la”, “la rang” and “la ban” tunes and practice different ways of singing the folk songs.

Bitter chewing a piece of betel, she declaimed a sentence in the song “Ban den choi nha” (Friend visits my house). Despite being more than 70 years old, the voice of the senior artisan is still clear and deep. “In my generation, Quan ho was immensely popular in the North of Viet Nam. Many people loved it.  Any time we could sing, we were extremely excited. No matter how busy we were, we all called each other to set up a band. If we did not sing, we would feel uneasy all day long.”, Mrs Quynh shared.

The persistent vitality of Quan ho in Duong Xa village

As mentioned by Mrs. Quynh, the seniors in the village do not remember exactly when the custom of singing Quan Ho started. It is believed that Quan Ho in Duong Xa village was established more than 800 years ago. For years, it has been transmitted by villagers as a symbol of local and regional identity.

“For hundreds of years, Quan Ho still rooted into the life of Duong Xa villagers. In the past, the mothers lulled their babies with Quan Ho songs. During the war time, Duong Xa people sang Quan Ho even when they were in the bunkers to get away from the fear. Nowadays, Quan Ho singing activities are held in many places, from traditional festivals to weddings”, Mrs. Quynh said.

Artisan Nguyen Thi Kim Quynh always wholeheartedly devotes to the cause of preserving Quan ho folk songs. Photo by: Thanh Huyen

In 1992, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Kim Quynh set up Quan ho club in Duong Xa. Established for nearly 28 years, the club has been luring 120 members at different age groups. The communal house of Duong Xa village is always bustling in Sunday morning. From the roads to the communal house, the male and female singers wearing four-panel traditional dresses, conical hats and turbans flocked to the large yard. They come together with love and passion for Quan ho.

Quan ho is considered as mental treatment of Duong Xa people. “I put aside household chores to join the Quan ho club every Sunday. The passion for Quan ho helps me overcome all the passion in everyday life”, said Mrs. Tong Mai Vu – a member of the club. This 52-year-old female singer has never missed any class.

With the hope of inspire the passion and love for Quan ho to the young generations, in recent years, the club has been recruiting more and more child members. Most of them are students at primary and secondary schools. “I am so delighted when my little students are drawn to traditional music. They show their interest in learning a new song and remember the lyrics very quickly. I am always eager to imparting my experience in singing Quan ho for them.”, Mrs. Quynh shared. She seems to stand out, not just for her love for folk music, but for her strong desire to popularise the genre, especially among the youth.

Widespread the value of the precious heritage

A lasting vitality of Quan ho stems from its intrinsic value and the strong efforts of the artisans and authorities. In 2006, the local authority invested 90 billion VND to build Quan ho Theatre. With the unique architecture, this is an ideal place for tourists to visit and enjoy the quintessence of Quan Ho. In 2009, Quan ho was recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage. It became the motivation for Bac Ninh city to spread the value of Quan ho folk song arts.

That year, Bac Ninh government authorities decided to sponsor 30 million VND annually to the original Quan ho villages. The practice villages of Quan ho were also supported 20 million VND per annum. Those financial supports encourage local people to continue contributing positively to the preservation and promotion of Quan Ho folk songs. This year, Bac Ninh has deployed many policies to reinstate the traditional performance space and disseminate the folk singing. The city aims to have 40 Quan ho clubs by 2025.

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