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Symphony of cultures on show at new music museum

Old-school: The Phu Dong 2 Troupe during a performance at the Traditional Instrument Museum. — VNS Photo Duc Ngoc
HCM CITY — Visitors to the home of musician Duc Dau are not only surprised to find two stilt houses in HCM City, but overwhelmed by the collection of traditional percussion, string and wind instruments collected high and low across the country.

Dau, who is famous in Viet Nam for his dedication to folk music, opened his private collection to visitors last year as the Traditional Instrument Museum.

One of the stilt houses is devoted to drums, most of which come from mountainous provinces of the north and the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands). The biggest drum in the collection measures 1.1m in diameter.

The house is also home to cheo drums and one of Viet Nam’s most famous traditional instruments, the Tay Son drums.

During King Quang Trung’s reign in the 18th Century, the set of 12 Tay Son drums were played at magnificent ceremonies to send troops off to battle or welcome them home from victory.

The second stilt house contains Dau’s collection of traditional wind and string instruments, as well as gongs, which are mostly drawn from the Tay Nguyen region.

The most prized piece of this collection is a set of 13 two-century old bronze gongs from the Tay Nguyen region’s Ede ethnic minority.

Alongside these gongs are the T’rung organ and 30 different flutes and oboes from ethnic minority people – mostly the Mong people of the north (who are known outside Viet Nam as Hmong).

"Even though my collection represents every ethnic minority group in the country through their musical instruments, I’m still not satisfied with my collection," Dau says. "One crucial missing piece is the bronze drum – the symbol of Viet Nam."

After graduating from the Ha Noi Conservatory’s one-stringed zither department, Dau spent many years travelling throughout the Tay Bac (Northwest) and Tay Nguyen regions and discovering instruments of ethnic minorities.

He started collecting the instruments in 1990.

"I worked at the Viet Nam Institute of Musicology at the same time as the late musician Luu Huu Phuoc, who encouraged me to begin my collection," Dau says.

Dau does not only display the instruments in his museum. He can also play all of them.

"The ethnic minority people of remote and mountainous areas taught me to play many musical instruments. It’s only through learning their performance techniques and the meaning of their lyrics that we can comprehend the soul of ethnic minority people’s music," Dau says.

Dau has established two traditional music groups to express his love of their songs – and his children and grandchildren play in both of them.

He founded the Phu Dong 1 percussion group nearly 25 years ago with his sons, daughters and in-laws, and they still perform regularly at the Rex Hotel in HCM City.

In 1994, he founded the Phu Dong 2 Troupe with his grandsons and granddaughters. The oldest member is 17 while the youngest is 8.

The children rehearse for at least two hours after school each day, and all of them can play many different traditional instruments.

The Phu Dong 2 Troupe has toured Viet Nam and performed its songs at schools and cultural centres. Many of the tunes were composed by Dau himself.

The troupe has recently returned to HCM City after a tour of the Republic of Korea.

Every year, during their summer holidays, Dau takes the troupe to Tay Nguyen to take part in ethnic minority performances.

"I want my grandchildren to be able to hear the unique tunes and rhythms of gongs and drums as they are played by people in remote and mountainous areas. Most of these sounds are still unknown to urban folk," Dau says.

Reprinted with permission from VietNam News Agency


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