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The melody from kite - flute (December 30, 2003)

The flute is probably the sole musical instrument that made its appearance worldwide and one of the few musical pieces that came into being in early human history. However, the kite-flute is possibly unique to Vietnam as it is not played by man, but by the wind.

The Vietnamese kite-flute has a particular structure, unlike all the others of the kite family, and it belongs to the wind-instrument section, as its sound is produced by the inflow of the wind, in harmony with the movement of the kite in the air.

Making a kite-flute is no simple matter. If a flute a little bigger than the usual one is fixed on the kite, it will only give out some whisperings. A good flute should produce an uninterrupted stream of sounds, swift and sparse consecutively, of different timbre and intensity, like that of a gong, a horn, a shell or a bell.

To make a flute, the artisans should select the pipes from an aged bamboo that has perished in its own grove, as it is the only material that can produce a resounding sound and stand the harsh weather conditions. That is about the whispering flute with small pipes, but to have the harmonious stream of sounds, there should be bigger-sized pipes the length of two arms' spread and a diameter of more than 20 cm. In most cases, the artisans have to make artificial pipes. They split the bamboo into thin tapes and make pipes from them, which are then covered with layers of lacquer and local rice or tissue paper, one on the other and decorated with exotic motifs. Last of all comes the division of the pipe into different sonic sections of certain lengths, with partitions so that the same pipe may produce three different sounds of different timbres and intensity (sometimes dried, clean sand is used for their regulation in each section).

"Vang tam" (lit. golden-core wood) and "go mit" (lit. jack-fruit tree wood) are the best for the partitions and the ends of the pipe. The accuracy of the division of the sections will help produce the fine sounds desired. The position of the mouth-hole, in line with the direction of the wind, is also important to producing natural sounds. Sometimes a negligent slit or slash with the knife can result in "harsh, intolerable sounds". Therefore, one may be able to make a good kite or fly a kite well, but few people can create a satisfactory kite-flute.

The artisan attaches to the kite’s long back, an arms’ spread to say the least, a few pairs of flutes producing the sounds of a gong or a horn, three flutes producing the sounds of a gong, a horn and a bell, or a set of five flutes producing different pitches of sounds.

Flying a flute-kite has long been a refined, elegant and noble pleasure of the Vietnamese, a never-fading image and sound of the beloved Vietnamese rural life, peaceful and tranquil.

Reprinted with permission from Nhan Dan Newspaper


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