ECALL C3 HieuNM 01
E-Call Writing
Ca Trù – A Vietnamese traditional music
Student: Nguyen Minh Hieu
Class: 10
:Supervisor: Caroline
28 September, 2007

1. Overview

Ca trù (also hát ả đào) is a popular folk music which is said to have begun with Ả Đào, a female singer who charmed the enemy with her voice. Most singers remain female, and the genre has been revived since the 1980s.

Ca trù, which itself has many forms, is thought to have originated in the imperial palace, eventually moving into performances at communal houses for predominantly scholars and other members of the elite (this is the type of Ca trù most widely known). It can be referred to as a geisha-type of entertainment where women trained in music and poetry entertained rich and powerful men.

Vietnam has completed documents to have Ca trù recognized by UNESCO as a potential Intangible Cultural Heritage.

ECALL C3 HieuNM 02

Performing Ca trù

2. Music in Ca trù

Ca trù, like many ancient and highly developed arts, has many forms. However, the most widely known and widely performed type of ca trù involves only 3 performers: the female vocalist, lute player and a spectator (who also takes part in the performance).

The female singer provides the vocals whilst playing her phách (small wooden sticks beaten on a small bamboo plattform to serve as percussion). She is accompanied by a man who plays the đàn đáy, a long-necked, 3-string lute used almost exclusively for the ca trù genre. Last is the spectator (often a scholar or connoisseur of the art) who strikes a trống chầu (praise drum) in praise (or dissaproval) of the singer’s performance, usually with every passage of the song. The way in which he strikes the drum shows whether he likes or dislikes the performance, but he always does it according to the beat provided by the vocalists’ phách percussion.

New observers to the art often comment on how strikingly odd the vocal technique sounds, but it is the vocals themselves which are essential in defining ca trù.

3. Đàn đáy

The đàn đáy is a Vietnamese plucked lute with three strings, a trapezoidal wooden body, and a very long wooden neck with ten raised frets. Players formerly used silk strings, but since the late 20th century have generally used nylon.

It is used primarily in Northern Vietnam, and is one of the accompanying instruments used in ca trù.

4. Đàn nguyệt

Đàn nguyệt is another instrument that is used in performing Ca trù. Đàn nguyệt (also called nguyệt cầm, đàn kìm, moon lute, or moon guitar) is a two-stringed Vietnamese traditional musical instrument. It is used in both folk and classical music, and remains popular throughout Vietnam (although during the 20th century many Vietnamese musicians increasingly gravitated toward the acoustic and electric guitar).

The đàn nguyệt’s strings, formerly made of twisted silk, are today generally made of nylon or fishing line. They are kept at a fairly low tension in comparison to the guitar and other European plucked instruments. This, and the instrument’s raised frets, allow for the bending tones which are so important to the proper interpretation of Vietnamese traditional music. Such bending tones are produced by pressing the string toward the neck rather than bending to the side. The strings are generally plucked with a small plectrum; often a plastic guitar pick is used.

The instrument’s standard Vietnamese name, đàn nguyệt, literally means "moon string instrument" (đàn is the generic term for "string instrument" and nguyệt means "moon"). Its alternate name, nguyệt cầm, also means "moon string instrument" (cầm meaning "string instrument, coming from the Chinese word).

5. Ca trù inns

Ca trù literally translates as tally card songs. This refers to the bamboo cards men bought when they visited ca trù inns, where this music was most often performed in the past. Men would give the bamboo cards they purchased to the woman of choice after her performance, and she would collect money based upon how many cards she was given.

Scholar-bureaucrats and other members of the elite most enjoyed this genre. They often visited these inns to be entertained by the talented young women, who did not only sing, but with their knowledge of poetry and the arts could strike up a witty conversation along with serving food and drink.

Besides these inns, ca trù was also commonly performed in communal houses or private homes.

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