It seems that all Vietnamese have a flair for the arts of one sort or the other. If they do not paint or write poetry or fiction, then they probably sing, play a musical instrument or dance. The country has a rich tradition of music and dance, and visitors can get a taste of this tradition by attending a show or theatrical performance.
Music in Vietnam
The Vietnamese love singing, particularly a form of singing called quan ho, or call-and-response singing, in which couples sing to each other without any musical accompaniment as a form of courtship. Quan ho is particularly popular in the Red River Delta in the north, and also among many of the ethnic minority groups.
The national penchant for innovation is especially evident in its musical instruments, several of which are unlike instruments found in other cultures. Perhaps the best known is the dan bau – a single-stringed instrument that closely mimics the human voice and is nearly always present at a performance of traditional music.
Several other Vietnamese instruments are striking either to look at or listen to, and sometimes both. The dan da is a stone lithophone that looks like something the Flintstones might use, with big wooden mallets to strike the stones, and it is thought to be the world’s oldest instrument.
Another intriguing type of xylophone is the k’long put, consisting of different lengths of bamboo pipes. Rather than hit the pipes with a hammer, the player claps his or her hands in front of the mouth of each tube, creating a resonant tone from the displaced air.
As happens in many societies, the youth have little interest in traditional forms of music and only listen to sounds that are new and fashionable. Thus the pop idols of today are imitating sounds of the West, though somehow Vietnamese rap and hip-hop seems an unusual hybrid.
Vietnamese Performance and Dance
As with most Southeast Asian peoples, the Vietnamese love doing things together, so the synchronicity of dance has a particular appeal to them. Some of these dances were developed to entertain nobles at the court in Hue when it was the nation’s capital, and some of these may be seen to day at cultural performances. These include the lotus dance, the candle dance, the lantern dance and the fan dance.
Theatrical performances in Vietnam take many forms, from hat cheo, or popular opera, which often incorporates social criticism, to hat tuong, strongly influenced by Chinese opera, in which characters are heavily made up so the audience can easily tell who are the goodies and baddies.
For most visitors, however, the one type of theatre they must not miss is a performance of water puppets, in which the lovable puppets splash about making fools of themselves and giving everyone a good laugh. The show is so visual that language skills are not really necessary to admire the skill of the puppeteers.
If you’re interested in witnessing a performance of traditional music and dance, find out what events are coming up at the Opera House in Hanoi or the Municipal Theatre in Ho Chi Minh City. Alternatively, make a reservation at a restaurant where musicians entertain diners, such as Indochine in Hanoi or Vietnam House in Saigon.