Where is the real Quan Ho?

VietNamNet Bridge – The current Lim Festival is very bustling, attracting thousands of visitors. Quan ho is sung everywhere from houses to boats. People, including cultural experts, are optimistic about the development of Quan ho.

But it is really difficult to find a real Quan ho show which is organised according to traditional procedures.


We came to Dang Village when the Lim Festival was about to end and were welcomed warmly by Mrs. Hai Quynh. At 7pm, we went to the village pagoda. After the incense thurifying ceremony, guests started their performances. They were young ca tru singers from the Thang Long ca tru club and young calligraphers from the Vietnam Cultural Preservation Company.


The traditional Quan ho show began at past 8pm. Mrs. Hai Quynh and 6-7 old women, around ten middle-aged women, and some young girls sat down o­n sedge mats spread out in the pagoda’s yard. There were o­nly four male singers. Listeners stood up around mats.


A quan ho researcher, Bui Trong Hien, said ancient Quan ho doesn’t have microphones or music. The light must be from candles and he asked listeners to keep quiet.


When two male singers, Mr. Ninh and Mr. Hien began to sing, some old people said: “I couldn’t hear a thing”. Mrs. Hai Quynh was resigned to seeking microphones and turning o­n speakers. The poor speakers couldn’t help listeners enjoy the real voices of singers and the deep-lying melodies of Quan ho songs.


Researcher Bui Trong Hien was discouraged, and went to sit in a corner. He said: “Only romantic people can imagine that we can resume ancient Quan ho in the current situation. Audiences are familiar to listening to Quan ho through speakers, radios and stages. They don’t know what real Quan ho is.”


Perhaps because of disorder, the Quan ho show, which was called ancient, couldn’t keep the audience. Luckily, after many listeners left, the real ancient Quan ho performance started.


Singers sat closely, put down micros, speakers and electric bulbs. The pagoda’s yard was lit by the moon o­nly. Guests and old people stayed to enjoy the voices of singers.


In vaporous light, ancient Quan ho songs really charmed the audience. Mrs. Hai Mang and Mrs. Hai Co (70 and 74 years old) sang “Gio mat trang thanh”. Mrs. Ban and Mr. Lich (two living folk artisans of Quan ho) performed “Tuong nho ve nguoi”. Younger singers like Men, Oanh, Hue and Lan sang “Thu giai phien”, “Ba bon chiec thuyen ke”

The show couldn’t finish though the “Goodbye” song was sung for 30 minutes. Some guests said they had never listened to such a wonderful Quan ho show.


Where is ancient Quan ho?


Researcher Bui Trong Hien said real Quan ho show must include some phases, from the starting, to official and goodbye stages. These stages have close connections. Some shows can last for several days. Today, Quan ho shows include singer songs and singers don’t understand the ancient rules in singing Quan ho.


Quan ho is dual singing so to have a true Quan ho show, pairs of singers are needed (male and female singers in pairs). According to the Institute of Culture and Art, o­nly Dang Xa village can organise true Quan ho shows because the village still has several male Quan ho singers who have good voices and good knowledge of Quan ho. Resuming ancient Quan ho shows is the idea of the institute.


Researcher Bui Trong Hien said other villages in Bac Ninh have many good female singers but they don’t have suitable male singers. The lack of male singers is a big problem of Quan ho Bac Ninh at present.


Quan ho is said to be developing again in Bac Ninh but some researchers worry that it is developing far from the tradition and origin.


The Institute of Culture and Art tried to hold some ancient Quan ho shows, but after they left Quan ho villages, villagers immediately brought electronic musical instruments to accompany Quan ho singers, Hien said.


Some villages organise real Quan ho shows, but for researchers o­nly. However, Quan ho has advantages over other types of traditional arts because there are many people who still love and have a passion for this folk art.