1/8/2019 11:58:35 PM
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From an endangered intangible heritage on the verge of oblivion, Nha nhac - Vietnamese Court Music - has undergone a metamorphosis.

In 2003, Nha nhac-Vietnamese Court Music – was honored by the UNESCO as an Intangible and Oral Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This was Vietnam’s first intangible heritage to receive this honor.

However, this recognition came during a time when Nha nhac was in grave danger of losing its original performing spheres and fading into oblivion due to low public awareness.

Pledges from the Vietnamese government to the UNESCO were promptly and effectively carried out via a National Action Plan on the Preservation and Promotion of Values of Court Music between 2005 and 2008. This was a comprehensive project that involved: researching and collecting Nha nhac repertoires and specialist musical instruments; reviving several typical musical instruments; training and educating young artists in this genre; improving the genre’s artistic and academic base; promoting the values of Nha nhac; and raising public awareness and knowledge of this heritage.

At this project’s inception, many leading researchers of this genre like Dr. Tran Van Khe, Dr. To Ngoc Thanh, Dr. Le Toan, and Dr. Van Minh Huong managed and oversaw the research and efforts of younger colleagues. Over the last 15 years, research teams have studied, collected documents, and released a dozen scholarly reports about Nha nhac artists; repertoires such as the Three Heavens, The Imperial Banquet, The Six Tunes of the Dich Instrument and The Lament Chant; Thai singing rituals in the Heavenly Sacrifice; musical instruments; etc.

In particular, the project “Building a database of the repertoire of Vietnamese Court Music” is regarded as a superb scholarly work in line with emerging trends in this digitally driven world. It is easy for audiences, especially young people, to access and use.

Training young artists has received a lot of attention. Twenty students have attended an undergraduate-level training course in Nha nhac. Most of them are the children of established Nha nhac artists. Nha nhac artists taught this course, via lectures and direct teaching of their skills. After graduation, the students join the Hue Traditional Imperial Art Theater. They play the key role in preserving and promoting the values of elegant music, breathing new life and inspiration into an old fashioned genre.

The UNESCO’s recognition of Nha nhac helped to promote this heritage and bring it closer to national and international audiences. As well being performed in Original performance spheres like imperial palaces, temples, and sacrificial sites in the Hue Former Citadel, elegant music has also been performed on various stages, particularly at domestic festivals. The genre has also transcended borders to reach Europe, the Americas, and many Asian neighbors, even being played in the imperial palaces of Japan and South Korea. Locally, Nha nhac has been adopted in schools and warmly embraced by the young. It comes as no surprise that elegant music and imperial dances have won prizes in music and performance contests.

At the Asia – Pacific Intangible Cultural Heritage Conference hosted in Hue last November, Nha nhac won the hearts of hundreds of delegates when students from Nguyen Hue High School performed “The Lantern Dance”. The standing ovation earned by this striking performance reflected the unrelenting efforts made to revive Nha nhac over the last 15 years. Given that resources are being channeled to promote and preserve Nha nhac in Hue, it is a safe bet that this genre will continue to be cherished and highlighted.

Dr. Phan Thanh Hai
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