Italian scholar focuses on Vietnam's gong culture for PhD thesis

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 Vincenzo Della Ratta with the gongs in the Central Highland province of Dak Lak

Vincenzo Della Ratta, an Italian PhD candidate, has come to the Central Highlands of Vietnam to learn about local gong culture for his thesis and to satisfy his curiosity regarding the traditional instrument, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported December 12.

As a student of traditional music, Vincenzo Della Ratta, 32, said he always enjoyed watching Vietnam's ethnic minority, the Jarai, from in the central province of Gia Lai, play the gong on television.

In 2006, Vincenzo fell in love with gong culture when watching a group of gong artisans from the Central Highland province of Dak Lak perform in Turin, Italy.

He decided to go to the Central Highland of Vietnam, where the culture was born and is still preserved, for the first time in 2007 to learn about it.

Since then, he visited villages in Dak Lak, which has 3,855 gong artisans and 330 gong groups, to carefully observe villagers play the gong and even join in, which, he said, was an invaluable experience.

Gong culture will be the focus of his doctoral thesis on traditional musical instruments, Vincenzo told Tuoi Tre

His plan includes touring other provinces for two more years after finishing his study in Dak Lak before returning to La Sapienza University in Rome to defend his completed thesis.

After nearly five years of researching, the Italian Master of Arts said on December 5 that he witnessed changes which have been made to Central Highlands' gong culture.

"More than one time I saw people playing guitar along with the gong, which is very strange. I myself cannot say whether that kind of combination is good or not, but it is clear that the gong culture has no longer been enclosed among the ethnic minority group but has been changed to make it closer with other cultures," he said.

The Central Highlands' gong music was recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.

Dak Lak Province in July said it would spend 48.8 VND billion (US$2.34 million) to preserve and promote gong culture from 2012-2015, an eightfold increase compared to the 2007-2010 period. The move made the province the first one in the Central Highlands to attempt to preserve the instruments and its culture.

The budget was said to used to open gong classes for local ethnic minority children as well to build and sponsor gong cultural spaces in localities throughout the province.

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