The Drum Choir

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Nguyen Cuong has long been puzzled by the disconnect between Vietnam's music and its story.

"The history of Vietnam is one that has been defined by a struggle for independence and freedom but local music is mostly sad and romantic," said the 67-year-old composer from Hanoi.

With the approaching 1,000 year anniversary of the founding of the nation's capital, Cuong was inspired to produce a piece of music that would portray that unsung spirit.

And so he went in search of the perfect instrument. Something strong and powerful.

"After traveling around Vietnam, I found that the bronze drums were perfect for illustrating the local heroism."

Cuong composed the piece in four months.

This October 10, 200 singers accompanied by 100 drums will gather to perform Ngan nam Thang Long noi trong Lac Hong (A thousand years of Thang Long to beat the Lac Hong drums).

Cuong says his composition was inspired by the legend of Lac Long Quan (the Dragon Lord of Lac) and his wife Au Co, an immortal mountain fairy, thought of as the mother of the Vietnamese civilization.

Ultimately, Cuong says his travels led him to the traditional bronze drums.

During numerous visits to Phu Tho Province (the alleged birthplace of the instruments) the idea came to him to combine a choir with the drums which were invented during the reign of the Hung Kings.


Nguyen Cuong, 67, says he spent four months writing the composition that will involve 100 drums and 200 singers

As luck would have it, Cuong discovered that 36 newly cast bronze drums were to be brought from Thanh Hoa Province to be displayed at the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi and he requested the use of the instruments to develop his composition.

Permission was granted, and Cuong suddenly had an opportunity to experiment with the metallic boom.

Soon afterwards, the drums were returned to Thanh Hoa where the Vietnam Association of the Science of History and the Thanh Hoa Antique Association had commissioned an additional 64 to make an even set of 100 in preparation for Thang Long.

Cuong again asked permission to use them in a one-time performance and, again, it was granted.

Duong Trung Quoc, general secretary of the Association of Vietnamese History, said he came up with the idea to create the 100 drums as a cultural display. The project, he says, was entirely funded by corporate sponsors and private donors.

"In my opinion," in an interview with Thanh Nien Weekly this week Quoc said, "the fact that the drums belong to these people made it easier for Cuong to borrow and play them."

On August 11, Cuong joined a Hanoi group to travel to Thanh Hoa Province. The delegation carried the 100 newly cast drums on 50 lorries, escorted by 20 Volkswagens and Jeeps, back to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, as gifts to the capital.

Following the performance, the drums will be scattered throughout the country as gifts to various companies, towns and cities. Others will be sold. No one knows when Cuong will have the opportunity again, but he remains hopeful.

"100 drums is just one tenth of what I hope for," he said. A lack of funds has stalled his dream, for now.

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