Vietnamese-American seeks to nurture traditional instruments

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Vo Van Anh, a well-known Vietnamese-American zitherist  

A Vietnamese-American zitherist has initiated a project to pass on the art of composing songs for traditional instruments to local music students, fearing that the music will die without the creation of new songs.

Under the three-year project titled Music Bridge Under 25, each participating student will receive VND400,000 (US$18.9) to support their efforts, The Thao & Van Hoa (Sports & Culture) online newspaper reported on Saturday.

Their works will be reviewed by nationally and internationally renowned artists, and at the end of each year outstanding works will be recognized and granted awards, it said.

Speaking to the newspaper, the project's founder, Vo Van Anh, also known as Vanessa Vo a reputed dan tranh (zither) player of jazz and new age music in the U.S., said that how the students compose the songs was unimportant.

They can even use Iphones or other smartphones, which have become commonplace using their audio recording function to save tunes that pop into their head at any time, and then polishing and developing them into complete works later, Anh said.

"Do not consider technology an enemy of traditional music. If you know how to make use of it, it will help you a lot," she said.

Students are also welcome to rewrite foreign songs to fit Vietnamese instruments, saying that they are also "respectable" works.

Asked what she expected to gain from the project, Anh replied: "I don't expect much, but I think if students can write 100-200 songs, there will be surely one or two good works and those will live forever."

According to Anh, over recent decades, students at the Vietnam National Academy of Music have repeatedly learned classical works composed by their teachers.

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At the academy's composing department, not many students compose songs for traditional instruments and their works are not really good enough.

Meanwhile, students who play traditional instruments do not compose songs for them, despite their vast knowledge, because they presume that composing is someone else's job, she said.

Trieu Tien Vuong, a bamboo flute teacher at the academy, also said in the newspaper that although the classics are very good, audiences become bored after listening to them over and over again.

Furthermore, he stressed that artists will lose their skills and creativity if they keep playing the same songs.

Anh, who began playing the dan tranh when she was four, was considered as one of the best zitherists in Vietnam before moving to the U.S. with her husband in 2000.

She shot back into the public consciousness when she composed a zither-based soundtrack for "Daughter from Da Nang," which won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival 2002 and an Oscar nomination in 2003.

In 2009, she won an Emmy for co-composing the soundtrack for another documentary film, "Bolinao 52."

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