Asia

Working Lives Vietnam: Music maestro

  • 14 August 2013
  • From the section Asia

There is no system for writing Vietnamese traditional music so its survival depends on master musicians passing their skills on to the next generation.

Vinh Bao is reckoned to be one of the last guardians of 'nhạc tai tu Nam Bo', a genre of Southern Vietnamese music translated as "the music of talented persons".

At 96 he is also one of Vietnam's oldest living people.

He first picked up an instrument, a short-necked moon-shaped lute, when he was just five years old. Music was a great tradition in his wealthy landowning family and he gradually mastered all the traditional Vietnamese instruments.

He was one of the first Vietnamese artists to have their music recorded in 1938 and went on to become a full time music teacher and a custodian of South Vietnam's musical traditions.

"Vietnamese music expresses human emotions. Western music both expresses human feelings but also describes external things. It can imitate the sounds of a storm, a whirlwind, bird song, animals, flowing water," he says.

"Vietnamese music can't do that. Its notation system doesn't permit that. It can only express joy or sorrow."

Even though he is now very elderly Vinh Bao still teaches music, using his computer to coach pupils across the globe.

He is determined to ensure that the musical traditions to which he has dedicated his life continue once he has gone.

"Music is my passion. To me, it's like breathing. I don't do this for money, but simply for my love of music. Music absorbs my anguish, my sorrows, my feelings."