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Special cultural features of Quan Ho singing

Mon, 13 Oct 2014 . Last updated Thu, 25 Jun 2015 08:52

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Unlike other forms of folk music, Quan Ho songs don’t often mention such work as boating, fishing and so on. Quan Ho songs symbolize love, faith and desire to live a life full of love. That is a special feature of Quan Ho singing.

Quan Ho singing, also known as or Bac Ninh’s folk singing or Bac Giang’s folk singing or Kinh Bac’s folk singing, includes folk melodies of the cultural land of Kinh Bac or Bac Ninh and Bac Giang now. Quan  Ho singing was born thousands of years ago, much older has lnger tradition than other forms of folk singing like Xoan singing, Gheo singing, Cheo singing, ca tru singing, Vi Dam singing  and Cai Luong. It proves that Quan Ho is a native cultural value that northern feudalism Chinese feudal dynasties couldn’t eliminate. This cultural value has still survived and kept its unique features as well as its vitality in the heart of Kinh Bac people.

Quan Ho singing is attached to daily life and traditional practices which carry spirit, feelings and beautiful dreams of Kinh Bac people. Therefore, Quan Ho forms a special religion cultural identity and is seen as soul of Kinh Bac’s culture.  There are 49 Quan Ho villages with around 200 melodies sung throughout spring and autumn across the land of Quan Ho. During the time, across Kinh Bac, Quan Ho brings a typical atmosphere to this land.

Quan Ho singing is a cultural folk activity, a fine practice of communes, villages and families. They sing to pray for love and luck. The songs create a bridge between heaven and earth to pray for rain and sunshine, drive bad luck and pesticides away, etc. For ages, Kinh Bac people have believed that good weather and crops and prosperity were resulted from the harmony of yin and yang as well as of nature and human. The imbalance of yin and yang will result in flood, drought and so on.

Quan Ho people believe that their songs can reach Gods and harmonize yin and yang. Quan Ho is a distinctive feature of Kinh Bac land in festivals. The singing is associated with hundreds of ancient pagodas and communal houses. The songs are performed in all social functions and festivals alongside with many other cultural activities. Quan Ho songs are sung in pagodas, in hills and in families all the time. Communication via Quan Ho carries cultural values. Making friends by means of Quan Ho singing is a beautiful practice. The beauty comes from the elegant manners and proper language, showing a much respect of communicators.

To welcome you, I make tea. This tea is very good to enjoy. Quan Ho people welcome their guests with drinks and betel. It’s said that betel starts all conversations.  Quan Ho people start a conversation with betel in their own attractive way. For those they love, they give big betel pieces. For those they hate, they give only small ones. People offer betel with beautiful melodies.

Give me your shirt. I will treasure it. Please come back. The singing spreads joy in a festival creates excitement and is a typical of Kinh Bac region. Quan Ho language is very poetic and derives from expressive idioms. The language is also imbued with the quintessence of the academic poetry to create distinctive values of Quan Ho song. The refined language of the sin-eight-word distich meter along with the elaborate art of using rhymes, poetic images and melodies make Quan Ho songs flawless. The simplicity of words expressed through response with constant rhythm changes creates a special attraction and long-lasting impression. Refined images depict the idealized beauty while rustic language is the authentic sharing of the heart.

Male and female singers are modest and always see themselves younger brothers, sisters. However, they straightly speak out their love through lovely songs. Verses of the song “Ngoi tua song dao” must be quite familiar to us. A girl misses her lover much so she cannot sleep. So, she sits leaning against the window and looking outside. As she misses her lover much, she cannot sleep. Unconsciously, she picks up a jasmine. Then, she tells herself that the love is decided by fate. Meanwhile, her lover is sitting by boat and looking at the moon. He seems to see the face of his lover on the moon. In that situation, he seems to hear the sound of the bamboo flute of his lover. Nothing is worse than the fact that people cannot marry the one they fall in love with. It may be the inspiration for haunting songs.

Only members of Quan Ho guilds that establish friendship with each other cannot get married to each other. When two guilds establish friendship with each other (ket cha), members of the guilds are considered brothers and sisters. So they cannot get married to each other. This beautiful custom is popular in the North. So, member of guilds that do not establish friend with each other can get married to each other.

Quan Ho costumes include costumes of male and female singers. In Quan Ho festivals, there are costume contests. Male singers wear 4-5 layers of long dresses. The outermost layer is black. The outermost layer is made of cheap or expensive material. Some singers wear 2 outermost layers in light green or green-yellow. The pants of male singers are made of white fabrics with waistbands. Traditionally, the man makes a high bun from his long hair, and coils a scarf around his head. Today, a modern short hair replaces the traditional long one and so male singers wear a different headwear instead of the old scarf that once wrapped his long hair.  Besides, male singers wear hats with yellow straps. In addition, a male singer always carries a black umbrella. Other accessories are handkerchiefs, combs which used to be considered luxury products. Silk and white cloth handkerchiefs are folded and pinned inside the dresses, waistbands or turbans.

Costume of female singers is called multi-layered dresses. In fact, female signers wear only 3 layers of dresses. Basically, the outfits include 3 parts of red brassieres with two kinds of collars for married women and girls. The middle layer is white or yellow. The outer layer is a long dress which looks like that of male singers but has various colors. The five-strapped dress of female singers has buttons and is much different from the four-strapped dress. In the past, costumes of male and female singers were made of chiffon and silk. The outer layer was of dark colors while the middle layer was of light colors. The inner layer was white or light yellow.

Quan Ho singing in Bac Ninh is highly regarded by UNESCO for its cultural values, especially social practices, performing art, singing techniques, cultural manners, language and costumes. Lovely and hardworking people have created the unique Quan Ho singing. It would be a great loss to see Quan Ho with time-honored cultural and spiritual values fading away. Folk songs which have been preserved for thousand years bear the value of Kinh Bac region. That cultural heritage has gone into the heart of people due to its charm and poetic beauty. It was the inspiration for Hoang Cam to write magnificent poems.


Source: VTC10 - NETVIET

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