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Professor dedicates 5 decades to teaching traditional Vietnamese music in France

Professor dedicates 5 decades to teaching traditional Vietnamese music in France

Sunday, March 10, 2024, 15:14 GMT+7
Professor dedicates 5 decades to teaching traditional Vietnamese music in France
Professor Phuong Oanh (R) performs with a band of 16-string instruments during an event recorded for Vatican News to commemorate Christmas 2023 on November 11, 2023 in Paris, France: Photo: Supplied

"Do you have fifteen minutes each day for practicing music?" This is the question Professor Phuong Oanh often poses to aspiring learners who claim they are too busy to learn a musical instrument.

If the answer is 'yes,' which it often is, the veteran music teacher responds, "That's okay. As long as you can set apart fifteen minutes every day, you can learn music!"

Phuong Oanh, or Vo Quang Tung Phuong Oanh, the first Vietnamese professor teaching traditional Vietnamese music in France since 1978 at the Louis Kerven Academy of Music in Sevran, located in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, has mentored generations of learners for over five decades.

She is known for her simple yet profound '15-minute question.'

An eternal inspiration

Huynh Phi Thuyen, who got married at 21 and is now settling in Canada, has built a 'family music career' for the past three decades.

Along with her three children, they perform together in 'Phuong Ca Norway,' a traditional Vietnamese music group founded in Oslo in 2003.

Bringing her eldest son, Tin Tin, to Phuong Ca Norway's music class when he was just six, Thuyen witnessed his remarkable progress.

Tin Tin earned a certificate for playing the 'tranh' (16-string zither) at a French music school under Professor Phuong Oanh, and mastered other Vietnamese instruments like 'bau,' 'nhi,' 'sen,' and 'kim.'

Years later, Thuyen enrolled her two daughters, Uyen My and Quynh Vy, in the same class.

Uyen My, now a key percussionist in Phuong Ca Norway, has diversified her repertoire to include bamboo flute, t'rung, drum, and 'senh tien,' in addition to her primary focus on 'tranh.'

"I still remember the event where Professor Phuong Oanh helped Phuong Ca Norway members play together and with new instruments in just one evening," reminisced Thuyen. 

"She taught them to play instruments they had neither touched nor played before."

Despite her reserved nature, Professor Phuong Oanh's impact in promoting traditional music learning is undeniable.

"She inspires me to sustain Phuong Ca Norway to this day," Thuyen affirmed.

Quynh Vy (L) and Tin Tin, two members of the Phuong Ca Norway club, perform the song 'Mua thu que huong' (The Hometown's Autumn). Photo: Supplied

Quynh Vy (L) and Tin Tin, two members of the Phuong Ca Norway club, perform the song 'Mua thu que huong' (The Hometown's Autumn). Photo: Supplied

Finding time in busy lives

To Kim Thuong, head of Phuong Ca Rennes in France, recalls her early encounters with Professor Phuong Oanh and the Phuong Ca family. 

Working as an employee at a school, Kim Thuong could only spare fifteen minutes of her daily break to practice music.

Her husband, Dao Tan Anh Truc, a mechanic, had even less free time.

Despite these constraints, the couple, with their three children, managed to pursue their passion for music.

"Fifteen minutes is precious to me," Kim Thuong said.

"Thanks to Professor Phuong Oanh, I find learning music enjoyable, interesting, not too tense.

"If I am persistent, I can learn to play the 'tranh' instrument despite having just fifteen minutes per day."

Kim Thuong not only overcame her own obstacles but also supported her daughters, Tam Anh, 13, and Van Anh, 11, through their initial challenges in learning music.

"I sometimes felt too tired to practice initially. Seeing my children practice after school made me feel sorry for them. But to preserve their Vietnamese heritage, I had to stay committed," shared Kim Thuong.

Due to her commitments, the mother of three seized the opportunity in 2019 to launch Phuong Ca Rennes, the ninth branch of the Phuong Ca family, with Professor Phuong Oanh's assistance.

"Can you spare fifteen minutes a day?" Professor Phuong Oanh's question from years ago still resonates with Kim Thuong.

It highlights the simplicity of starting to learn an instrument, which many perceive as daunting.

Through this simple question, Professor Phuong Oanh has helped countless learners overcome psychological barriers in the early stages of learning.

Viewing her students as family, Professor Phuong Oanh cherishes their warm feedback.

She values their expressions of gratitude, such as "Thank you for your patience. I will strive to improve" and "Today's performance was beautiful and unforgettable. I loved performing with you all."

For the dedicated teacher, these heartfelt messages are more precious than any medal or award.

The Phuong Ca Rennes club performs at an event displaying Vietnamese 'ao dai' in Lorient, France. Photo: Supplied

The Phuong Ca Rennes club performs at an event displaying Vietnamese 'ao dai' in Lorient, France. Photo: Supplied

About Professor Phuong Oanh

Professor Vo Quang Tung Phuong Oanh was born on March 27, 1945 in Da Lat City, located in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, Vietnam.

Currently, she resides in Taverny, France.

Professor Phuong Oanh graduated from the Sai Gon National Music Academy, where she majored in singing and traditional Vietnamese musical instruments, in 1962-1963.

In recognition of her expertise and contributions to Vietnam's traditional music, she was awarded a professor’s degree in traditional Vietnamese music in Strasbourg, France in 1996.

In addition to her academic achievements, Professor Phuong Oanh has made significant contributions to the promotion and preservation of Vietnam's traditional music.

She founded the chain of schools known as Phuong Ca, specializing in traditional Vietnamese music education.

Established in 1969, Phuong Ca schools have been operating in 10 countries, contributing to the global promotion and appreciation of Vietnamese musical heritage.

Beyond her teaching endeavors, Professor Phuong Oanh has also conducted extensive research on music, further enriching her knowledge and understanding of traditional Vietnamese musical practices.

Her dedication and expertise have been recognized through various awards and accolades, acknowledging her outstanding contributions to the field of traditional music.

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Kim Thoa / Tuoi Tre News

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