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On Saigon’s outskirts, people from all walks of life gather to learn traditional music instruments

Saturday, July 06, 2019, 17:59 GMT+7
On Saigon’s outskirts, people from all walks of life gather to learn traditional music instruments
Students hold different instruments next to Tung (fourth from the left) during a music class in Hoc Mon District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thu Hang / Tuoi Tre

Despite its location on the outer edge of Ho Chi Minh City, a music class in Hoc Mon District is drawing in crowds of students eager to learn how to play Vietnam’s traditional instruments.

While various cultural organizations seek out ways to revive interest in Vietnam’s traditional musical instruments with little success, music teacher Le Khac Tung is offering his students the opportunity to learn each of the country’s three storied string instruments. 

Each weekend, Tung’s students join his lessons to practice the dan sen (two-string lute), dan bau (monochord zither), dan tranh (zither), and dan kim, as well as guitar and violin. 

The students all come from different walks of life, but their passion for music bonds them together.

According to Tung, each student has their own unique reasons for wanting to learn traditional instruments.

“Some just want to have some fun.  Others want to be able to play an instrument or be able to participate in contests,” he said.  “With every one of them I try my best.”

Ut, a student in Tung’s class, is particularly passionate about playing guitar.

A year ago, when he was forced to return back to his hometown in the southern province of Bac Lieu, Ut took as many classes with Tung as he could possibly fit into his schedule just in case he couldn’t find an equally skilled teacher back home.

Vu is another guitar learner in the class.  During the week he works as a taxi driver in Binh Duong Province, but the weekends he saves for Tung’s class no matter how many calls he receives from potential customers.

According to Tung, about 20 percent of his students study long enough to master an instrument. 

For some students, one instrument just isn’t enough.

One of these students is Bich Thuan, a 50-year-old elementary school teacher in Hoc Mon District who has spent the past two years practicing the dan tranh, dan bau, dan sen, violin, and guitar.

Another is Ba Binh, a 75-year-old pensioner from Binh Duong, has been attending the class for four years to learning the dan tranh, guitar, and dan kim.

But whether the students learn traditional Vietnamese instruments for a few months or a few years, all share a passion to bring this fading art form back to life.

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