Chau van is a type of music that is performed in “hau dong” ceremony. Singers sit in one side while the performer of this ceremony sits in front of the altar. Along with singers are instrumentalists and singing supporters. There are 2 assistants for the performer to prepare suitable clothing in every round. These assistants also take care of the offerings and saint’s gifts for other people.
When did van singing appear?
Nowadays, documents that record this kind of music are extremely rare; however, they are unified that Chau Van has a long-standing history of formation and appears earlier than other folk music. In the book named “kien van tieu luc”, scholar Le Quy Don (1726-1784) noted that Tran dynasty (1225-1400) had a kind of singing in front of the King called Chau singing.
Chau Van singing performance in a temple
From 17th century, Chau Van developed strongly in Nam Dinh together with the process of important relics formation in this province such as Day metropolis (Kim Thai ward, Vu Ban district), Quang Cung metropolis (Yen Dong ward, Y Yen district), Bao Loc temple (My Phuc ward, My Loc district), Co Trach temple ( Loc Vuong sub-district, Nam Dinh city)…and then expanded to the surroundings like Ha Nam, Thai Binh and other areas around the country.
The period of late Nguyen dynasty (late 19th century- early 20th century) was the most prosperous phase of Chau Van ceremony of Vietnamese, which had the attendance of local and court syndics. Since 1954, Chau Van has been lost gradually because Hau dong was considered as a superstition and forbidden. Since 2000, along with the development of social economy and judicious policies of Communist Party, the government of culture, religion, belief and this ceremony have been regenerated and developed. The ceremony is performed to serve the life.
The original aim of the performance is for a good season for farmers
Types of van singing:
There are 3 types of Chau Van singing including contest singing, worship singing and Hau singing.
- Contest singing is used in the singing competition and it is usually solo.
- Worship singing appears in advance of feast days, the first day of the lunar months and before New Year’s Eve. However, worship singing before rounds is one of the most important parts of Chau Van.
- Hau Bong singing is used in the real process of performing Hau Dong ceremony. It is the most essential meanings of Chau Van
Members who serve Chau Van singing are:
- Singers sing beautifully, know many cadences and even play musical instruments.
- Hau Bong orchestra includes some kinds of musical instruments and a small drum. Among these instruments mentioned above, the small drum,
- Canh Doi and Dan Nguyet play integral roles. They are the indispensable basic musical instruments because they form the distinct feature and characteristics of Van singing’s orchestra.
The meanings of van singing:
By using spiritual music and grave lyrics, Chau Van is considered as a music formation meaning “offering Saint”. The lyrics and sound of the singer aim at inviting the Saint to come. Van singing makes the ceremony lively.
Chau Van ceremony can be divided into 4 main parts:
- Invite the Saint to enter
- Tell about tale and merit of this Saint
- Ask for the support of the Saint
- Farewell the Saint
The lyrics of Van singing are made from folk poem and sometimes borrowed from erudite work of poem. They are in form of 6-8 words, 6-8 words distortion, 7 and 4 words. The melody is sometimes attractive and smooth, sometimes strong and happy. The nature of poem is improved perfectly in the pious spiritual atmosphere with kowtowing, the smoke from incenses, an orchestra, Saint singing and dancing of the performer. Nowadays, Van singing is not only narrowed in ceremony scope but also regarded as folk song and can be performed in public.
Beside 3 systems of tune namely Con, Doc, Xa, Chau Van singing also borrows tunes of other traditional music such as Ca Tru, Quan Ho, Ho Hue and even those of the ethnic minorities. Depended on areas, names of tunes are different from each other.
The performance, instrument of chau van singing is partly similar to other Vietnamese traditional folk musics
With the high appreciation of periodic rhythm, Van singing, similar to the dance of Saint, is appealed to the spirit of people. The melody and voice of Van singing have a special attraction. Floating on the rhythm dimly, many tunes are extremely romantic like the appearance of sweet, soft, and womanish traits of Thanh Mau in Tu Phu.
In the Chau Van ceremony of Vietnamese, all the formality of expressions, dance, music and lyrics of Van singing have a historical mark which recorded the tale and sang the praise of desert of historic heroes. In terms of cultural value, Chau Van ceremony of Vietnamese is a native belief consisting of different forms of folk culture such as music, language, folk knowledge, singing, dancing, traditional handicraft, costume along with decoration art, architecture, cuisine… In 1 united form, there is a “stage” element combining with the spiritual one, which reflects thoughts, the awareness of nature and society of the community. This belief not only preserves traditional values but also reform with new cultural values to adapt to the modern life condition; therefore, it attracts people very much, especially those who believe in Tam Phu, Tu Phu.
Is it difficult to sing chau van?
Chau Van singing is not only difficult but also requires the singers the flexibility to change the lyric, voice and music smoothly and sticky to Thanh Dong, even sing again and again, make the sentence and sound longer during the interval time between 2 rounds. When singing, the singers have to express the feeling, emotion of characters so that their voice must change continuously.
The future of chau van art
Ordinarily, the singer who plays Dan Nguyet is the lead vocal. The basic standard of a singer is that he has to drum and sing at the same time. Because of the long-lasting ceremony, sometimes up to 6 or 8 hours, they need some singers support their performance. They can exchange the position, take turn to play musical instruments or sing to guarantee the non-stop of the music.
In the group “artist”, they can sing a duet or chorus in a lot of tunes. According to old experienced artists, in some situations, 4 singers can sing together concordantly. If they want to sing a chorus, they have to practice and combine elaborately to make the work unique when being performed. This means that singers must create beats, words in a united line of melody. It is not easy to conduct in a improvised art like Chau Van.
In terms of rhythm, Van singing usually use external beat, which brings listeners an unstable feeling, make them floating and mysterious.
In terms of sound techniques, generally, there are 2 singing styles in van singing. It is Nam Ding singing style that does not use many systems of techniques in traditional music, have a tendency to sing simply and wildly in the countryside. The second style is Ha Noi- Hai Phong singing which uses a lot of techniques, appreciate the perfection and tact in the volume and lyric regulating. The way to hold the breath here is similar to Cheo or Ca Tru.
Along with the belief of Vietnamese, Chau Van singing has built many types of drumming and a system of plentiful tunes with rules of using for every Saint and for every Phu. The rhythm and percussion play important roles in this belief. They create an exciting atmosphere, combine with spiritual element to make a special nerve status which allow people to do impossible things in the real life.
Chau van artists. They can play music and sing together with main vocal.
Nowadays, according to surveys of researchers, our country has more than 1000 Chau Van singers, the oldest one is 93 while the youngest is 16. However, when time goes by, Chau Van artists are fewer and fewer. Almost experienced singers, Hau Dong performers are old and weak (or even dead) so that they can not share their knowledge to the next generation. Therefore, the majority of Van singers only know a small part of traditional values.
On the other side, the condition of commercialization, overuse of beliefs, buying too much expensive offerings results in the waste of money, pollute the environment, which makes this ceremony be in risk of deformation.
Because of recognizing the extremely unique artistic value along with cultural and historical meanings of Chau Van, Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism has added Chau Van into the national intangible cultural heritage list to study and send to the UNESCO for being recognized as World Cultural Heritage.
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