With a play that is rooted in Vietnamese folklore such as Tứ phủ | Four Palaces, music is one of the most important factors. If the musicians are storytellers, then the music is each sentence and detail in the story of the Tứ phủ | Four Palaces.
Music not only plays the role of making viewers feel through hearing, it is also the way to lead the audience through the different experiences of the culture, the people, and the history of Vietnam.
The musical genre used in the play is Chầu văn, which uses elaborate, serious lyrics and emotionally charged lyrics for the purpose of praising the Goddesses in the matriarchal worship on Vietnamese people.
The lyrics in the adage often tell tales and myths (from the source, the merits, and the places where the goddesses appeared and were worshipped, etc.) through which the listener can understand the characters and life of the gods in the matriarchal worship. Chầu văn also contains all the values of folk arts through music, which has always been regarded as the most natural connection of emotions in the soul of the listeners.
Choreography has many different tunes in which the most important are the four tunes: Dọc, Cờn, Phú and Xá corresponding to different "tasks" in a Chầu văn song.
The Dọc tune (sung in double rhythm) is always sung when the Youth perform clothing rituals. It has slow rhythm and plays a key role in Chầu Văn's tone system.
The Cờn tune (using double rhythm) shows the charm of the Goddess. Sometimes it is bright but later gives the listener a feeling of sadness.
In addition, the Phú tune represents a contrasting nature depending on the goddesses being mentioned in the verse. The Phú tune (sung in triple rhythm) is usually solemn and dutiful when referring to the male gods, as opposed to being sung in double rhythm: gentle, charming or sometimes somewhat resentful when the songs are for female gods.
The Xá tune is characterized by highland culture, with mountainous folk music that makes the listeners think about the mountain goddesses in the Second Lady of Highlands, The Little Fairy of the Highlands, etc.
Chầu Văn therefore also uses ethnic instruments to bring out its diverse rhythms, melodies, and high tone, suitable for flexibility in the process of singing, in which there are almost always the presence of: Moon Lute, Plucked Zither, Flute and Drum.
The Moon Lute, which is also called “the Vietnamese guitar”, has unique properties. This lute has a round-shaped sound box resembling a moon, therefore the name “Moon Lute”. When compared to the Yuequin from China, the Vietnamese Moon Lute differs from the former for its longer neck, higher strings, and the most unique of all is that it only has 2 strings to demonstrates the different tones (instead of the Chinese Yuequin’s 4 strings)
The Moon Lute has a rounded music box and uniquely uses only two strings for different pitch heights.
The Moon lute when played solo has a more important role in mixing the melodies and the different sentiments expressed by the actor's performance. The sound from the Moon lute is sometimes majestic during the Second Lady of Highlands in the evening tea; sometimes it is as smooth and mellow as the verses written about the country by Saint Hoang Muoi, and sometimes it is flexible and bustling each time the Little Fairy of the Highlands appeared on the stage. Because of this sophistication, the Moon lute sound is the first sound for the audiences to hear when the play begins.
It not only plays an important role when playing solo, but also the role of maintaining the rhythm of the drum for the musicians to start their singing. What's more, the sound of the Moon lute also creates the excitement for actors to become more sublimated in each step of their movement and eachactions of their performance.
The Plucked Zither, also known as The 16-string Lute, is the plucking musical instrument of the Vietnamese people. The zither has no neck, its sound box also acts as the resonator.
There are 16 strings attached along the sound box and spread over the surface of the zither.
Underneath the strings are the bridges (similar to a pick guard) that can be shifted to adjust the tones.
In the Four Palaces play, the role of the plucked zither was highlighted during the Saint Hoang Muoi act when expressing the romantic and the lyrical in each step of the character. Sometimes it is elegant following Saint Huang Muoi on his sightseeing, sometimes it is soft when combined with poetic rhymes to praise the beauty of home and country.
The flute is the main instrument in the woodwind instrument set of the ethnic groups of Vietnam. In the play Four Palaces, there are usually four types of flutes used with unique sound characteristics derived from different regions.
Mèo Flute (Hmong flute), Pí Flute (left) combined with Mèo flute (right).
Bamboo Flute: carries the characteristics of folk music of the North. When blown, the flute often produces sounds that express melody, percussion and clarity in accordance with the depiction of the female gods.
Small Flute: The sound of the small flute is often deeper than the bamboo flute and gives the listener slow and lyrical emotions combined with Central Vietnamese rhymes in the Saint Hoang Muoi act.
Mèo Flute (Hmong flute): is known as the popular Hmong instrument in Northern Vietnam. With the sound of the Northwestern highlands, the Mèo Flute always makes the listeners immerse into the pure atmosphere of mountains and natural forest in the Little Fairy of the Highlands act.
Pí Flute (Pí Pặp): is mainly used by the Thái people. The sound of the Pí flute creates a strong vitality and rhythmic tone that attracts viewers with the serene and graceful steps of the mountain goddesses.
Frequently played in the lives of the Vietnamese with many uses from rallying millions of people, making announcements, or cheering, the sound of Drum is one of the most familiar sounds when referring to the culture of Vietnam.
Not only that, in the play of Four Palaces, the role of Drum is emphasized as this instrument highlights the victory of Saint Hoang Muoi (The Tenth Prince) every time he went to battle to save his people. The sharp and strong drum sound at the battle also expressed the character of the Saint as well as the heroic history and patriotism of the Vietnamese.
The drum set used in the Four Palaces play consists of 4 different types of drums with varied sized and
aural characteristics. The smaller the drums, the higher and sharper the sound it makes, while bigger drums
produce low and powerful sound. One the left is a bell - a musical instrument that brings sound
that often appear in temples and palaces.
The traditional music and instruments in general and the Chầu văn ritual in particular of the Vietnamese have been through ups and downs and are recovering strongly in recent years. The musicians and clairvoyants became folk artists, with their experience and knowledge of the ancient texts and tunes, who are still day by day teaching by word of mouth from generations to generations or are taught in a professional and academic way in institutions and universities of music, which used to be mostly abroad back then.
Now, traditional Vietnamese music not only plays in the lecture halls of future musicians of Western music-based music, but also on many stages through professional performances right in Vietnam, because Vietnamese children love their thousand-year-old folk culture. The most typical of these is the Four Palaces play of the Vietnam Opera House, bringing all the efforts of director Viet Tu and all the youth together with the hope that the traditional values of Vietnamese music will become increasingly popular and loved both domestically and internationally...