The tradition of Quan Ho singing among the Bac Ninh dates back to the 13th Century. It is one of the many traditions of which the Bac Ninh group is justifiably proud; others are ceramics, painting and kites. One of the highlights for tourists on a Vietnam travel package in the North is visiting Bac Ninh Province in the Red River Delta to see the daily life of villagers.
Quan Ho singing is inextricably linked with the Vietnamese New Year (Tet) and the festivals that follow it. Traditionally it was the young that sang Quan Ho because it involved stories of love and sentimentality. However, the provincial government has encouraged people of all ages to sing. Over the years its popularity grew with people meeting just to sing; many marriages resulted from such meetings. Eventually Quan Ho, from small beginnings, became one of the country’s main folk song styles.
Quan Ho is ever evolving. People sing about nature, the harvest and other things in a positive way; there is nothing sad about Quan Ho; the tunes are rich. There are four main airs within it:
• Giọng sổng (transistor air)
• Giọng vặt (diverse air) which is perhaps the most popular.
• Giọng hãm (recitative air)
• Giọng bỉ (tunes taken from other sources)
If you are lucky enough during your holiday in Vietnam to hear a performance you will see that men and women take turns singing, almost holding a conversation between themselves, after the poetic introduction. It is not just singing ability that you will observe. The audience will be left with a visual impression of grace.
The instruments used to accompany the singing include the bamboo flute, the mono chord and the 36-stringed dulcimer.
Over the years, a great deal has changed in Quan Ho singing though the Bac Ninh believes it continues to be a vehicle for self-awareness and expression.