There are equivalents of the Trong Com, literally ‘’rice drum’’, in many parts of the world. In the west, the common name would probably be bongo drum. It is played with two hands usually but there is nothing to stop a musician using sticks as an alternative. It is fairly adaptable and can be played when carried on the shoulder as well. The name in Vietnam is because the surface is often smeared with cooked rice as part of the tuning process. There are usually two surfaces at either end of the drum that can be used with five notes’ difference between the two.
You may come across the Trong Com many times during your holiday in Vietnam and if there is any musical content in your Vietnam travel package, the Trong Com is likely to be there.
The History of the Trong Com
Legend says that centuries ago a disciple of Confucius was forced into begging because of his general misfortune. He would go to the home of a wealthy family each day and be given rice by a young girl who admitted finally that it was her mistress that had ordered this kind deed. He met her and before he departed she gave him a small sum of money and wished him luck with his future. He resolved to become a musician and gradually became famous. He decided to return home to thank her for her kindness only to find she had died. He had made a drum and had coated the surfaces with rice in recognition of that kindness and the sad sound that it made reflected his sadness at her passing. Indeed, the sound of the Trong Com is fairly dull, ideal for expressing sadness.
The drum itself is wooden and slightly tapers at each end. At one end, there is a buzzing string stretched across. There are holes drilled on the edge of each face with a string through the holes to provide the necessary tension.
The Trong Com is a percussion instrument regularly played at ceremonial occasions as well as in many forms of Vietnamese opera and drama. If you are travelling in Vietnam and live in the West, you may be more used to hearing this type of drum playing solely in modern and rhythmical ways. It does show the versatility of such a drum that remains an important part of Vietnamese music.