The sounds of the Vietnamese zither, bamboo xylophone and the monochord filled the air when more than 50 performers and researchers gathered for a world festival of traditional Vietnamese music in Sydney.
"The aim was to share knowledge and also showcase the various aspects of Vietnamese traditional music in not only the Vietnamese greater diaspora but reaching to the wider community," says Le-Tuyen Nguyen, the festival’s artistic director.
The festival culminated in a gala concert at the Bryan Brown Theatre in Sydney's south-west attended by several hundred patrons. The traditional music showcased has a long and rich history in Vietnam, based on instruments including the Vietnamese zither, bamboo xylophone and the monochord.
One of the youngest performers, Duy Tien Trinh from Olso in Norway, has been playing Vietnamese music for 15 years. He started with violin when he was a child before falling in love with the traditional two-string vertical violin.
"Initially, my mother forced me. I started to play when I was 6 years old. But it grew on me then I fell in love with traditional Vietnamese music and that’s why I keep playing until today," he says.
"I love it on stage, all my worries disappear, it’s just me, my instrument and the audience."
There were also numerous collaborations with Australians from non-Vietnamese backgrounds.
Dang Thao Nguyen lives in Adelaide and is trained in dan tranh (zither) and guitar. He is a composer and musician but his day job is a professor of maths and computing at the University of Adelaide. His wife, Ros Hewton, played on stage with him. She is a music teacher and plays piano.
Dang Thao composed the Vietnamese music for piano so his wife can perform with him.
"In my opinion, music is universal language. We can play Western music with traditional Vietnamese instruments. On the other hand, we can let the piano 'speak' Vietnamese language (music)," he says.
Dancer Geraldine Balcazar performed a recreation of Cléo de Mérode’s 'Dance de l'Indochine'. The dance was performed at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and was the earliest time in history that Vietnamese music was exposed to the Western world.
"It's very mystical. So to me to dance to the music was very much like escaping the now, the current. Including the character of Cleo is very ghostly like, and the music inspired me to go into another era and into another space. It's like bringing an old soul to life," she says.
There was also a performance by artist Kari and Dr. Ros Bandt of the group Back to Back Zithers. Kari plays the traditional zither from Java, Indonesia, and Ros Bandt played a traditional French zither. They were joined by zither artist Kim Uyen, who lives in Canada, and was the founder of the first World Festival of Vietnamese Traditional Music.
Kim Uyen goes into schools to teach students, to allow them to see and touch the instruments to encourage them to learn.
“We have to create opportunities as well as introduce traditional music to young people,” she says.
A veteran of Vietnam traditional music, Professor Phuong Oanh, flew to Sydney from Paris to be at the event.
In the nearly 50 years of her career, Phuong Oanh has trained numerous successful zither artists, including three of the artists featured at the festival: Kim Uyen, Kim Hien and Le Tuan Hung.
"It was very moving because I haven’t seen some of them for more than 40 years. Back then, they were teenagers, and now they are over 50. So I feel happy that some of them followed my path," she says.
The fourth World Festival of Vietnamese Traditional Music will be held in Paris, France in 2017.