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Vietnamese Folklore Music of “Then”

The chanting of “Then”, also known as the “melody of god”, is a reflection of the religious life and spiritual activities of the Tay, Nung, and Thai ethnic groups from the mountain provinces of Northern Vietnam. Over time, UNESCO experts have proved that this music carries universal values that go beyond a region, province, or nation. Therefore, this genre of folklore songs has become an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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In the minds of the Tay people, “Then” means “god of the sky”. This particular song tells a story of people traveling to heaven to ask Then for luck and good life (B CC, 2015). Thus, the Then chant of the Tai people reflects the story of life, love, funerals, weddings. Singing Then is not merely a ritual, it is a fascinating art performance and an immersive journey into a magical ancient world. Therefore, an in-depth study of traditional Then rituals provided researchers with a profound understanding of human life, worldview, and cultural identity of the Tay people.

This type of song can be considered a religious rendition of long poems that depict the road to heaven to ask the Jade Emperor for welfare, luck, and blessing. Long poems are composed of several chapters with varying content and length. The longest poem ever collected consisted of 4,949 sentences with 35 chapters, which is preserved as a heritage of national folklore. The musical performance itself consists of music, singing, dancing, and the use of various hand gestures. In the procession of the ceremony, not only must the performing artist sing but also dance to illustrate with gestures the meaning of the lines.

Nonetheless, music remains the main element within the overall concept of the performance. The music can be accompanied by singing, yet sometimes it serves only as a background for a dance. The main musical instrument for the song “Then” is the Dan Tinh, a traditional Vietnamese stringed instrument that resembles a guitar, accompanied by soft percussion. Oftentimes a brass section of traditional woodwind instruments is also included. To my mind, Dan Tinh along with the vocal creates unique harmony and the beauty of this folklore music lies primarily in its simplicity.


B CC (2015). Then-singing-Vietnamese ethnic traditional music-Nhạc dân tộc thiểu số (Video file). Youtube. Web.

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