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Rice Paddies and Temple Yards

Traditional Music of Vietnam

By Phong Nguyen and Patricia Shehan Campbell

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Review by Allison Martin

Rice Paddies and Temple Yards: Traditional Music of Vietnam is a unique resource, a music CD and text book, to make Vietnamese folk music accessible, in a classroom or group teaching setting. Phong Nguyen is a National Heritage fellow with extensive background in traditional Vietnamese music, as a scholar and performer, in the United States and formerly in Vietnam. He feels that music and traditions of older Vietnam villages are being lost, and this resource provides a way to welcome others to some of these experiences.

The CD includes a diverse selection of game songs, love songs, boating songs, poetry and instrumental music (including zither, monochord and drums). As this is folk music, it is a bit more nasal, slower and has more sliding sounds than more modern Vietnamese music. The set includes several children's songs and games.

The accompanying book provides an overview of Vietnamese history and settlement of Vietnamese Americans in the US. It also presents traditional Vietnamese instruments, explains the various forms of traditional and folk music from Vietnam. Twelve lessons are presented for children, using the songs and music on the CD. These explore different aspects of the music forms, such as rhythm, increasing ornamentation, and drumming techniques. Each lesson includes a bit about the history of the song, personal comments from Phong Nguyen and a detailed lesson plan.

Xay Khan is an example of a game song. Children sit cross-legged in a circle on the floor. One child carries a handkerchief around the outside of the circle, behind the other children. As the group sings, he or she drops the handkerchief secretly behind one of the other children. When the song is finished, the child behind whom the handkerchief is hidden must identify themselves. They take their turn walking about with the handkerchief as the game starts again. If they are not aware of being chosen, they are teased by the other children and the leader, who shakes the handkerchief at them. He takes the next turn, in any case.

The song is translated:

"I am shaking the handkerchief which is flowing up and down,
People on three sides and four corners will go find it.
Hey! Look over there:
The water buffalo keeper is wearing a torn shirt that shows his shoulder!
Nobody patches it for him, so he must wear it forever."

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