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Sounding Out Heritage

Sounding Out Heritage: Cultural Politics and the Social Practice ofQuan Họ Folk Song in Northern Vietnam

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  • Book Info
    Sounding Out Heritage
    Book Description:

    Sounding Out Heritageexplores the cultural politics that have shaped the recent history and practice of a unique style of folk song that originated in B?c Ninh province, northern Vietnam. The book delves into the rich and complicated history ofquan h?,showing the changes it has undergone over the last sixty years as it moved from village practice onto the professional stage. Interweaving an examination of folk music, cultural nationalism, and cultural heritage with an in-depth ethnographic account of the changing social practice ofquan hofolk song, author Lauren Meeker presents a vivid and historically contextualized picture of thequan h?"soundscape." Village practitioners, ordinary people who love to singquan h?,must now negotiate increased attention from those outside the village and their own designation as "living treasures." Professional singers, with their different performance styles and representational practices, have been incorporated into thequan h?soundscape in an effort to highlight and popularize the culture of B?c Ninh province in the national context.With its focus on the politics of rescuing, preserving, and performing folk music, this book makes a timely contribution to studies of cultural politics by showing with considerable nuance how a tradition can become a self-conscious heritage and national icon. In 2009, Quan H? B?c Ninh Folk Songs was inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Defining and reframingquan h?as cultural heritage has further complicated the relationship between village and professionalquan h?and raises crucial issues about who has the authority to speak forquan h?in the international context.Sounding Out Heritageoffers an in-depth account of the impact of cultural politics on the lives and practices ofquan h?folk singers in Vietnam and shows compellingly how a tradition can mean many things to many people.Lauren Meekeris assistant professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3807-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In 2009, UNESCO’s committee on intangible cultural heritage inscribedquan họBắc Ninh folk songs on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (Decision 4.COM 13.76). The committee’s Decision describes how the “element” (Quan HọBắc Ninh Folk Songs) meets each of the selection criteria, including its role as a symbol of local and regional identity; that the inscription would promote greater awareness of musical traditions and cultural dialogue; that measures have been taken to safeguard the element; and that the local communities and authorities were involved in and gave their free consent to the process (UNESCO...

  5. 1 Music after the Revolution: A “Unified Contradiction”
    (pp. 21-43)

    A cartoon by Bũi Công Kỳ in a 1956 issue of theMusic Review(Tập San Âm Nhạc) (vol. 4: 32) shows three musicians next to a pond with the signáo dân ca(folk-song pond). Two of the men are fishing, one sitting and one standing with a guitar slung across his back, and the third man is standing looking on holding a violin. There is a briefcase on the ground on which is writtendân tộc tính(national character). The seated musician is saying, “this professional hand will make a salad of raw fish!” (gỏi cá) (Fig. 1.1)....

  6. 2 Embodied Practices and Relationships of Sentiment
    (pp. 44-64)

    Depth of feeling, longing for absent friends, friendships that last a lifetime, passion for the music that compels one to sing through the night after a hard day’s work in the fields: the lyrics of quan họ songs and the discourse of village singers in Bắc Ninh are permeated with feelings such as these. Yet, lyrics and words alone can only begin to convey the meaning of these feelings; they cannot fully embody “the felt sense, the ‘guts’” (Lyon 1995:256) of what quan họ means to its practitioners because the passion for the music that the singer quoted above expresses...

  7. 3 “How Much for a Song?” Local Stories, National Representations
    (pp. 65-93)

    “If you want to understand quan họ folk song, you have to go to Bắc Ninh Province.” Friends, academics, and musicians have told me this since the early stages of my research into folk music and performance in Vietnam. It was here, they claimed, that the true and “ancient” (cổ) form of quan họ folk song was to be found. Ultimately, the precise quan họ locality I was to reside in was decided by my sponsoring institute in consultation with local authorities in the Bắc Ninh Department of Culture and Information to ensure my placement in an appropriately representative musical...

  8. 4 Staging Quan Họ, Televising New Social Relationships
    (pp. 94-114)

    The quote above is an explanation given to me by a quan họ singer in response to a question I had posed: “Do you like to watch quan họ on television?” Her careful clarification of the semantics of “to listen to” versus “to watch” quan họ, points to a fundamental tension in quan họ practice in contemporary Vietnam. This singer’s comment suggests that listening is a cultural practice embedded in the rhythms and social interactions of village life. Village singers do not perform for a theatrical audience. They do not require that anyone watch what they do, only that they...

  9. 5 Broadcasting to Ourselves at the Quan Họ Festivals
    (pp. 115-137)

    At about 10:30 p.m. on February 24, 2004 (February 5, by the lunar calendar), the night before the main day of the Diềm Village Festival, the performance of modernized quan họ that had unfolded on a stage set up at the end of the village green in front of the communal house (đình) concluded. As the dense crowd quickly dispersed and headed home, a friend reported hearing a man who, with a few companions, was making his way into the less crowded courtyard of the Vua Bà Temple (the temple to the quan họ ancestral deity) say, “let’s encourage them...

  10. Conclusion Heritage and the Afterlife of Songs
    (pp. 138-150)

    One of the core concerns of this book is how discourses on quan họ folk song have been constructed and deployed over time by various national and local actors. Struggles to gain representational control over quan họ since the Revolution are firmly situated in the historical conditions of the time, the politics of local and national culture, and the dramatic transformations of society and social life since the Revolution. As argued in chapter one, these struggles were particularly intense after the Revolution as the Party and government in the North worked to consolidate their power and to build a new...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 151-162)
    (pp. 163-164)
    (pp. 165-176)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 177-188)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-193)