The Board of the ICTM asked me to have an interview with my father, Dr. Trần Văn Khê when he was offered the title of “life honorary member” of the ICTM .
Dr. Trần Văn Khê is now living in Vietnam, therefore I had to interview him over the telephone.
Trần Quang Hải (TQH) : Hello, Daddy. Are you there?
Trần Văn Khê (TVK): Who’s speaking ?
TQH: I am Hải, your son calling you from France.
TVK : Oh, my dear son. I’m glad to hear your voice. How are you?
TQH : I’m fine Dad. I would like to ask you something and I wish you will accept it.
TVK : What is it? If it’s not so difficult, I’ll be happy to do it for you, my son.
TQH: You know, I made a recommendation that you be offered the title of “life honorary member” of the ICTM last year in Shanghai during the board meeting. As the Board accepted my recommendation, all Board members asked me to write a paper about you under the form of a dialogue . I accepted that request .
And that is the reason why I am calling you today to ask you if we can have a talk over the telephone about your life, career and especially your activities when you were member of the ICTM. Is it possible for us to do so now?
TVK (after a short silence): You know, son, I am getting old. My memory is not good enough to remember all those things . But if you ask me easy questions, I‘ll try to do my best to give you the answers you are looking for. OK ?
TQH (with a smile and laugh): Thank you very much Daddy. You are really my beloved father, always . Now I can start the interview with you. Are you ready ?
TVK: I am. What can I start with ?
TQH: You can start by telling me about who you are, where you were born, and a summary of your career.
TVK : Well, I was born on July 24th 1921, in a small village called Bình Hòa Đông in the province of Mỹ Tho, in the southern part of Vietnam. During my time in Vietnam, I studied medicine at the Medical College of the University of Hanoi from 1942 to 1943. Then I went to France in 1949. In Paris, I first studied political science at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques where I obtained my diploma in 1951. Then I was very ill, and for 4 years, I was hospitalized at many hospitals in France. During that time, I thought a lot of Vietnamese traditional music. As I was born into a family of 4 generations of traditional musicians, I decided to study musicology at the Sorbonne University in Paris upon my recovery from illness in 1955. In 1958, I obtained the degree of Doctor in Musicology at the Sorbonne University. Since that date, I devoted all my time to do research and teaching musicology and participating in various international conferences on musicology until I decided to go back and live in Vietnam in 2004.
TQH: Great Dad. Can you tell me about different positions you held during your professional life ?
TVK : There are many. I was Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (C.N.R.S.), professor at Paris-Sorbonne University (1958-1988), and Honorary Member of the Conseil International de la Musique (UNESCO). My scientific research along with my activities in traditional music (participation in numerous festivals, several recordings edited with Ocora, l’Unesco and A.C.C.T.) have enabled me to receive many distinctions and prizes from prestigious universities, academies and international institutions around the world. My expertise includes all Asian music, particularly Indian, Persian, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic musical traditions. Having lived in Paris for about 55 years, and travelled around the world to lecture and to perform, I have played a key role in introducing Asian music into the western world. In the past 55 years, I have supervised a sizable number of Ph.D. dissertations and taught thousands of students all over the world.
TQH : Can you give me some important dates of your working experience ?
TVK : I can’t remember them all. But I can give you some dates: from 1960 to 1988, I was researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. I was guest professor at many universities (1968 at UCLA, California, USA; 1972 at University of Southern Illinois, USA; 1973 at University of Montreal, Canada; 1975-1985 at Catholic Institute in Paris, France; 1979 at Intercultural School in Venice, Italy; 1981 at Liszt Academy of music in Budapest, Hungary; 1983 at University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA; 1984-1987 as Director of a seminar at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, in Paris, France; 1985 at University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia; 1988 at University of Hawaii at Manoa as a Fullbright scholar; 1989 at University of the Philippines, in Manila, Philippines. From 1966 to 1988, I was professor at University of Paris – Sorbonne and supervised more than 40 Ph.D. dissertations on Asian music. I was the founder of the Centre d’Etudes de Musique Orientale in Paris in 1959, etc… Those were my major activities when I lived in France.
TQH : Thank you Dad. Apart from all the things you have just mentioned, did you give any lectures on musicology in other countries? I suppose that you had given many.
TVK : You are right my son. I gave 2 lectures on Asian music and on methodology in ethnomusicology, as well as several hundreds of other lectures at numerous Universities around in the world, namely Berkeley, Maryland, Baltimore County USA, (1988) Central Conservatory of Beijing, Conservatory of TianJian, Xian (People’s Republic of China 1987), Antatanarivo, Madagascar (August 1985), Kunitachi College, Japan (July 1985), Wellington, New Zealand (November 1984), Venice, Italy (March 1984-April 1985), Harvard, USA (June 1982) Conservatory Tchaikovsky, Moscow, USSR (May 1981), National Institute of Music of Algeria (August 1980), National Center for the Performing Arts, Bombay, India (Sept. 1979), Teheran, Iran (June 1976) Conservatory of Saigon, Buddhist University of Vạn Hạnh, Catholic Institution Taberd, Centre Culturel Français, Vietnam-USA Association, South Vietnam (August 1974), Sau Paulo, Brasil (July 1974), Shiraz, lran (August 1972), Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, India (May 1961), Traditional Musicians Association, TaiPei, (April 1961), Ueno University, Japan (April 1961).
TQH : It’s amazing Dad . How could you recall all these facts? It’s really unbelievable. Now, I’d like to ask you about your activities when you were a member of the IFMC, which later became ICTM. Can you recall a few important dates ?
TVK : It was a long story but I’ll cut it short. In 1958, I took part in the IMC conference on the Universe of Music, at the UNESCO House, where I met several musicologists and ethnomusicologists such as Samuel Baud-Bovy, Willard Rhodes, Walter Wiora, Marius Schneider and Paul Collaer. They appreciated my paper that I had presented and woud like to invite me to join the IFMC (Internationnal Folk Music Council)…. They introduced me to Dr. Maud Karpeles and then I became member of the IFMC in 1960 after having been elected member of the Executive Committee of the IMC (International Music Council of UNESCO). I did not have much time for the IFMC because of my heavy workload at the French CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), at in the IMC, and at in the CEMO (Centre d’Etudes de Musique Orientale). But I attended regularly the General Assemblies of the IFMC. I often met many members of the IFMC to exchange experiences in their personal researches and sometimes to collaborate with them in certain topics of research such as folk and traditional musics, theatre music in Vietnam with Paul Collaer; tone languages in China and Vietnam with Marius Schneider, ethnomusicology with Claudie-Marcel Dubois. I also wrote a few articles for the Journal of the IFMC in 1966.
1/ La musique populaire au Vietnam. Ses attaches avec la musique de tradition savante ou musique rituelle (pp 2-4)
2/ Journal of the IFMC 1963
La musique vietnamienne traditionnelle (Review)
3/ Le pentatonisme est il universel ? Journal of the IFMC 1958.
(what are the above 5 lines???)
In 1961, while attending the General Assembly of the IFMC in Jerusalem, I took part in the international concert organized on that occasion by playing Vietnamese traditional music. Prof. Zolten Kodaly was in the audience. At the intermission, Dr. Kodaly congratulated me on my performance and wanted to meet me some day to discuss about pentatonic scales. After that General Assembly, I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Kodaly in Budapest where we had a very interesting exchange of our experiences on Pentatonism. In Vietnam, when the late Professor Lưu Hữu Phước organized a festival of traditional music in the whole country of Vietnam, he invited Dr. Eric Stockman, President of the ICTM to come to festival as a special guest. Dr. Stockman could not accept the invitation… because he was in poor health and could not make a long flight. Instead, Dr. Stockman asked me to go to Vietnam as a Vice President of the ICTM. At the festival, I was warmly welcome by the organizing committee. In 1984, the Annual General Assembly of the ICTM took place in Tunis, capital of Tunisia. I came to Tunis wearing two hats: one was Vice President of the ICTM and the other one was special guest of the Festival of Arabic traditional music …
TQH : So, you were member of the IFMC in 1960, weren’t you? Were you present at the IFMC conference in Seoul in 1981?
TVK : Yes, I was there as an Executive Board member (elected in 1978). At that conference, I witnessed the name change of the organization from IFMC (International Folk Music Council) to ICTM (International Council for Traditional Music). There was an important discussion about that matter. Poul Rovsing Olsen was President of the new council with Dieter Christensen as Secretary General. I was elected Vice President of the ICTM together with Prof. Claudie Marcel-Dubois from France. In 1987, without receiving any notification, Prof. Kishibe Shigeo and I were surprised when we did not see our names on the list of members of the Executive Committee.
TQH : Dad, I am obliged to interrupt you on the last point . As you know, according to the rules of the ICTM, any vice president can only hold the position for 4 years. After that, he or she has to leave the title to someone else. On the other hand, he or she has the right to resubmit his/her candidacy for the same position for another 4 years. I don’t know whether you have attended the ICTM conferences in 1983, 1985 and 1987. If you were absent at these conferences, then I think that you and Prof. Kishibe Shigeo could no longer belong to the Executive Board. But I think that it is fair to inform you and Prof. Kishibe about this, and remind you of the rules. Anyhow, those were things of the past . We can change the subject, can’t we Dad ?
TVK : OK. What more do you want to know?
TQH : I know that you have received many international awards . Can you name me a few important ones?
TVK : In 1949, I obtained the 2nd Prize of the International Competition on Folk Music Instruments at the Youth Festival of Budapest in Hungary, a few months after my arrival in France. Then, in 1960 my first LP record published by La Boîte à Musique got the Grand Prize from the French Music Academy in Paris . After that, my LP record “VIETNAM 1” edited by Barenreiter Musicaphon, UNESCO Collection in Germany won the Schallplatten Prize in 1969 and the Grand Prize from the French Music Academy of French Records in 1970. For other awards, there were Doctor honoris cause from University of Ottawa (Canada) in 1975 and from Moncton University (New Brunswick, Canada) in 1999, UNESCO IMC music award in 1981, Fullbright scholarship in 1988, Officier des Arts et des Lettres (France) in 1991, Koizumi Fumio ethnomusicological prize (Japan) in 1994,, Chevalier de l’ordre des Palmes académiques (France) in 1999, and a dozen of awards obtained in Vietnam . The last one was the badge of Ho Chi Minh City as emerite citizen of Ho Chi Minh City in 2013.
TQH : Fantastic! As a distinguished ethnomusicologist, I suppose that you were also members of many scientific societies .
TVK : Well, I belonged to many international scientific societies such as Société Française de Musicologie (France), Société Française d’Ethnomusicologie (France), Société des Gens et des Lettres (France), International Musicological Society (Switzerland), Society for Ethnomusicology (USA), Society for Asian Music (USA), International Society for Music Education, International Folk Music Council (after 1981 becoming International Council for Traditional Music ( vice president from 1981-1987 and life honorary member since 2013) (USA then Slovenia), International Music Council (ex- vice president and now life honorary member) UNESCO, France) .
TQH : As member of many international scientific societies, I am quite sure that you must have had several extraordinary activities. Is it possible for you to cite some important events?
TVK : I participated in more than 180 International Congresses, Conferences, Symposia, and Music Festivals. (The lists of publications and the International Conferences could be sent on request). I can tell you about a few significant contributions to various works on research, documents on major traditional music in Asia, especially Vietnamese, events organized by the International Center for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation (Berlin) where I was a member, and for 8 years when I was President of the Scientific Council. Since 1988, I was nominated life honorary member of the International Music Council belonging to UNESCO and I am now a special advisor for the Council in subjects related to traditional music of Asian countries.
TQH : Thank you Dad . What about your principal publications ?
TVK : I made 27 LP and CD records from 1959 to 1994, one film on Indian Dhrupad singing tradition, 4 tapes on Asian Music (GRM Group of Recherche Musicale, French Radio), 4 video tapes on the Chinese Sheng (mouth organ), Qin (Chinese 7 stringed board zither), Vietnamese Đàn Tranh (16-string board zither) Audio Visual Center University Dauphine, 4 books on Vietnamese Traditional Music (in French, German and Italian languages), 1 book on Water Puppets in Vietnam, 187 articles (in French and English languages) on Asian Music, Vietnamese Music, and musicological matters, 14 books, 140 articles (in Vietnamese) on autobiography, researches on Vietnamese traditional music and musicological matters.
TQH : For the last question, what have you done since you went back to live in Vietnam from 2004 until now?
TVK : Before that, in 2003, I was invited to teach Vietnamese Traditional Music at the Private University of Hùng Vương (Ho Chi Minh City), to give several lectures on Asian Musical Traditions at the Institute of Musicology of Vietnam (Hanoi). Since 2003 up to the present time, I have been actively participating in the cultural life of the whole country of Vietnam. I attended the Symposium on Court Music in Vietnam organized by the Center for the Preservation of Huế Relics, and together with Mrs. Noriko Nakamura from UNESCO, helped the Vietnamese scholars to complete a file on Nhã Nhạc, Court Music in Huế to be presented to UNESCO for the nomination as a master piece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In 2003, Nhã Nhạc Huế Court Music was recognized by UNESCO as a masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Then, the Vietnamese Embassy in France near the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris has organized a series of concerts in France and in Belgium to introduce Vietnamese Nhã Nhạc to the European audience and has asked me to be the MC for those concerts. I accepted the invitation and I was happy to perform that task. In 2005, I was invited by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Culture and Information of the Vietnamese Government to be a Special Advisor helping those Vietnamese specialists to prepare a file on Ca Trù (special vocal art of North Vietnam). At the same time, UNESCO invited me to write an evaluation of the file on Gongs on the High Plateaux in Vietnam. I compared the Gongs ensembles from Vietnam with the gamelan from Java, the Gong from Bali, the Kulingtan from the Philippines and finally proposed Unesco to recognize the “Cultural area of gongs from the High Plateaux in VietNam” as an Oral and Intangible Heritage representing humanity. I have been for several years, from 2006 to the present time, a special advisor of the scholars in charge to prepare the file of Quan Họ from Bắc Ninh (2006), and of Ca Trù (2007). Recently, I played an active part in the preparation of the file on the Đờn Ca Tài Tử from Nam bộ (2011) . The People Committee of Ho Chi Minh City thanked me on my presentation of Vietnamese traditional music and particularly of the Đờn Ca Tài Tử (entertainment music from the south) throughout the world and gave me the title of “Emerite Citizen” of Ho Chi Minh City.
TQH : I am so sorry for taking so much of your time. I hope that with this interview, all members of the ICTM will know about you a lot better.
TVK : It’s quite all right. I am happy to be interviewed by my beloved son who has taken my place in the framework of the ICTM . Please convey my sincere thanks to the direction of the ICTM for accepting me as a life honorary member.
TQH : Thank you Dad . I wish you a good health and a long life in order to shore up the Vietnamese traditional music in Vietnam and around the world . Now I have to say goodbye to you and I hope to see you soon in Vietnam when I have an occasion to be there, perhaps in the very near future. Good bye Dad, I love you.
TVK : Thank you my dear son. Goodbye and I am looking forward to seeing you soon in Vietnam .
TRAN QUANG HAI
Executive Board Member of the ICTM