BÙI TRỌNG HIỀN : Culture – Social cultural functions and manifestation forms of Ca trù arts

BÙI TRỌNG HIỀN : Culture – Social cultural functions and manifestation forms of Ca trù arts

Bùi Trọng Hiền
Research Department of intangible cultural heritage Institute for Culture and Information
In Vietnamese national traditional music, none has polyhedron like Ca trù art. Through time, this type of art has had different names with various meanings, depending on each cultural space or subordinated social function. Based on historical data sources, the popular names of Ca trù are as follows:

+ Ả đào singing:
According to Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư (the complete book of history of Đại Việt) by Ngô Sĩ Liên : Under the reign of the King Lý Thái Tổ dynasty (1010-1028), a female singer, whose name was Đào Thị, was very good at her singing career and was often rewarded by the King. People at that time admired Đào Thị’s reputation. Therefore, they called singers Đào nương.
The book Công dư tiệp ký wrote that in the late Hồ dynasty (1400-1407), a female singer, whose surname was Đào and hometown in Đào Đặng village, Tiên Lữ district, Hưng Yên province drew up a schedule to kill quite a lot of Minh invaders and helped the villagers to lead a peaceful life. When she died, villagers established a temple to dedicate and called her hamlet Ả Đào hamlet. Later, those who have the job like her are called Ả đào.
According to historical data, events on a famous female singer illustrated how her profession popularized at that time in the society. From that, Ả đào was considered the oldest name of the style of Ca trù music.

pham thi hue nguyen phu de

Phạm Thị Huệ & Nguyễn Phú Đẹ

+ Ca trù singing
According to the book Ca trù dị khảo : In the temple, there was a custom of hát thẻ (card singing). Thẻ (card) was called Thù, which is made of bamboo piece to write the number of money equivalent to the value of each card and to reward Ả đào in stead of cash. When singing, performers sat in two sides. One is to play gong and one to play drum. Whenever Ả đào sang well, the drum side played a chát sound, and gong side played a sound of gong and then rewarded a trù. On the next morning, based on their rewarded trù, singers and instrumentalists counted their money. For example, if he/she had 50 trù, each of which cost two tiền kẽm (currency unit at that time), he/she was paid 10 quan tiền. Thus, Ả đào singing is also called Ca trù, meaning hát thẻ (card singing).
It can be said that the name of Ca trù clearly expressed the commerce of a kind of arts, or this type had reached a high level to become a commodity value in life. According to folk artists, rewarding the card was not only for singers but also for instrumentalists. However, singers were usually considered the leading characters. It was likely that this feature was derived from the habit that vocal music was preferred to instrumental music by Vietnamese people. The way of counting compensation by using card was mainly utilized in the activity form of Hát cửa đình (Cửa đình singing). In other forms of the activity, the compensation was usually counted under the all-in form according to the agreement – called hát khoán (khoán singing). From that, it can be said that the name of Ca trù was derived from the activity of Hát cửa đình (singing in the communal house of the village).

+ Cửa quyền singing:
This is the activity form of Ca trù art in the rituals of the royal court in the feudal period. According to Phạm Đình Hổ: Ca trù singing in the royal imperial under the Lê dynasty was called Hát cửa quyền. The court assigned a post of mandarin to be in charge of ceremonies and music in the court, called Thái thường mandarin. Hát cửa quyền was performed in festivals in royal palace.

+ Cửa đình singing:
This activity form of Ca trù was to serve the rituals to worship deities in the communal houses or temples of the villages. In fact, the space of the communal houses and temples was also borrowed to organize Ca trù singing for purely entertainment. However, in the process of singing, the most attention was paid to the singing to worship. Therefore, the terminology Hát cửa đình was to imply that Ca trù music bears the function of religious rituals in the communal house (temple) of villages.

+ Nhà trò singing:
In the form of singing in the communal houses of the villages, apart from music, there was also dance and some performing arts of stage. It was called “bỏ bộ”. Singer both sang and danced, making gestures of the mad, drunker and hunter, etc. Therefore, it was called Hát Nhà trò (Nhà trò singing). This calling was very popular in Nghệ An and Hà Tình regions. Thus, the terminology of Nhà trò singing was derived from the forms which were used to serve rituals and religion.

+ Nhà tơ singing:
In comparison with other callings of Ca trù arts, Nhà tơ singing is not a popular terminology. According to Việt Nam Ca trù biên khảo, in the old days, “people rarely invited ả đào (singers) to home to perform. Only mandarins in the palace or ty (provincial service) (tơ – formerly Provincial chief palace ws called Phiên ty, and provincial judge palace was called Niết ty) could invite ả đào to sing in the banquet. Thus, Ả đào singing is also called Hát Nhà tơ, meaning singing in mandarin’s ty (Service). Hence, this calling defined that the form of activity was to serve the demand of entertainment of Ca trù arts in the mandarins’ house. However, also based on the fact that ty means tơ, Hát Nhà tơ is also understood in different meaning. According to Phạm Đình Hổ, under the Hồng Đức (1470-1497) of the Lê dynasty, Ty giáo phường was an institution arranged by the dynasty to manage music in people. Later, this concept was also applied popularly in epitaph and contract in the 17th and 18th centuries. Thus, the concept of Hát Nhà tơ or Hát Nhà ty was probably the way of “translating from Chinese into Vietnamese” to refer to the type of music of Ty giáo phường.

+ Cô đầu singing:
According to Việt Nam Ca trù biên khảo, the word ả means cô, ả đào means cô đào (singer). According to Ca trù biên khảo (Researching on Ca trù) : “Famous ả đào educated juniors so that they could take singing as their profession. Therefore, whenever they performed in festivities they had to deduct a little of money from the performance to give their teacher called tiền Đầu (Đầu money). Later, the word cô was replaced with the word ả for the clearness and the word đầu was replaced with the word đào to show the praise to experienced famous singers who helped them to achieve success. Also, they were rewarded a lot đầu money, so they were called Cô đầu. This name of Ca trù arts partly reflected the demand of changing into national language and customary law of the professional circle, respecting and supporting the teacher. In the history of Ca trù arts, it was likely that this was the latest name and it was well known in the cities – before this type disappeared in the late decades 50s of the 20th century.

+ Ca công singing:
According to Vũ trung tùy bút: Until the late Lê dynasty, ca công is a noun to talk about artists in giáo phường (musical guild). Thus, Ca công singing was to imply music of musical guild. Hence, this calling was the transformation from the noun of the profession into the noun of type. This illustrated the important role of this type of music in social life of a historical period. In other words, Ca công singing in the old days was very popular and was present in many groups of folk professional musicians. It was so popular that people used the name of artist to call the type of music that musicians were practising.
Also Vũ trung tùy bút pointed out that Ca công in the old days was a very popular noun all over regions in the North of Vietnam. However, later, the call of Ca công was only used in Thanh Hóa province. It means that this old terminology now disappears in the Northern delta through time, the cultural center of Đại Việt, and remains in suburb region. The most especial thing is that this suburb region is one of the cradles of Ca trù arts by nature. Moreover, this is also the hometown of nine dynasties of kings of Vietnam. Those events shown that Ca trù arts once played a leading role in the history of Vietnamese traditional music.
Thus, various ways of calling Ca trù arts were formed under the following regulations:
+ The noun denoting music-practiced artist was used as the noun of type: Hát Ả đào, and Hát Ca công.
+The name of genre was derived from places, and cultural activity places such as Hát cửa quyền, Hát cửa đình and Hát Nhà tơ.
+The name of the genre sticking to the noun referring to the insurance system for experienced singers such as Hát cô đầu. Simultaneously, cô đầu is also a noun denoting singer as the word Ả đào.
+The name of the genre is originated from the actions of performing on the stage such as Hát Nhà trò.
+The name of the genre is formed from the noun denoting the way to pay compensation on arts to singers and instrumentalists such as Hát Ca trù.
It can be said that various ways of calling Ca trù arts, themselves, showed that this was a special musical genre. In Vietnamese traditional music, no kind of music has such many different ways of calling. Each deeply implies different cultural spaces, social funtions and manifestation forms of Ca trù arts. Only through those callings could we be able to find out so many true and lively images of history.

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