Phú Thọ, the original land of our nation, is of an intangible culture with very traditional folk identities of the ancestral land. Those cultural heritages reflect our fights against the foreign invasions in the first years of founding and protecting the country and they reflect our struggles with the nature. With solidarity spirit, creation, diligence, endurance, human soul, and human intelligence, the people on the ancestral land could have overcome every difficulty and challenge.
Xoan singing in Phú Thọ is the special folk form in the folk culture treasure of the ancestral land. Xoan singing is the customary ritual folk singing, which is performed in front of communal houses in spring festivals and in sacrifice ceremonies.
Xoan origin has many legends related to the times of Hùng Kings in Văn Lang country.
At Phù Đức village (including Phù Đức and Thét guilds), the legend is that Hùng King was choosing the place for the capital city. One day, when he took a break at Phù Đức, An Thái – Xoan hometown, he saw children grazing buffalos dance and sing very cheerfully and they taught other children more melodies. Those dances and melodies are the first Xoan ones.
At An Thái village, the story is although the wife of Hùng King had labor pain for a long time, she could not give birth. One imperial servant suggested inviting Ms. Quế Hoa, who was very good at dancing and singing, to perform acts. Ms. Quế Hoa was called in front of the royal wife’s bed for her performance. Her figure was like the silk; her voice was like the stream; and her beauty was like the flower. After she admired that woman’s good dances and singing, she became more joyful and reproduced three extraordinarily handsome sons. Hùng King was very happy and asked princesses and imperial servants to learn Ms. Quế Hoa’s dance and singing. That time was the spring, so the King called those dances and singing Xuân singing.
Cao Mại commune told that the princess Nguyệt Cư, the King of Cao Mại commune and the daughter of Hùng King, cried all the time and no one could sooth her. Only when she heard the people of An Thái village sing, she stopped crying. This repeated until she was 3 years old. What’s more, old people told that
Mrs. Nguyệt Cư felt labor pain when she passed An Thái village and heard singing. As a result, soldiers had to carry her palanquin very fast to the palace so that she could give birth to the baby. Because of above circumstances, there are the festival of carrying the palanquin of the female King very fast and Xoan singing in festivals at Cao Mại. Those are the village activities with the memory meaning.
At Hương Nộn village, in which there is Xoan singing worshipping Xuân Nương, the female general of Hai Bà Trưng, old people told that Ms. Xuân Nương rose up in arms against greedy and cruel Hán invaders. One time, her troops operated cross Xoan village. After she listened to it, she ordered her troops to learn singing. Because of the above legend, on the dead anniversary of Ms. Xuân Nương, the villagers at Hương Nộn implement Xoan performances. If Xoan singing was available in the times of Hai Bà Trưng so that Ms. Xuân Nương’s troops could learn singing, Xoan singing was surely born before that time, which means it appeared in Hùng Vương dynasty.
Through the legends of Xoan singing in Hùng Vương dynasty, we can recognize that Xoan singing have existed for long time.
In the culture of Việt people, the religion of worshipping the tutelary gods of villages is long-standing and linked with the life of the residents planting wet rice. Xoan singing means the folk melodies and the folk dances of the working class. Apart from praising tutelary gods, Kings, and four seasons, wishing for good crops, etc. it reflects the villagers’ daily working life such as rowing boats, finding firewood, or fishing. It can be said that Xoan singing appeared very early and it is closely connected with the appearance and the development of the wet rice of ancient Việt people.
Through the contents of Xoan acts, we can suppose the development process of Xoan as follows:
In the first stage (the earliest stage), there are only the songs with the praying characteristic in sacrifices. They are the acts Giáo trống, giáo pháo, thơ nhang, and đóng đám. These acts have the contents of praying and sacrificing to the tutelary gods of villages, Kings, and mandarins. Its art is still simple; its melodies are connected with the recitative style; and its musical structure is simple.
Đôi tay tôi nặng cả đám làng
Trống tôi vỗ bên vông thờ Vua thờ Chúa
Trống tôi vỗ bên tầm thờ đức Đại vương
Đệ tam pháo mừng chúa ông
Đã nên đấng lại anh hùng
Là đã dẹp hết
Đông Tây Nam Bắc
Là đã thu về
Dẹp bắc đánh đông
Trước tôi đọc thơ
Sau tôi múa nhạc
Chúc Thánh mừng Vua
Chim phượng hoàng ơ
Hai hán Đại thánh
Particularly the act Đóng đám, the last part is clearly lyrical and expresses the love exchange between men and women:
Lẳng lơ đứng gốc cây mai
Bóng tôi tôi ngỡ bóng ai tôi nhầm
Lẳng lơ tôi chốn đi về
Gió rung cành trúc kéo lòng người thương
The second stage is 14 quả cách considered as “a group”. Its contents do not include the praying sentences in the primitive religion; instead, they are the literary writings in nôm language composed by Confucian scholars. Later, this group of acts depends on the content of Xoan singing in some historical stage. We can recognize the moral principles between the King and servants, the residents’ professional viewpoints (fishing, woodcutting, cultivation, and pasturing), the admiration of the nature in the free manner (admiring 4 seasons in the free manner). That is the social viewpoints of Confucian scholars. Accordingly, this group of acts was improved in the prevalent stage of the Confucianism in our country. Researching on the contents of Xoan songs, we can recognize many sentences with the historical hallmark.
Nhà tôi nhà Lê
Là sông Bồ Đề
Nhớ về thiên hạ
Là núi Việt Nam
Cầy bừa ruộng lê
Là cứ làm lê
Thủa tháng xoan
Lê Hoàng làm chúa
Làng đây tốt lúa
Ăn uống no say
(Tứ mùa cách)
Đền cũ chủ ông
Thái tổ Thái tông
ấy Vua lão Hoàng
(Tràng Mai cách)
Through above lyrics, we think that whether the lyrics of Xoan singing was affected by the musical innovation proposed by Nguyễn Trãi in Lê Thái Tông dynasty.
The next acts such as Bợm gái, bỏ bộ, xin hoạ đố chữ, cài hoa, giã cá, etc. are still the folk compositions like those in the first stage; however, instead of the praying lyrics, they have the lyrics about the love exchange between men and women. The musical form is also more developed than that in the primitive stage. Most of them have the structure of singing and the religious content is shown only indirectly through some lyrics and imitative movements of the working activities such as spinning, threading needles, rowing boats, and fishing. There are some acts clearly expressing two contents: praying and exchanging love such as the melodies Hát đúm or đánh cá.
In short, Xoan singing was born very early and closely connected with the religious life of ancient Việt people. It originates from primitive lyrics and rituals. After that, it was improved in the feudalism and included two factors: praying and lyrically exchanging love. The performance includes singing, dance, music, and the stage. That is the logical development with the historical and cultural characteristics of the ritual and customary folk singing in the North. In this way, Xoan singing was born and improved like other present Xoan repertoires mainly in the earlier Lê dynasty (the fifteenth century)
We conserve and revive Xoan singing on its land. In our opinion, Xoan clubs should spread at An Thái, Kim Đới, Thét, or Phù Đức villages, which may create new vitality and help to disseminate Xoan in the society.
To preserve and promote Xoan, we not only influence people’s awareness but also create a suitable environment so that Xoan singing can exist and develop. Restoring and conserving customs, rites, and traditional culture at present create the good environment for Xoan singing to penetrate into our life. The reason is only when folk singing is brought back to the residents’ activities, it can live, develop, and catch up the present times.
In the present industrialization process, Xoan singing can co-ordinate with the tourism economy to create a spiritual food for tourists. Together with the relic area of Hùng temple, Xoan singing and its accompanying festivals must become the indispensable speciality in tours.
Nguyễn Anh Tuấn
The Director of the museum in Phú Thọ province