1,350 students and lecturers of FPT Education joined in a music video to play folk songs from the three regions of Vietnam. Seven types of traditional musical instruments including monochord, moon lute, pear-shaped lute, two-stringed fiddle, zither, bamboo flute, and drum were harmonized.

Mr. Hoàng Nam Tiến, the Deputy Chairman of the FPT University Board of Trustees expressed on his facebook page: “What’s astonishing and incredibly inspiring about every FPT student is their study of traditional musical instruments. FPT University is a place where every student, regardless of their major – whether it’s business, software, languages or cybersecurity–must learn to play… one of the five traditional instruments during their time here.”

FPT professors, lecturers and students received the Certificate of Record for Thien Am MV as “The music video with the largest number of participants performing with traditional musical instruments in Vietnam” from Vietnam Record Organization at Hoa Lac Campus on October 18, 2023.

Vietnam Heritage’s writer Hương Quỳnh conducted an interview with Ms. Nguyễn Thu Thủy, Head of the Traditional Musical Instruments Department at FPT University in Hanoi.

Dear Ms. Thu Thuỷ, in October 2023, the record-breaking music video ‘Thiên Âm’ was officially recognized by Vietkings (the Vietnam Record Organization) as “The music video with the largest number of participants performing with traditional musical instruments”, how could FPT University manage to gather such a remarkable ensemble of 1,350 students and lecturers? Could you share more about the music program at the university? Is the traditional musical course a mandatory or elective?

Ms. Nguyễn Thu Thủy, Head of the Traditional Musical Instruments Department at FPT University in Hanoi with her đàn tỳ bà (peer- shaped lute). Photo: Facebook Thu Thuỷ Nguyễn

At FPT University, all first-year students are required to study traditional musical instruments. This course has been included in the core curriculum for several years. The Hanoi campus officially started teaching this program in 2014. Currently, 100% of first-year students at FPT University nationwide are studying traditional music.

Among the 1,350 musicians who performed in the “Thiên Âm” video, students make up the majority, followed by faculty members from all five campuses, totaling just 44 (16 lecturers in Hanoi, 16 in Ho Chi Minh City, four in Đà Nẵng, four in Quy Nhơn, and four in Cần Thơ).

The task of promoting music education among young people is undoubtedly quite challenging. Could you please share more to help readers understand what music classes are like at FPT University and how thousands of FPT University students study music?

For first-year students at FPT University, English, music, and martial arts are required courses.

The music class schedules vary depending on the branch. For example, in Ho Chi Minh City, students attend two periods (totalling three hours) each day, with classes scheduled three days a week (typically on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), or Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. In Hanoi, students attend one period per day but have classes from Monday to Friday.

Most students recieve extensive hands-on practice. In Hanoi, students learn to recite ancient melodies, what our ancestors used to call “cổ nhạc,” and sing along with traditional folk songs. They have a total of 30 periods that combine learning and assessments. Each class typically consists of around 15 students.

At the end of each course, students must pass their subjects by performing one ancient or folk song and one modern song. Whether they continue their music studies depends on how much time they wish to devote to the discipline. Some students remain involved in the music program throughout their four years at the university. After completing their core curriculum, students can still register for additional music courses and receive support from their instructors to improve their performance. They may also perform at high schools or other venues with the guidance of their instructors.

Where did the idea for this video come from?

The idea came from Dr. Lê Trường Tùng, the Chairman of FPT University’s Board of Trustees, and Dr. Nguyễn Khắc Thành, the President of FPT University, about two years ago for the 15th anniversary celebration of FPT University. However, the project could not be realized at that time due to the evolving Covid-19 situation. This year, 2023, the video was brought to life, as a special gift from the University to FPT Corporation on its 35th anniversary.

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FPT students and lectures at Hoa Lac Campus are performing on a July filming day for the MV. Photo: FPT Archive

How long did it take from the initial concept to the final product?

We met with musician Đạt Kìm (Đặng Tiến Đạt – a young and talented artist known for creatively combining traditional music with other genres) to create the music arrangement in early May of 2023. The instructors and students practiced and produced the arrangement from May 25th to June 21st. At the end of July, the final filming took place in Hanoi, and the video was officially released on August 31st, coinciding with National Day, allowing the young Vietnamese to showcase and take pride in their cultural heritage endeavor. So, from having the music arrangement with the musicians to completion was approximately 4 months.

Teachers and students practiced the vocals for approximately one month. Each day after classes, everyone gathered. Each type of musical instrument had its own separate room, where the instructors guided the students through every line and passage, making sure it flowed smoothly. Then, they would start playing the demo music and beats provided by musician Đạt Kìm, and everyone would play along. In this way, within one month, by the time of the recording session, all the students and instructors had completed their parts.

What is the aim of the “Thiên Âm” music video, and what message is it intended to convey to the listeners?

“Thiên Âm” begins with three distinctive songs representing the three regions of North, Central, and South Vietnam (“Qua cầu gió bay” from the quan họ folk songs of Bắc Ninh, “Lý Tình Tang” from Huế traditional music, and “Lý ngựa ô” from the Southern folk songs). After showcasing these traditional melodies from the three regions, the video transitions into a new musical section.

I believe that the content of the music video delivers a message to the young people of Vietnam about the importance of preserving and embracing traditional music. It encourages the younger generation to come together, appreciate, and conserve their cultural heritage. Additionally, the fusion of traditional music with electronic genres in the video highlights Vietnam’s global outreach, rooted in its rich and diverse cultural identity.

Teams of đàn tỳ bà (pear-shaped lutes) and drums on the filming day, July 2023, FPT Hoa Lac Campus. Photo: FPT Archive.

Thiên Âm” has been released for over two months now. When you look back, do you have any thoughts or feelings about the journey you’ve been through?

Looking back now, I can see that the efforts put in by the instructors and the organizing team were immense. Producing a video with 1,350 performers involved a massive amount of work. I have fond memories of the days we spent practicing together after our classes and work. Every evening, the music rooms were bustling with students practicing.

During that month, it felt like I had returned to the Music Academy where I used to study, because everywhere you went, there was the sound of instruments, flutes, and the video’s music. It was like a music festival in preparation, with students and learners participating in a music competition. Everyone was working enthusiastically and putting in a lot of effort.

The recording days were also quite enjoyable. We spent nearly two days recording, practically eating and sleeping in the recording studio, from morning until night. Hanoi is a place with a variety of musical instruments, so there were more places to record compared to other locations. Also, it took longer, due to the crowded studios. At that time, for the instructors, all family-related matters were put aside, and the focus was solely on the recording.

When musician Đạt Kìm said he had finished recording, both the students and instructors requested to listen to it again, and they hugged each other and danced with joy. This was a significant achievement, almost like crossing the halfway point of their journey. It was also the moment that worried the instructors the most, as they wondered if the students would perform well in the recording studio. However, everything turned out beautifully and wonderfully.

The shooting day was like a festival; the entire road of FPT Education Hòa Lạc was filled with colorful orange attire and musical instruments arranged according to director Tất My Loan’s instructions. That day, the weather was very sunny, and the instructors concerned about the students getting sick. One student even experienced mild sunburn. One of the instructors even shed tears because of the scorching sun, but the students remained enthusiastic. That teacher, red-faced but smiling, encouraged and comforted the students, and in turn, the students also provided their encouragement and support.

These are unforgettable emotions that I will never forget from working on the “Thiên Âm” music video.

FPT musicians and perfomers with the production crew on the filming day of the MV, at FPT Hoa Lac Campus, Hanoi, July 2023. Photo: FPT Archive.

Thank you very much Ms. Nguyễn Thu Thủy. We appreciate your love and passion for music teaching to students and wish more and more success to the Thien Am MV.

Thiên Âm is a beautiful and unique musical piece that showcases traditional Vietnamese instruments. After over two months from its release, the video has reached over 110 thousand of viewers with a great number of comments conveying deep appreciation for the MV that nurtures the soul and cultural identity of the Vietnamese gerenations (-Ed.).

The interview was conducted in November 2023.

Thiên Âm Video link: https://youtu.be/nFWxUogkLvo