Xoan singing (also called hat cua dinh, lai len singing, dum singing, tho singing…) – a kind of performing art, is said to have appeared about 2,000 years ago, during the time of the Hung Kings. It was usually performed at spring festivals in front of communal houses.
Xoan singing was organised not only to entertain villagers and honour the founding Hung Kings of Viet Nam, but also to pray for good weather and harvests, praise landscapes and depict daily life in rural areas.
Often practiced in spring, Xoan singing is a combination of poetry, music, singing, dancing. There exists tight attachment between poem and rhythm, the meaning of poem unites with music. Xoan singing has three types: recital melody (hat noi); chanting melody (hat ngam ngoi) and praising melody (hat xuong). Xoan singing is organized into Xoan guilds, each including 15-18 people, of which are 2-9 male instrumentalists called kep, and 6-12 female singers called dao. Each guild is headed by an old man who has a thorough knowledge of Xoan singing, referred to as Trum.
A performance of Xoan singing normally comprise of three phrases: Worship singing, Ritual singing (or qua cach singing) and Festive singing. Firstly, the worship singing to commemorate Hung Kings, village guardian gods, the people who had merit for the country and families’ ancestors through the repertoires of Giao trong and Tho nhang…Secondly, the ritual singing (with 14 different melodies) to express admiration of nature, human beings, and communities’ life, and some repertoires about history such as Trang Mai cach and Hoi lien cach… And finally, the festive singing is alternate singing between singers and instrumentalists.
Props of Xoan guilds include little bottles of wine, paper fans and a book of 14 qua cach (folk melodies) written in Nom script. Instruments include a small drum, a big drum and a few pairs of clappers.