Then singing ispractised in many northern provinces, including Cao Bang, Bac Kan, ThaiNguyen, Lang Son, Ha Giang, Quang Ninh, Son La, Lai Chau, Lao Cai, BacGiang and Yen Bai, and the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.
It is believed to be handed down from the God belonging to amysterious world to which only “Ong Then” and “Ba Then” can contact.
During rituals, “Ong Then” and “Ba Then” sing and play amusical instrument at the same time while presenting offerings to thegod, representing the ethnic community to contact with the God and askhim for things such as good health, bumper crops, happiness and a longlife.
As a unique combination of music and song, Then singingis traditionally accompanied by a handmade gourd lute, called Dan Tinhor Tinh Tau.
The form of art plays animportant role in the spiritual life of Tay, Nung and Thai ethnicpeople as it combines a wide range of arts such as literature, music,painting and performance.
The art form has hadan impact on local and national identities through its influence onliterature, language, poetry, music, dance, rituals and spiritualpractices.
Closely linked with the spirituallife of ethnic minority groups who often use ceremonial offerings totreat illnesses, Then singing is seen as a therapy, together withmedicine, helping to ease the worries of patients and their families.
According to Phung Quang Muoi from the Lao Caiprovincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, before 1991, Thensinging was banned as a kind of superstition, pushing the art into theshadows.
Since 1993, with its real valuesrecognised, Then singing has been gradually restored. However, thenumber of people who can master this style of singing remains limited.
Presently, Tay people often organise Thensinging ceremonies with the aim to drive away bad luck, pray for goodcrops and call back the soul of the death, he added.
The music encourages ethnic people who gather around the fire everynight after a hard working day in the fields to sing togethertraditional Then songs.
It is really abeautiful image to see Tay girls and boys in traditional clothes signingwith high and clear voices amid the imposing scene of mountains andforests.
Writer Hoang Trieu An, who has spentmuch time researching Then singing, said the art form creates a greatvitality in the spiritual life of Tay, Nung and Thai people, noting thestyle of singing is a pride of the ethnic people.
At a time when Then singing artists are getting older and not manyyoung people show their love for the tradition, it is necessary todiversify methods to preserve the singing.
Apart from collection and restoration of traditional Then songs,relevant agencies should pay special attention to Then singing artists,who can impart both Then singing skills and their passion for the art toyounger generations.
Many have suggested theestablishment of Then singing clubs and including the art form to theschool curriculum. It should be further promoted on mass media, helpingyoung people understand about the nation’s art heritage and raise theirresponsibility for preserving and developing it.
In December 2012 , the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism addedThen singing to the official national intangible cultural heritage list.
The National Academy of Music said thattraditional Then singing will be submitted to UNESCO in a bid for it tobe recognised as a piece of intangible cultural world heritage.-VNA