Music and Media in Modern Viet-Nam, 5-8

pp. 134-137 way, backbone, melody




"Songs are commonly referred to as "ways" (loi ...) ... . The Vietnamese term loi ... can refer to (1) a path or track; (2) a course of ... travel; (3) a manner or style of doing something." "The metaphor of the "way" is also used in the context of Thai music. ... Thai musicians make a distinction "between a particular ‘composition’ (phleen) and each of the many possible ‘ways’ (thaan) of playing that composition".


there was __

made up of __

demonstrated __


"a "basic melody" (giai dieu don gian) or a "general melody" (giai dieu chung) common to all verses of a song."

" "axis notes" (not truc) or "main notes" (not chinh)."

not by being sung, but by being played on the moon lute


"a "backbone" (xuong song) ... was a "model in the mind" (khuon mau trong dau minh), a mental guide for performance."

("is subject to variation and is never actually realized in performance.")

"by humming them."


"The idea of songs being based on "backbones" has striking paarallels with the implicit-melody concepts in Javanese ... multipart music ... oriented around the melodic framework of the balungan, which is played on ... the saron. The balungan is treated as a guide for the elaborating parts .. .


Irregularities and ambiguities in the guidance of the balungan have led some Javanese musicians "to postulate new musical entities, melodies neither played nor heard ... . These "unplayed melodies" are "idealized guides" that have a greater degree of congruence with the elaborating parts than the sounded balungan. ... These ... implicit-melody concepts –

... "lagu" (melody),

... "inner melody," and

... "essential balungan" –

are all "creative responses to the irregularity of melodic guidance in Javanese music"".


"the lagu is "a master key" that gives access to the performance practice of elaborating upon the balungan, known as garap"

p. 144 "You must respect speech tones, but you must obey the backbone. The backbone is more fixed. Sometimes ... it "forces" [i.e., goes against] the speech tones".

pp. 137-138, 234 abstracted backbone




"The melodic contour common to every performance by each musician ... are labeled as ... abstracted backbone. For


each musician, the abstracted backbones consist of the pitches that occur in all of their renditions ... . ... . ... in the abstracted backbones : the only rhythmic distinction made is the relative duration between long and short pitches".

234, n. 5:2

"Abstracted backbones might have been called "abstracted melodies," a term employed ... in ... Khmer music. ... abstracted melodies are similar to implicit melody concepts in Javanese gamelan, in that they are not actually performed but are the foundation for group improvisation ... . ... . Abstracted backbones are derived from multiple performances of songs, whereas abstracted melodies are abstracted from the multipart texture of Khmer ensemble music."

pp. 141-142 tonal inflection, relative pitch

p. 141

"The tonal inflection refers to the melodic direction of each syllable of the text and the relative pitch level to whether the pitch goes up, goes down, or remains the same for each successive word of the text. ... The melodic contours for each speech tone can be divided into four categories : falling (F), rising (R), level (L), or falling rising (FR). [p. 234, n. 5:7 : "The division of the melodic contours into four categories ..., which is based on speech tones of Wu dialects in China, works well for Vietnamese speech tones".]

p. 142

Table 5.2 : rules for relative pitch level of successive syllables [LB&LF = low-broken & low-falling; HR&ML = high-rising & mid-level]



__ tone

__ relative pitch level

than the __ tones































pp. 147-148 c^au van songs (for C^au Be ‘Little Lady’) having known composers



Pham Van Kiem

Suoi Oi (‘Mountain Stream’),

Mua Dan (‘Lit-Rope Dance’)

Doan Duc Dan

Cac Ban Tien (‘The Fairies’)

p. 150 borrowing into c^au van of songs from other genres

"One ... is "Luu Thuy," a melody taken from the court-music repertoire of nhac cung dinh.

... a spirit priest called Pham Ngoc Lan modified several ca tru melodies in the early twentieth century to make them suitable for rituals. These include the cat tru pieces "Ty Ba Hanh" and "Bac Phan," which became part of the "Phu" group of songs and were known as "Phu Ty Ba" and "Phu Bac Phan," respectively."

p. 151 disused and unpopular songs

"some melodies have fallen into disuse ... such as ... "Phu Ha," and "Thien Thai" ... . The main reason why these melodies are out of favor is because ... these challenging songs ... are difficult to sing because of their long, melismatic melodies and the use of unusual poetic meters and word setting.

Several melodies belonging to the "Phu" group, like "Phu Noi," "Phu Binh," "Phu Van Dan," and "Phu Chuoc Ruou," ... are unpopular with some mediums."

pp. 155, 173, 187 traversing gendre during len don; celibate, non-homosexual behavior of len don performers

p. 155

"When possessed by male spirits, female mediums become prestigious scholars, fierce warriors, playful princes, and naughty boys. They wear male tunics, ... speak in male idioms ... .

When possessed by female spirits, male mediums become beautiful ladies, graceful unmarried princesses, and cheeky young girls. They wear dresses and colorful head scarves, speak in falsetto ... . ...

The adage dong co bong cau ... emphasizes that mediums may be possessed by spirits of the opposite gender, by both princesses and young princes."

p. 173

"Other dong co said their involvement with mediumship precluded marriage, as the following comment by a male medium illustrates : "When I was possessed by the spirits ... [the spirits] said I should not marry ... . ... So I had to become a religious person ... ." Some unmarried mediums said they were celibate".


"Cross-dressing possession experiences ... were not understood to be sexual by ... ritual participants."

"You cannot combine len dong with homosexuality."

p. 187

"ritual participants, including ... male mediums, do not assume dong co refers to a particular sexual orientation, but rather to me who have the aptitude to be possessed by female spirits and act like women."

p. 170, Table 6.1 characteristics of songs, by gendre of spirit

songs for gendre of spirits






vocal phrases









verses ending in repeated phrase



instrumental accompaniment




more than one


pp. 162, 177 female interest in potential marriage-partner; adultery & seduction

p. 162

"It is a cliche’ that Vietnamese inquire about marital status on first meeting. ... . ... when married women insisted they act as a matchmaker and introduce me to an unsuspecting daughter or friend, it sometimes seemed to have more serious intent."

p. 177

Female "mediums often had "extramarital affairs" (ngoai tinh) with chau van musicians." "Rumors about female mediums being seduced by the flattery and charming voices of male musicians continue to have currency, and I occasionally heard gossip about affairs."

pp. 179-180 chill as punishment; superiority of every female spirit-medium over the empress

p. 179

"While possessed by the Third Princess, [the female medium] started to complain about being cold. Several minutes later, [she] stopped the ritual, saying the princess had made her so cold she could not continue. Interestingly, the moment when [she] stopped the ritual was preceded by ... mandarin, incarnated before the Third Princess, ... with the following words : "The band sounds like cold rice ... ." ...

When the Seventh Princess was incarnated, the spirit explained why the Third Princess had made [the female medium]’s body so cold. The spirit said the princess had punished her because her husband had criticized mediumship ... . The utterances of the Seventh Princess were as follows :

Today I "transmit" and then you ... can tell the future. ...Your husband said "tongues have no bones and there are many twisty roads," so the Princess scolded and punished ... . ...

p. 180

The phrase "tongues have no bones and there are many twisty roads" is a reference to his criticisms. During possession by the Ninth Princess, [the female medium]’s mother-in-law, who was present at the ritual, was also told to reprimand her son to make him respect the spirits ... . ...


The potential for mediumship to ... authority ... is highlighted by two popular proverbs :

"[For a woman,] Being a medium comes first; having a husband who is an emperor comes second." ...

And "[For a man,] Marrying a wife who is a medium comes first; [for a woman,] marrying a husband who is an emperor comes second"".

p. 181 instance of a husbandless female spirit-medium

A certain woman "split up with her husband, and returned to live at her parents’ house. ... A couple of years after the separation, [she] was initiated and built a temple next door to her parents’ house. [She] tells fortunes and has a special relationship with the Ninth Princess."

p. 187 extracurricular female homosexuality

"In my discussions with ritual participants, some said they knew female mediums who had sexual relations with other women".

p. 191 high cost of initiation-ritual into mediumship

A woman "has consulted a spirit priest who confirmed that she had the "destined aptitude" of a medium, but she had not yet been initiated because she did not have enough money to do so. [She] estimated that the cost for her initiation would be five million Vietnamese dong (approx. U.S. $350). She would have to buy all the ritual clothes, donate money to the temple, and pay for all the expenses of the initiation. These expenses included the fees for the band and spirit priest, purchasing the votive objects and gifts, and paying for the feast after the ritual."

p. 192-193 food-products and money distributed as gifts by possessing-spirits




"For each spirit possession, gifts are carefully chosen to suit the character and identity of each spirit and are even coordinated with the color associated with the spirit’s palace in the celestial world. ...


"while possessed by the Third Princess, who also belongs to the Water Palace ..., [spirit-media] distribute trays of bottled water ... . ... .


... fruit and areca nut, are distributed by female spirits belonging the Mountains and Forest Palace, and


... packets of instant noodles and biscuits, are blessed by lowland female spirits.


Packets of sweets are reserved for child spirits."


"Loc is charged with spiritual power and brings with it good fortune and happiness. Blessed gifts are tangible manifestations of spiritual efficacy and have the potential to generate wealth."

pp. 217-218 fortune-telling goddess




"Sitting in front of the temple altar, [the female spirit-medium] slowly began preparing the areca nut she used to fortune-tell; when seeing clients [she] slices areca nuts in half and reads fortunes from the patterns inside the nut. While removing the betel leaves from the bunch of areca nuts, [she] declared she was possessed by the goddess Nguyet Ho (Ba Chua Nguyet Ho), a regional fortune-telling spirit who does not belong to the Four Palace pantheon. ...

As soon as she was possessed by the goddess, ... Her voice ... changed. She spoke using playful, colloquial, and religious expressions, ... : ...


I know everything, everywhere, in the sky, and down on earth. ... The guardian of this temple, my disciple ... [the female spirit-medium], lets you come here ... because I have compassion for you. ...

She said ... that ... I must show respect by organizing a hau ta."

p. 221 praeliminary rite for the hau ta (‘thanking ritual’)

"In the temple, [the female spirit-medium] kneeled in front of the altar and muttered an incantation asking for the spirits’ permission to hold a hau ta, before preparing for possession. ... [she] waved incense over the written petitions to the spirits to the vibrant rhythms of the "Sai" melody. ... . ... [the spirit-priest] stepped forward and read the spirit petition he had prepared. The petition, written in Sino-Vietnamese characters, used old terminology ... :

... This [season], on

the [ordinal #] day of the [same ordinal #] lunar month,

the medium, [name], is holding

a ritual for the "faithful" from [city],

whose name is [__].

He was born in the year of the [animal].

This person of the human world is holding a thanking ritual, as he has finished his business in [place]. Witness the ritual of the faithful who has a destined affinity for the spirits. "

pp. 221-223 costumes and wordings in thanking ritual for author




wording of speech by possessing-spirit


Tran Hun Dao

red tunic

"I witness the heart and praise the disciple from afar."


+Nuyet Ho

deep red and green, flowery long skirt; pink tiara; green veil; holding blue fan

"I crossed to this world for the __ lineage. ... Sit on the spirits’ throne and become a medium."


Quan Giam Sat

green tunic, densely embroidered with gold; silver sash on waist

"Today the disciple from afar, from abroad, comes to "the gate" of the community of spirits".

p. 222 "the Second Mandarin ... is often referred to as "the mandarin who supervises" (quan giam sat) because of his reputed powers to control and oversee the human world."

pp. 225-226 ordinal #, and Palace, for Quan (‘Mandarin’) and Co (‘Princess’) possessing-spirits


__ Palace









Barley Norton : Songs for the Spirits : Music and Mediums in Modern Vietnam. U of IL Pr, Urbana & Chicago, 2009.