Then singing is a traditional kind of oratorio art in Vietnam. That form of art performance originated form religious activities of Tai, Tay and Nung ethnic groups in Northern Vietnam. The name “Then” is a word in the language of Tay ethnic group and means “god” in English. That name comes from religious liturgies of ethnic people to worship the god and pray for their life.
“Then” singing can be found in 5 mountainous provinces in the North of Vietnam: Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Ha Giang, Lang Son, and Tuyen Quang Province. Some documents indicated that “then” singing’s origin is from Mac Dynasty (in 16thcentury).
“Then” singing is combination of singing, music and dance. It’s usually performed by a group of vocalists who can be males or females. They sing “then” melodies at traditional liturgies of celebrating a new house, weddings, longevity parties, Long Tong Festival, etc; as well as religious rites of praying for health, harvest, funerals, etc.
An indispensible instrument of “then” singing
An indispensible instrument of “then” singing is “dan tinh”, so-called “tinh tau” in Vietnamese (gourd lute). “Tinh tau” originated from the language of Tay ethnic minority. In that language, “tinh” means “stringed musical instrument” and “tau” means “gourd”. “Tinh tau” has the body made from “gourd” and a long fret board. The strings are made of silk, nylon or fishing wire. There are two type of “tinh tau”: 2-string “tinh tau” and 3-string one. Two-string “tinh tau” is usually used as accompaniment instrument for dance and singing; three-string one is for religious rites mentioned above.
Since June 2012, “then” singing has been on process of nomination to be a UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.