Gong ensemble's performance is the most popular folk-music form of the ethnic groups living in Highland - Central Vietnam. Being ritual instruments in every ethnic ceremony, the Ensemble's performance is considered as the sacred language used by the human community to make contact and dialogue with deities and supernatural forces. Its music is evaluated as a highly developed multiphonic form.
The tradition is popular in the culture of all ethnic groups living in Highland and Truong Son mountainous area. Here, each hamlet or village has its own gong ensemble.
Gong ensemble's performance is a kind of folk performing art which may have originated from the Ancient Bronze Culture that was in South-Eastern Asia, around 3500-4000 years ago.
There are some different ensemble's compositions used respectively depending on the function of certain ceremonies. The Three Gongs Set is the simplest composition, but is considered the most ancient one used only in some most important ceremonies such as The Sacrifice to the Sky and the Earth, Praying to Rice Mother.
The bigger composition consists of six gongs and is popular mainly in culture of the Rhade and M'Nong ethnic groups. The biggest composition consists of 15-21 gongs including a big leather two-headed drum and two pairs of cymbals, and is found in culture of Bahnar and Jo Rai ethnic groups.
Each ethnic group has its own musical repertory consisting at least of some of the following pieces:
- Sacrifice to the sky and to the earth
- Buffalo sacrifice
- Wedding ceremony piece
- Funeral ceremony piece
- Crop season ceremony piece
- Harvest piece
- Closing rice-storage ceremony pieces
Where and when do they perform
The gong ensemble's pieces are performed as a main component of above-mentioned ceremonies realized in a concentrated manner during three free months before the new crop season (November, December, January). In performance, each man plays on one gong, thus, the gong ensemble is always performed by a team of men.
The origin of the gong is unknown. But on the surface of the Dongsonian Bronze Drum, there are many carved figures, some of which describe a man playing gongs.
Gongs and gong ensemble are unseparated and important part of the musical tradition of almost all Vietnamese ethnic groups.
TO Ngoc Thanh
1997 Musical Instruments of Vietnam's Minorities.
Hanoi: The Gioi Publisher.
In archive of the book's author and in archive of Association of Vietnamese Folklorists.
In the content of the video Musical Instruments of Asia and the Pacific 2 produced by ACCU.
Association of Vietnamese Folklorists, E1, Bach Khoa, Hanoi, Vietnam
Dr. To Ngoc Thanh
Association of Vietnamese Folklorists
Address: E1, Bach Khoa, Hanoi, Viet Nam