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EVENTS, WORKSHOPS & EXPERIENCES

“Mode” and Meaning in Southern Vietnamese Traditional Music

Saturday, April 13th, 2024 – 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Students of Vietnamese traditional music spend years grappling with the concepts of điệu and điệu thức, which scholars translate as “mode” and “systèmes modaux.” These translations are, however, inaccurate. Điệu refers to how pitches, hierarchical pitch relationships, ornamentation, and subtle tuning adjustments uniquely align in a specific piece of music. These characteristics offer a “model” of creative practice, which is a term used in Vietnamese literature to describe điệu. In this presentation, I investigate this literature on điệu and draw on many years of performing đờn ca tài tử, a genre of southern Vietnamese traditional music known as “music for diversion” or the “music of talented amateurs.” I encourage reflection on the ways scholars translate terminology and replicate false understandings through these translations. I instead make the case for circulating điệu without translation and offer ways to describe the concept as incredibly dynamic for Vietnamese and Vietnamese diasporic music practice.

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