Singing a different tune
The musical landscape has been turned upside down when the public this week learned that numerous popular songs have not been approved, meaning performing such musical pieces is illegal. The whole story, in fact, began last month when several songs were banned due to what officials described as unsuitable contents and copyright issues, but it reached a feverish pitch when Hue Medical University was told that four songs by late composer Trinh Cong Son the school planned for an internal show this month had not been legalized.
Of the four songs, Noi vong tay lon, which has been translated for the international audience as Great circle of Vietnam, was composed over four decades ago, and ever since, the popular song has become a favorite musical work in many community gatherings.
The Department of Performing Arts under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in a press conference this week, explained that under prevailing regulations, all songs are deemed legal for performances only if such works have been appraised and approved by itself. Such an assertion quickly draws criticisms in local media.
It should be noted that Noi vong tay lon was formally approved this Wednesday, after the medical school had completed all required procedures. Such a move, however, still does not douse the public anger vented at the Department of Performing Arts, as the case reveals that the whole process of appraising and approving songs takes the wrongful approach.
Noi vong tay lon has gained widespread popularity and has been performed in thousands of musical shows countrywide, so the public is stunned by the announcement of the Department of Performing Arts.
The department explains that pursuant to a decree of the Government, all songs composed by artists in southern Vietnam prior to 1975, as well as those by musicians living overseas, are only legalized for performances if such works are approved. And to be approved, those individuals or organizations have to submit applications enclosed with the songs to the department for consideration.
In fact, hundreds, if not thousands, of popular songs are being sung, but performers cannot know for sure if such works have been approved or not. Thanh Nien newspaper points out that numerous popular musical works that have become official songs of socio-political organizations have not been approved. For instance, Len Dang composed by Luu Huu Phuoc and Tu Nguyen by Truong Quoc Khanh have not been approved. Len Dang has been made the official song of the Union of Vietnamese Youth, as stated in the statute of this organization, says the paper.
Meanwhile, Noi vong tay lon has been included in a textbook approved by the national education council, so the standpoint of the Department of Performing Arts obviously goes against the view of other Government agencies, according to Thanh Nien.
At the aforesaid press conference, reporters challenged the Department of Performing Arts whether a recent art program held by the HCMC Department of Culture and Sports at Nguyen Van Binh Book Street was illegal because the song Noi vong tay lon was chosen for performance there, according to Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper. Nguyen Dang Chuong, head of the Department of Performing Arts, answered that no one had ever applied for performing this song, and therefore, as per the law, it was not legal to do so.
In an editorial, Tuoi Tre says that valuable musical works always live long in the heart of the people, and whether legalized or not, such works will last for ever. “Why is it necessary to seek permission for valuable things to exist?” ponders the paper, adding the approach should be to ban bad things.
Many experts and officials pinpoint the wrong approach taken by the Department of Performing Arts, saying the department should bring out a list of songs that are banned, rather than approving songs on a case-by-case basis upon application.
Nguyen Viet Chuc, former vice chair of the National Assembly’s Commission of Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents and Children, criticizes the Department of Performing Arts for its clumsy management. “State officials should understand that management is meant to promote development, not to create difficulties for citizens and organizations,” Chuc is quoted as saying in Lao Dong.
Vuong Duy Bien, Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, shows his astonishment when learning that “revolutionary” songs like Len Dang and Tu Nguyen are not included in the list of songs approved by the Department of Performing Arts. “Such songs must be popularized, this way or another,” he says in Thanh Nien.
Nguyen Quang Long, a music critic, says the State censorship in this childish manner is by no means suitable, according to Tuoi Tre.
Duong Trung Quoc, a deputy of the National Assembly, says in Tuoi Tre that the standpoint by the Department of Performing Arts shows that the mindset of the ask-and-give mechanism has been deep-rooted among State agencies.
“We have many agencies in charge of music management and research, so the question is why such agencies do not work together to give a list of songs that are banned, and those songs not in the list can be performed,” Quoc is quoted in Tuoi Tre.
Faced with such criticisms, Dao Van Hoan, deputy director of the Department of Performing Arts, answers in Thanh Nien that his department cannot make a list of banned songs. “How could we know of all songs to make such a list? Therefore, we only can appraise and legalize songs upon application,” he asserts.
It is ironical that a song like Noi vong tay lon, which has become quite popular over the past 40 years from north to south and has aired in national radio and television stations, now suddenly was claimed as not legalized. It is also funny that a vast number of people have sung this song for years, without knowing that such singing is illegal in the absence of an application, says Tuoi Tre.
The key principle in State management is that the people can do whatever is not banned by law. However, the Department of Performing Arts is still defiant in this case, which indicates that officials there are singing a different, weird tune.