Composer Hinh Phuoc Long - A true lover of Truong Sa

Tuesday, 2018-12-04 16:42:51
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Composer Hinh Phuoc Long with a photo captured when he was granted the Ho Chi Minh Prize - the State Prize for Literature and Arts, in 2017. (Photo: NDO/Le Duc Quang)
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NDO – Musician Hinh Phuoc Long renowned for a range of distinctive songs on the nation’s outpost of Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago. Dubbed by the media and friends as a “citizen of Truong Sa", the Khanh Hoa native shared with Nhan Dan Monthly about his love towards Truong Sa and music.

Q: When did you start your composing career?

A: Before 1975, I started writing songs for children. At that time, I did not think I would become a professional composer. Then, after the South was completely liberated, I went to work in the Culture and Information Division of Ninh Hoa district, then later the Cam Ranh district’s Culture and Information Division. In 1983, I went to work in the Department of Culture and Information of Phu Khanh province (now divided into Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa provinces) until retirement in 2009.

In the early years of national liberation, there was almost no music competition held at the national level. It was not until 1983 that the Vietnam Musicians’ Association hosted the first contest. At that time, I sent my freshly-composed song “Gap anh tren dao Sinh Ton” (Meeting on Sinh Ton island) to the contest. Unexpectedly, the song was granted second prize (no first prize) at the country’s first music composing contest after the April 30, 1975 Reunification Day.

Many people thought that I had been to Truong Sa and the actual situation on the archipelago had laid a deep impression on me to compose that song, but that was not the case. Before that, in 1982, I wrote a song “Gan lam Truong Sa” (Close to Truong Sa) though I had never set foot there.

Q: Could you recount the emotion as well as the background when you composed the song “Gan lam Truong Sa”?

A: In 1982, I was invited to a song writing camp organised by Phu Khanh province. At the camp, my brother - musician Hinh Phuoc Lien - and I wrote a joint operette, named “Tinh ca dao chim” (The love song on Birdnet Island), depicting the love of keepers on Yen (swallow) Island, home to many swallows which generate swallows’ birdnests, a treasure of the land of Nha Trang - Khanh Hoa today. When I had just finished the operette, I took my bike and pedaled along a coastal road of Tran Phu to relax. While riding, I suddenly saw a girl sitting on a park bench looking out to the sea. Her long dress and hair floated in the wind. Stopping at the side of the road, looking from behind the girl, suddenly a romantic idea came to me. "If the girl is in love with a soldier who is stationed in Truong Sa archipelago, would she hear his love interfering in the waves, coming from Truong Sa to the Nha Trang coast?” I wondered for a while, and then I answered to myself: "Yes! She would!”

Suddenly, I remembered the words in my mother's lullaby from childhood: “Khi xa sat vach cung xa/Khi gan muon dam duong xa cung gan” (When the hearts are far from each other, even in the closest distance, it is still far away/When the hearts are close together, even hundreds of miles away is still near). And suddenly I sang a sentence: "Khong xa dau Truong Sa oi! Khong xa dau Truong Sa oi! Van gan ben em vi Truong Sa luon ben anh. Van gan ben anh vi Truong Sa luon ben em...” (Not far away, Truong Sa! Not far away, Truong Sa! I am still close to you because Truong Sa is always with me. You are still close to me because Truong Sa is always with you). I hurriedly pulled out a sheet of paper and a pen to record the lyrics and then rushed to the camp. That afternoon, my brother and I returned to my hometown in Ninh Hoa to visit my mother. We arrived home after 4pm. I lifted my chair to the front yard to finish the song. In just under an hour, the song “Gan lam Truong Sa” was finished, without changing any notes or lyrics. My brother - musician Hinh Phuoc Lien - took a look on it and said: “Your song will be a great success in the province's song writing camp this year.”

Indeed, the prediction came true. In the reporting session on the results of the camp, my song was one of the most noticeable in the event. The song was selected as the main performance in the Hai Dang Music and Dance troupe’s programme. The following year, the Department of Culture and Information of Phu Khanh province produced the first cassette titled “Nha Trang bien hen” (A rendezvous with Nha Trang beach), which consisted of 12 songs, including mine, performed by vocalist Anh Dao. The song spread so far that the audience across the nation know it to this day.

Q: How does your work in the field of culture influence you in musical composition?

A: I think, if I didn’t work in the field of culture, I would not have become a professional music composer as today. The field of culture - information has many different majors, but fortunately I only specialise in the field of arts. Therefore, I have to go to the local units to direct the local composition movements and stage programmes at the grassroots level. Seeing the lacking of songs in such programmes, I have to make a supplement by writing more songs. Then I unknowingly became a musician. Composing music comes to me from the unconscious, and it still accompanies me until now.

Q: Besides composing music, you also do music research and write poems which have been published in multiple publications under the pen name of Ngo Huu Ly. Is 24 hours a day enough for you?

A: I participate in multiple genres in the field of literary and artistic creation. I do not just compose music and write music studies but also embrace folk arts. In literature, sometimes I write short stories, poetry and reports. In the professional stage genre, I am the author of the adaptation of dozens of theatre plays based on bai choi singing (a popular folklore style of singing in the central and south central regions of Vietnam). Many of my plays have been adapted to performances by the Khanh Hoa Bai Choi Folk Music troupe, which have won multiple gold and silver medals in professional festivals nationwide.

For me, composition is as natural as the way we breathe, eat when hungry or drink when thirsty. I do not have a clear schedule. When I feel that it is necessary to compose songs, then I come to my notation. When I want to write poetry or reports, I read books. For the stage scripts, I will follow new orders. Each transformed play takes me roughly a week to finish. When writing music, I sign my real name - Hinh Phuoc Long. For other genres, I use the pen name - Ngo Huu Ly.

Q: It is said that each artist has a particular direction and typical characteristic on the path of creation. Your works, which won the State Prize for Literature and Arts, mostly focus on the theme of the islands and the sea. Does the profound love towards the nation’s sea and islands help you create your own distinct style?

A: In 2017, I was awarded the State Prize for Literature and Arts from the President for a collection of five songs, including three songs on Truong Sa. I was born and raised in Khanh Hoa, a land in the South Central Coast which is associated with the sea. My life since childhood has always been close to the sea and islands. Therefore, my music always bears the breath of the sea, the islands and my hometown. I am called a "citizen of Truong Sa" because of that.

I am just a junior in music composing, so I am very satisfied with a few small works to contribute to life and for the country’s development.

Composer Hinh Phuoc Long was born on September 7, 1950, native to Ninh Hoa, Khanh Hoa province. He is a member of Vietnam Musicians’ Association.

There is an interesting habit in the short-physique, round-faced man with sunburnt skin of a person who kept his life close to the coast. He always brings along a pen and paper sheets. Where ever he goes or drives on the road, he immediately stops to take note whenever an interesting idea or feeling suddenly comes, then he will write it again when he arrives home.

During his composing career, he has earned over 40 awards, from local to national levels. His five-song collection featuring songs on Truong Sa, his hometown Khanh Hoa and the Central Highlands was awarded the State Prize for Literature and Arts in 2017.

In 2012, musician Hinh Phuoc Long was honoured with the third-class Labour Order by the President for his outstanding achievements in artistic creation, contributing to the cause of national construction and defence.