“Quan họ” form earlier days was also a kind of performing art, but more intimate with almost no borders between “performers” and “audiences”. Also, there was nothing call “money” or “revenue” drawn from Quan họ.
“Quan Ho” in the past – Endless plays of fated mates
From the beginning time when it has just been created, “Quan họ” was only regarded as a cultural activity at which people in Bắc Ninh and some other areas nearby gathered, shared their passions, with their fascinating voices. They “played” Quan họ, not “performed” it, with the main purpose to satisfy their demand to meet and make friends with other people who have same hobbies, and exchange their love on traditional art in a large community.
In the past, Quan họ was mostly performed at the occasions like festivals, ceremonies or parties, so both audiences and Quan họ singers only had chances to enjoy this unique art at certain times. Generally, when the time came, “Quan họ” singers appointed their singing friends at the occasion, then sang together until they were both exhausted or the events ended and then came back to their normal life with a memory in their mind to meet their “Quan họ” friends the next years. It can be said that Quan họ at that time was truly a way for people to balance their lives, relax and free their mind on the flow of smooth Quan họ songs.
One of the most unique features of Quan họ in the past that might not be seen in Quan họ today that once becoming Quan họ singers, some couples of them were believed to be born for singing Quan họ with each other ever after. That is the fate of Quan họ singers.
Quan họ today, when professionalism sometime means commercialism
After dozens year of being interrupted by wars and forgotten during the reconstruction of the nation, luckily, Quan họ has been well conserved by Kinh Bắc people, and returned in a completely fresh appearance. It could be a good new to people who love this type of art, but for elderly in Kinh Bắc area who are often nostalgic of the tradition Quan họ, it could not be what they expect Quan họ to become. Quan họ today is not pure like it was before.
It can be said that the modern Quan họ started when Bắc Ninh Folk Group of Quan họ appeared in 1969. That event marked a significant milestone in the development of this traditional art when Quan họ wore a completely new cover to become more professional, but also much more commercial than it had been before. Quan họ at that time almost lost their original purpose to satisfy demand of traditional art to people, and transformed to an artistic products which is “performed” rather than “played” for fun.
Quan họ today is performed everywhere and every time, not only in special occasions like before. Travellers to Bắc Ninh only need to pay small amount of money they can have some Quan họ singers sing for them. People in other regions, maybe other countries can also listen to Quan họ via recorded CD or on the Internet anytime and anywhere they like. It could be the good news, yet it could be bad news either.
In addition, Quan họ singers now are not purely amateur singers who sing with only their passion and emotion, but actors and actress who perform certain songs that are professionally choreographed. They are trained carefully, from gestures, moving to emotion and eye contact to be suitable for staging performances and they sing with anyone, not only their fated mates as in the past. That is the sign of the forever disappearance of fatedly artistic relationship between Quan họ singers.
However, in Bắc Ninh, the homeland of Quan họ, there are also other people, mostly elder singers and some young enthusiastic people who always recall the memory of traditional Quan họ and dream to reproduce the original Quan họ with no commercial term inside. They gather in clubs, exchange their knowledge and Quan họ rhythm, as well as train other younger generation how to perfectly sing Quan Ho songs. But more importantly, they spread the spirit of original Quan họ to their descendants, with the hope to see traditional Quan họ return in foreseeable future.