A Variety Show at Hoi An’s Theatre

On Hoi An’s quay-side there’s a little theatre giving performances of Vietnamese music and dances.  I decided to give it a go and was pleasantly surprised.

Clearly there will be grander performances in Ho Chi Minh City’s Opera House which I will visit tonight but I found the theatre’s show both attractive and endearing.

Here are some snippets from the evening’s performance:

A women’s water-gathering dance:

A dance of dragons and turtles:

A dance of the goddesses (The arm choreography reminded me very much of the Mongolian Ballet I attended when it visited Lucca’s Giglio theatre during Christmas.

A scene from Vietnam’s equivalent of “Il Trovatore”:

A virtuoso performance Paganini-style on the Vietnamese fiddle.

I’m trying to get my head around Vietnamese instruments and have come up with the following list:


  • Đàn bầu – monochord zither
  • Đàn đáy – long-necked three-stringed lute with trapezoidal body
  • Đàn nguyệt (also called nguyệt cầm or đàn kìm) – moon-shaped two-string lute
  • Đàn sến – two-string lute
  • Đàn tam – fretless lute with snakeskin-covered body and three strings
  • Đàn tranh – long zither
  • Đàn tỳ bà – pear-shaped lute with four strings
  • Đàn đoản (also called đàn tứ) – moon-shaped lute with short neck; little used
  • Guitar phím lõm (also called lục huyền cầm or ghi-ta phím lõm) – “Vietnamese” acoustic or electric guitar with scalloped fret board; used primarily in cải lương
  • Đàn tứ dây – bass guitar in the shape of a đàn đáy
  • Cầm – 7-stringed zither equivalent to the Chinese guqin;
  • Sắt – zither with 25 strings equivalent to the Chinese se;
  • Đàn tính – long-necked lute with a gourd body and two or three silk strings; used by the TayNung, and Thai ethnic groups
  • Bro – fretted zither with a body made of bamboo and a gourd resonator; used by minority ethnic groups in the Central Highlands
  • Goong – tube zither with a bamboo body; used by minority ethnic groups in the Central Highlands


  • Đàn gáo – two-stringed vertical violin with coconut resonator
  • Đàn hồ – two-stringed vertical violin with wooden resonator; hồ derives from Chinese hu, as in huqin)
  • Đàn nhị – two-stringed vertical violin
  • K’ni (also spelled k’ny or k’ný) – one-string vertical violin; played by the Jarai people of the Central Highland




  • Sáo (also called sáo trúc) – transverse flute made of bamboo or hardwood


Free reed mouth organs

  • Đing nǎm – free-reed mouth organ with gourd body and bamboo pipes; played by upland minorities
  • M’buot – free-reed mouth organ with gourd body and bamboo pipes; played by upland minorities


  • Púa – valveless brass trumpet]
  • Ốc “snail” – conch trumpet



Tuned percussion

t’rung of the E De people

  • Cồng chiêng – tuned gong (comes in both flat and knobbed varieties)
  • Tam âm la – set of three small, high-pitched flat gongs in a frame; used primarily in nhã nhạc music
  • T’rưng – bamboo xylophone
  • Đàn đá – lithophone, commonly having 9+ stone bars, 65cm-102cm in length. It is believed the instrument dates back to 1000 BC. Also called Goong Lú (M’nong people), Kologolo (M’nong people), Gôông Luk (Mạ people).

Untuned percussion

I hope to get a taste of that lithophone tonight in Ho Chi Minh City!

I recognized the Đàn tam thập lục, the Đàn nhị, Đàn bầu the Guitar phím lõm, the drums  and the Đàn tranh among the instruments used.

It was a real pity that the audience was so small for even a smallish theatre. I do not think that Vietnamese music has to be an acquired taste: it is (for me at least) immediately appealing and its pentatonic scale must be familiar to any one from Scotland – indeed the concluding  item was a Vietnamese version of Auld Lang Syne!


2 thoughts on “A Variety Show at Hoi An’s Theatre

  1. Wow what an endearing little theatre. I loved the turtle and dragon dance and arm dance also the backdrop with its interesting scenery. As in true style of the Vietnamese could see wonderful colours was great to see also Chinese lantern dance. I could see about six musicians I wonder how many musicians make up an orchestra out there! I did not see any sheet music so I suppose that all the music is learnt by rote. Thanks for enlightening us to the musical instruments well there is a great variety I suppose some of these intruments can be heard at the Horniman Museum ,must go see!

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