Vietnamese guitarist Tran Tuan An was named most outstanding student at the Lincoln Academy of Illinois in November.
An first earned recognition for his exceptional musicianship at the age of 12, when he won first prize in the Viet Nam National Guitar Competition. He was also Vietnamese Best Overseas Student in 2010.
The North Park University graduate will perform a one-night show at the French Cultural Centre (L’Espace), Ha Noi, on January 11.He talked to Nguyen Khanh Chi about his passion for guitar.
Inner Sanctum: How do you feel about performing for Vietnamese audience for the first time?
The performance will be my first official concert for an audience in Viet Nam, which will include my parents and relatives. I’m so excited to perform a variety of international contemporary and classical compositions and an arrangement of Vietnamese traditional folk music.
Half of the proceeds from the performance will go to the organiser [L'Espace] and I will donate my half to charity.
The main reason I’m returning is to perform for charity at the invitation of the Viet Nam Red Cross. I’ve been to the Huu Nghi (Friendship) Village [for orphans and young victims of Agent Orange in Hoai Duc District, Ha Noi].
I became familiar with this type of activities in the US. Each year, I am invited to play at charity guitar concerts. I don’t get paid and the proceeds go towards buying necessaries for needy people.
Before I left for Viet Nam, I wrote to D’addario, a world-renowned manufacturer of musical instrument strings, explaining my purpose and asking if they had any freebies to give to Vietnamese students. They gave me 20 sets of guitar strings, which I presented to the Viet Nam National Academy of Music, and 30 T-shirts, which I donated to poor children in the northern province of Thai Nguyen.
The gifts are modest, but it’s the first step towards fulfilling my goals.
Inner Sanctum: What do you usually play for American audiences?
I often play modern international guitar pieces, which are easiest for the audience to get into. I also play Vietnamese music. It’s amazing to see the American preference for the Vietnamese genre over theirs.
Many times, the audience, both young and old, even burst into tears after I completed my performance of Beo Dat May Troi [Water-ferns Drift, Clouds Float] by composer Dang Ngoc Long. They feel that I play it with all my heart and understand what the piece means to me. Usually, upon their request, I briefly tell the audience how it connects to me.
Inner Sanctum: Is Beo Dat May Troi your biggest hit?
I love to play Beo Dat May Troi the most. It’s close to me not because I have played it for ages but because it is the first-ever piece of music that I felt in this world.
My father used to lull me to sleep with this song. So I’m always moved when seeing people down there in front of me cry. As a result, I feel extremely inspirational and passionate to play and play.
Again, when I played the piece at the Friendship Village, the audience out there all sang along with me. Such a response really touched me and encouraged me to take part in more charitable activities in Viet Nam.
Through all these performances, I clearly understand the true meaning of music, how music brings happiness to human beings and brings them closer to one another. And I understand that I have the ability to do something to help people in need.
Inner Sanctum: When did you start playing guitar?
I’ve been habituated to music since I was a little child. My parents love music so much that they equipped our home with high-quality loudspeakers. We listened to music all the time. We joked that we ate and slept with music. I got familiar with Bach, Beethoven and Trinh Cong Son, among other great names, as well as guitar and piano.
At first, my father sent me to a piano class, but I wasn’t interested. Then one day I listened to my cousin’s guitar and promptly knew this would be my true love. We had a guitar at home so I started playing. It was easy and I was crazy about it; I wanted to play and play. I understand such first steps are something called a “gift”. However, a gift is nothing if you put no effort into it.
Inner Sanctum: Did you ever think you no longer wanted to play guitar?
When I arrived in the US seven years ago, there was no guitar faculty at the school where I studied. So I studied general music for the first three years. I did not do well. I wanted to quit and study business instead.
That summer vacation, I visited some acquaintances of my family in Chicago. They knew I loved to play guitar so they took me to see Prof Anne Waller, a guitar instructor at Northwestern University. After I performed some pieces, she offered to instruct me one hour a week for free. During that whole summer, both Waller and her husband [Mark Maxell, co-ordinator of guitar studies at DePaul University] taught me. I was speechless at her offer. She was my first American guitar instructor, to whom I am very grateful. She is the person who brought me back to guitar.
Inner Sanctum: What’s your dream job?
Upon my graduation from the North Park University’s School of Music, I applied to seven universities to pursue higher education in guitar. In March, I will perform in front of each school’s enrolment examiners to demonstrate my ability. I will try my best to be accepted.
I want to become a guitar professor at a university. I’ll also perform guitar, but only for charity. — VNS