Nguyen Dinh Nghia Family

Music from Vietnam
Fairfax, Virginia

Photo by: Pat Jarrett

Photo by: Pat Jarrett

The late Nguyễn Đình Nghĩa, celebrated Vietnamese flautist and master of the T’rung (bamboo xylophone), rose to prominence in his native Saigon in the 1960s. During his illustrious career, Mr. Nguyễn was often compared to the legendary French flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal. Along with his family band, he performed widely across Europe and Southeast Asia before the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975. While waiting to emigrate from Vietnam, he spent nine years living with several ethnic tribes (Bahnar and Radé) of the Central Highlands in Vietnam, learning their music and acquiring their traditional instruments. In 1984, he and his family immigrated to Northern Virginia, where they performed at universities, performing arts centers, and festivals, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center.

Following Nguyễn Đình Nghĩa’s untimely death in 2005, the family group has been under the direction of his daughter Nam Phuong Nguyen, master of the đàn bầu, a monochord (one-stringed) instrument with a central role in Vietnamese folk music. Popular legend claims the đàn bầu was first played by a blind woman in a market as she tried to earn money while her husband was at war. Translated to mean “gourd lute,” the đàn bầu is traditionally composed of a bamboo tube, a wooden rod, a coconut half shell, and a silk string. By plucking the string and manipulating it through the end rod, the đàn bầu can create microtones capable of imitating the six tones and variations of the Vietnamese language, something almost impossible to achieve with other instruments.

Nam Phuong Nguyen fell in love with the sound of the đàn bầu because of the way it mirrors a human voice. She began to play the đàn bầu at age seventeen, having previously mastered the sixteen-string zither, and later the bamboo flute and T’rung bamboo xylophone while studying at Vietnam’s National Conservatory of Music.  

Under Nam’s leadership, The Nguyễn Đình Nghĩa Family continues to perform throughout the United States. Nam is joined by her sister Doan Trang, specializing in the tam thập lục, a thirty-six string hammered dulcimer and bamboo flute, and her brothers Dinh Chien on guitar and Dinh Hoa on percussion.