Singing Sentiment. 43 min. Color. DVD. Berkeley Media LLC, 2014.

Director: Lauren Meeker (SUNY New Paltz)

This film documents the life and activities of elderly quan ho folk song singer, Nguyen Thi Ban, in Diem Village, Bac Ninh Province, Vietnam. As Ba Ban (grandmother Ban) tells her life story, it becomes clear how closely her life story is intertwined with her love of the music, indicating the intimate connection between quan ho folksong and the rhythms of village life.

The even, slow tempo of the village quan ho singing, narrow pitch range, and controlled body language of the singers belies the intensity of emotions generated through singing partnerships that are cultivated over long periods of time. Adherence to the rules of exchange in the genre, proper spoken language exchanged among singers and correct bodily comportment are for these singers, expressions of morality and of sentiment (feeling, emotion). Sentiment, proper feeling is not demonstrated openly through words of affection but rather through song and behavior. The strong sentiments created through singing come out strongly in Ba Ban’s explanations of her participation in quan ho activities, how she learned to sing, and how she balanced her love of the music with her work and family.

In recent decades, quan ho has become ever more visible to national and international audiences. In 2009, quan ho was accepted to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which has resulted in redoubled attention to the genre and, in particular, to its elderly singers in the villages of Bac Ninh Province. The portrait of quan ho presented in this film is meant to challenge the pervasive media and film representations of quan ho singers as objects of heritage in which their craft is presented as static and divorced from the daily lives of the singers. Here, in her own words, Ba Ban demonstrates that village quan ho is inseparable from the socio-cultural context of village life in Northern Vietnam.