Phong Nguyen: An Extraordinary Opportunity for UCLA Students Spring Quarter, 2002

Written by Sunny Harker

In Spring quarter 2002, the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology was pleased to have Phong Nguyen return as a visiting professor. Sponsored by the UCLA Center for Southern Asia, Professor Nguyen was grateful for the opportunity to return to UCLA. During his yearlong stay in 1991, he successfully taught Music of Asia, Music of Southeast Asia, Music of Vietnam, Notation and Transcription, Organology, and the Vietnamese Ensemble. Professor Nguyen has also taught at the University of Washington and Kent State since planting roots in the United States in the early 1980s. His extensive education began with family and village training as a boy and continued through to a doctoral degree from Sorbonne in Paris. Professor Nguyen is driven to share his eclectic cultural experience and his admiration of Vietnamese musical culture with any and all willing pupils.

Professor Nguyen's passion combined with his students thirst for learning made Spring quarter a unique and stimulating experience. He directed a Vietnamese Ensemble and taught a course on the Music of Vietnam. His students in the ensemble chose to learn the two best-known instruments, the dan tranh zither and the dan bau monochord. There was also one student who learned singing style and songs. Nguyen chose to teach a repertoire that included folk and traditional songs. The folk tunes originated in Northern and Southern Vietnam and centered around love themes. They were short, yet rich with flavorsome melodies. Nguyen’s pedagogy was a blend of written notation and detailed oral dynamic conducting.

The Music of Vietnam course taught by Professor Nguyen was a musically comprehensive class that looked at historical background, folksongs, chamber music, theater, sacred music, modern changes in music, and even fieldwork methods. He included in his lectures audio-visual examples that reflected the current tradition of music performed in Vietnam today. Because of his intimate and continuous connection with Vietnamese culture, Nguyen was an extremely valuable asset to the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology. He brought not only historical, contemporary and evolving knowledge of Vietnamese culture, but also a desire to link American and Vietnamese traditions in order to enrich them both.