The clarinet is an integral part in the cultural and religious life of the Dao Khau in Lai Chau. It’s played only at wedding ceremonies and maturity rituals for men, never at funerals. The sound of the clarinet stands out in the orchestra but still harmonizes with the drum, gong, and cymbals.
At a wedding, the clarinet’s most impressive melody expresses gratitude to the bride’s parents. It plays slow and sad as the parents say farewell to their daughter and urged the newly-wed couple to love and protect each other.
“Playing the clarinet requires the performer to practice a lot,” says Tan A Senh, a famous clarinet player in Sin Ho district. “The key is to trill as if singing a folksong and not be in a hurry to press the keys. There are some techniques for playing pleasant far-echoing sounds.”
To make a clarinet with a clear sound, the artisan has to choose a good piece of ironwood for the cylinder, which is 30 to 40cm long and has 7 holes. The mouthpiece and the bell are made of pure bronze.
According to Cheo A Si, a Dao Khau man in Sin Ho district, it takes a long time to build a clarinet.
“The most important part is the reed, which is made from the cocoon of a worm from a guava tree,” Cheo A si shares. “When we find them, we preserve them for many years. The bell is made of pure bronze to produce a far-echoing sound. When a family has a wedding, they invite a clarinet player to cheer up the event.”
To begin any event, the player must play a compulsory opening part before any other melodies. Learning to play the clarinet is difficult.
Cheo A Xoang in Sin Ho district says, “I’ve been in love with the clarinet since I was little. Whenever I went to a wedding, I asked the clarinet players to teach me. I’ve learned several melodies. The most difficult technique is to blow out while breathing in. There are few clarinet players and I’m determined to learn it well to preserve our tradition.”
The Dao Khau treasure the clarinet as a valuable asset of the community that contributes to a peaceful, happy, and prosperous life.