The bombs fell like dark rain on Hanoi. It was July of 1965, and it was time to flee the city for the shelter of the mountains. Under cover of night, with the moonlight as their beacon, Thai Thi Lien (Madame Lien) and the faculty of the Vietnam National Academy of Music (VNAM) led 400 students and 60 pianos to safety, away from the city.
The pianos were transported to a village 43 miles away from the city by truck, then by water buffalos, and finally hand-carried by the musicians at night to the safety of bunkers, hand-dug by the students. The conservatory was evacuated twice during the bombing of Hanoi.
Madame Lien had co-founded Vietnam’s premier music conservatory in 1956. It is now known as the Vietnam National Academy of Music (VNAM.) To this day, VNAM is the most prestigious music institution in all of Southeast Asia.
Madame Lien, the faculty and their students pursued a passionate study of classical music amidst daily threats of death and destruction. Despite shortages of everything from food to sheet music, forced to study near tunnels to escape the bombing, they survived. Under her leadership and the indomitable desire to create and excel, they thrived.
Madame Lien’s family was scattered; her husband, a dissident poet, was away in his hometown, her oldest son at school in another province, her daughter studying piano in China. She and her youngest child, Dang Thai Son, were left all alone with the music. Son busied himself copying precious and scarce piano music during the evacuations. They had no electricity, no running water and the constant hunger that accompanied the meager food rations.
The music lifted Son, his soul, and his emotions. In 1980, Son would elevate the spirit of his countrymen far above the suffering of war, to soar on each note he played. In a triumph of genius, will and the imagination, 22-year-old Dang Thai Son won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Poland, a few short years after literally practicing under ground. He was the first Asian pianist to win the competition, even though it marked his first public performances and his debut with a symphony.
When the Vietnamese national anthem was played for Dang Thai Son, the unknown sensation shocked the world – a musical genius emerging from the rubble of a war-torn country. Based in Montreal, Son continues a vibrant international performance and master-class teaching career. He is an acclaimed interpreter of Chopin and is extremely popular in Japan, Europe and, of course, Vietnam, despite being unable to perform in the United States for over a decade following the war.
For more about Dang Thai Son: www.dangthaison.net
Links to news articles:
|Fox News, February 2011:http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/02/27/vietnam-matriarch-2-spread-piano-culture/
LA Times: Dec 26, 2010