Star musician rings in Vietnamese new year

Van-Anh 'Vanessa' Vo plays a bamboo xylophone at the Downtown Campus. VINCENT PALMER/THE GUARDSMAN

By Lance Kramer
The Guardsman

Award winning musician Van-Anh ‘Vanessa’ Vo came to the Downtown campus Feb. 16 to bring her native Vietnamese music and culture to students in celebration of the Lunar New Year.

The celebration began at 10:30 a.m. in room 821. Librarian Suzanne Lo happily hosted the event to a full room of 80-90 City College students and staff, accompanied by Downtown Campus Dean Dr. David Dore.

“This year, we are very fortunate and very excited to have a Vietnamese musician and teacher, who has won many, many awards and has come to play traditional Vietnamese musical instruments,” said Lo.

The Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration is called Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet for short, and marks the beginning of spring on the lunar calendar. It is a time of year that can be compared to elements of both New Year’s and Christmas in Western culture.

Vo comes from a family of musicians and began playing at the age of four. She plays several different instruments, including the dan tranh (16-string zither), the bamboo xylophone, the monochord, and the k’longput.

“The sound carries me to a very far away land,” said Vo, describing the unique sounds of the traditional Vietnamese instruments. “It’s my honor to share the music.”

Vo played traditional Vietnamese folk music and invited the audience to participate by asking questions and even allowed students to play some of the instruments after her lecture. She took a unique and fun approach of combining her cultural background and its relationship to the music she plays.

“I’ve never had this close up and personal,” said Lo about the event, “which is weird because you’re always in the audience and you’re kind of looking through a little glimpse, and we are able to have this intimate presentation.”

“Vo continually cultivates the beauty and versatility of her beloved instrument, the dan tranh, within the international music genre,” said Dore. “We are very pleased and honored to welcome her.”


Vo plays the Dan Tranh, a sixteen string traditional Vietnamese instrument, for the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. VINCENT PALMER/THE GUARDSMAN

Vo does not exclusively play traditional Vietnamese folk music.

“I do play rock with other musicians, and flamenco and jazz,” said Vo.

She will be coming back to San Francisco to play two concerts at the Yerba Buena Center with the Kronos Quartet on May 11 and 12. In January, Vo and the Kronos Quartet collaborated their efforts for a benefit compilation album.

“We did one song from Bob Dylan, called ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,’ for the Amnesty International, and it was released on Jan. 23 and it was with 18 other most famous artists for a CD compilation,” said Vo. “It was chosen as the best track of the whole compilation.”

Chau Nguyen, a ESL instructor who has been teaching at the Downtown campus for 20 years, was extremely pleased with the event.

“This is the way for us to understand each other’s culture,” said Nguyen. “City College is a great place for us to share and to know each other.”

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