An Interview between --

Vietnam Performing Arts Radio
and ComposerPham Duy

January 7, 1997 (Originally in Aulacese)  

Host (H): Thuy Trinh and Khanh Hoang would like to welcome you.

Pham Duy (PD): Good morning.

H: Recently, Khanh Hoang, many listeners, as well as I, have seen you in meetings with poet Supreme Master Ching Hai. I heard that you have recently used Supreme Master Ching Hai's poems in your music. Please explain if your composing style is leaning toward a transition into spirituality. Is this true?

PD: Spiritual music, to be exact. You must understand that I started writing pop songs, songs for the country of Vietnam in the midst of its struggle for freedom and independence. Thereafter, I switched to writing love songs; and of course, at an older age, I turned to writing spiritual songs. They are no longer songs that deal with society or romantic love, but rather the humanity inside us. Thus, it is called spiritual music; and on the path of searching for the right poems for the songs that you've just mentioned, I met poet Supreme Master Ching Hai.

H: Was it a coincidence then?

PD: No, it was not a coincidence at all. I have researched and wanted to find people who are on the same spiritual path as I am, people who have poems, paintings or music that could be a perfect match.

H: Is poet Supreme Master Ching Hai the first one whose poems you've put to music?

PD: She is not the first one. If we talk about spiritual poetry, it has been around since the 11th century, over such a long period of time. Even in the 21st century, or 20th to be exact, there have been many poets who wrote spiritual poems. However, since we've always lived in such a state... Vietnam has always lived through turbulence. Therefore, no one ever had the time to catch a glimpse of these poems which I think are true poems, for instance, the poem “Grotto of the Yellow Flowers” by Pham Thien Thu, or the ten poems which I've composed into ten spiritual songs. Even today, the people back in our country – the composers, writers, and poets – who are now tired of war, also turned to spiritual music. I want to refer to the Communist party members who also have written spiritual poems, Tram Manh Hao, for example. Or a poet from the South, Nguyen Duc Son, whose pen name is Sao Tren Rung (Star in the Forest), he also writes many good spiritual poems. Then many such poems have also been written abroad. In recent days particularly, I have followed the activities of an organization with many members, Supreme Master Ching Hai's. She has a lot of paintings that I like very much. I have seen the inner beauty in Her paintings. And of course, I have read the collection of Her poems, and it seems that these poems have also been released in the forms of CDs and cassettes.

H: So what were your impressions when you used Supreme Master Ching Hai's poems to compose spiritual music?

PD: I would like to also point out that I am not the only one who uses Supreme Master Ching Hai's poems for their music. My colleagues, Mr. Nhat Ngan, Mr. Phuong Vu, also use Her poems to compose music.

H: From reading the newspaper, I know that there is also composer Thu Ho.

PD: Yes, not to mention Le Dinh. I myself have composed two songs.

H: What are the names of these two songs?

PD: One is titled "A Lonesome Night” which I apologize for changing the name to "Lonesome." The second song is "Existence and Nothingness." Perhaps you can introduce "A Lonesome Night" to the listeners. This song will be sung by my son, Duy Quang. The music was written by me. There are two songs; it could be either “Existence and Nothingness” or “A Lonesome Night.” Let's listen to one of them.

H: We would like to invite you to listen to a spiritual song composed by Pham Duy, lyrics from a poem by Supreme Master Ching Hai...

Lonely like I’ve never been so lonely...
Sad like I’ve never been so sad...
Like a bird looking for a cozy nest,
Lost in the midst of a vast firmament!

My love, please come by and visit.
Hands extending, longer than the night,
Light my soul with your mysterious eyes
So life won’t be a gloomy passage.

Oh beloved, sing for me lullabies of tender dreaminess,
Timeless songs of precious and innocent years.
Journey to the realm of legends together.
Let sadness ripen and fall into a river of rain.

Tonight only the muse and I remain;
Tomorrow is far away, the night still lingers.
I lie here, hiding my soul behind my flowing hair,
And listen as life’s burdens fall upon my lonely shoulders.

H: You have just listened to the song "A Lonesome Night," one of Supreme Master Ching Hai's poems composed into music by Pham Duy. Now we would like to come back to Mr. Pham Duy. Please let our listeners know if you are inclined to compose spiritual songs from now on.

PD: Yes, I think an old man like me should not write love songs anymore. Secondly, as for pop music, I feel that I am fairly incompetent in dealing with the situations nowadays. Politically speaking, I would not dare to write songs with a political nature anymore. It should be left to the youth, today’s heroes.

H: So, is spiritual music reserved only for the elderly or religious people?

PD: No, I feel that it is not just for the elderly. Even the younger generations are able to see the inner spiritual beauty. In my time, for example, the younger generation was dragged along by the current of life. If they didn't participate in the French resistance movement, they would not have any ideals. Today's youths are living in a time of peace. In such a materialistic society, there are many young people who also want to find something more beautiful than just the society of "dollars." I think it is not just for the elderly. When I said elderly, I was only referring to myself.

H: Oh, no! What I meant was I enjoyed listening to the song very much, but it was difficult to understand. And then the second song which you referred to as "Existence and Nothingness," truly, I did not understand what is meant by “Existence and nothingness." I don't know if you have time to elaborate on this song?

PD: It would be redundant if I elaborate on its meaning. Just listening to the lyrics we will understand. But I would like to talk more about Supreme Master Ching Hai's poems, which I've used to set to music. As a result I'm able to see clearly that, for example, the poem only talks of life in front of our eyes. But the poet looks at it in a very spiritual way – that if we step one step forward, or only one small step backward, then our life would be changed. Now, let's listen to that song. Then I will explain it later, only the musical aspect, not the spiritual one. That I would not dare at all!

H: Yes, before listening to the second song, may I ask you one more question about your opinion of spiritual poetry abroad as opposed to those in the years prior to 1975?

PD: It can be said that spiritual poetry has not changed. The spiritual songs that have been written since the 9th, 10th, 19th or 20th centuries are the same, whether spiritual poems in those times were sung by the people or only recited by them. For example, in the poem "Existence and Nothingness" by poet Supreme Master Ching Hai, I could see the philosophies of the poets from the 5th to the 7th century. Therefore, if after listening to the song "Existence and Nothingness," which you will be doing shortly, and you are not moved, then it means that I have succeeded. Listening to music, especially Aulacese music, one often feels sad or frustrated. Therefore, we then have to "vow to quarter the body and drink the blood of the enemy, " or we have to love each other, to love intimately. But by listening to spiritual songs that have been composed from the poems of spiritual nature, you will not be drawn into the emotional tie. It will take us completely into a state of existence-nothingness, nothingness-existence. That's it! Explaining Zen should be like that.

H: Existence means nothingness; nothingness means existence.

PD: Something like that. Therefore, it can't be explained by logic; nor can its songs be listened to by worldly people. Now, please listen to the following song "Existence and Nothingness."

H: While we wait, I would like to ask another question. According to you, what is the trend of music being created by the people living abroad?

PD: In my opinion, I am sure that it is not “in the country” or “out of the country;” modern music has had over fifty years to take shape and to evolve already. For other composers, potentially there have always been three trends, which I've already mentioned. As for the others who compose or not compose spiritual music, I don't know much because I do not have to research about them. If I do, it's just for myself; I don’t have any information about other musical works.

H: Following is the song titled "Existence and Nothingness." We would like to invite our audience to listen to it – lyrics by Supreme Master Ching Hai, musical composition by Pham Duy.

One step forward is to arrive at the Origin,
One inch back is to return to the suffering world!
Year after year, it’s just the same
Not much difference between this mundane Earth and home of the Saints...

I always thought Nirvana is so and so,
Had no idea I was wrong all along!
At the moment of enlightenment, where are the four elements?
Alas, the cosmos is but a very long dream!

Now I understand the Buddha’s silence for forty years
Bodhidharma also spoke not a word.
In the future, where do I turn for liberation?
Where are the sentient beings to be saved from reincarnation?

H: You've just listened to the voice of Duy Quang in the song " Existence and Nothingness" with lyrics from Supreme Master Ching Hai's poem, composed into music by Pham Duy. We'd like to come back to Pham Duy. Please let us know if the two songs you've just allowed us to listen to, which were "Existence and Nothingness" and "A Lonesome Night" have already been released in CDs or cassettes?

PD: These two songs have already been recorded along with the songs of other composers who also used Supreme Master Ching Hai's poems as lyrics for their songs. I am sure that in about one month, those ten spiritual songs will be released.

H: Therefore, in the future the trend of Pham Duy is to transform spiritual poems into music. Hence, we will have a chance to continue listening to poems and spiritual songs in the form of musical creation by Pham Duy. Thank you for coming here and sharing with us the poetic creations of poet Supreme Master Ching Hai as well as the musical creations of Pham Duy. On behalf of the radio station, we'd like to first wish you abundant wealth, a happy and healthy life with your children and grandchildren, and your continuation in creating beautiful music that will always be treasured in the artistic circle.

PD: Yes, thank you, Thuy Trinh. Thank you, the station, and thank you, all listeners.

Note: Composer Phuong Vu, who used eleven poems of Supreme Master Ching Hai to compose his music, was also interviewed by Vietnam Performing Arts.