The country of Vietnam has an incredibly rich and diverse culture that is deeply rooted in its long-standing history. The heart of its peoples can be seen through all facets of society such as rituals, religion, cultural mores, cuisine, art and dance, but especially through their music. Music plays a vital role in almost all the different parts of Vietnamese life. It can be found everywhere throughout history, from highly trained professionals in aristocratic courts to farmers in rice paddies to mega pop stars on television. Vietnam has had a long and rough history but throughout all the country’s changes, music and song remain intertwined in daily life. Growing up as an American of partial Vietnamese descent, I have had an “inside view” of how other Americans perceive Vietnam. I have noticed throughout my life that most Americans don’t know much about the country except for the Vietnam War (and the occasional bowl of phở). In this thesis, I aim to expand an American’s view of Vietnam beyond the lens of the Vietnam War. During my preliminary research, I realized – perhaps unsurprisingly – that it was difficult to find information about Vietnam from American sources that were not centered around the war. American involvement in the Vietnam War was an enormous controversy at the time of the conflict and still is today. Thousands of American lives were sacrificed for an effort that a majority still see as a pointless political game (for many reasons but mainly because of the conclusive Communist win in 1975). The immense damage the war caused for both America and Vietnam cannot be ignored, but it has been over four decades since the war ended and over two since the United States and Vietnamese governments officially normalized diplomatic relationships. Still, the first thing that comes to the mind of an average American citizen at the mention of Vietnam is the war. It is well over time for this mindset to change, and I believe that exposure to Vietnamese music is the best way to achieve this goal. iii Music is at the heart of Vietnamese culture and can be used as a link to even the farthest detached societies. Every human culture in the world has its own music, making music a universal and fundamental feature of the average human experience. To introduce Vietnamese music to an American audience, I will first write a brief history of Vietnam. Music is a wholly human experience, and to even try to understand a foreign music, one must have some knowledge of its culture’s background. Sometimes when approaching a completely foreign subject, it is best explained and understood through comparison. Since Vietnamese music sounds almost entirely different than Western music, I will use this strategy to explain some fundamentals about the structure, harmony, and more tangible aspects of Vietnamese music. This understanding will open a Western ear to the distant beauty of Vietnamese music. After these background chapters, I will provide a taste of Vietnamese music through three songs chosen from varying settings, styles, and time periods throughout history. Through these explanations and the supplemental recital, I will provide a sampling of the beautiful music created by the Vietnamese people. It is my hope that this music will open the ears and hearts of my audience to change how they view Vietnam.


music, Vietnam, traditional music, Vietnamese music

Document Type


Year of Completion



Vocal Performance


Stephanie Watt

Academic Department

Department of Music