Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lan Nguyen, a Vietnamese musician who escaped her home country during the Vietnam War, will be one of the featured musicians in a concert that blends eastern and western music called "Come Together." Saturday, June 15, 2013.
West Valley musician uses songs to blend Vietnamese, Western cultures
Folk music » Lan Nguyen and Clive Romney are teaming up for a concert.
First Published Jun 20 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:33 pm

West Valley City’s Vietnamese community has grown deep roots in Utah, but many second-generation immigrants have fading cultural ties to the country their parents called home.

Lan Nguyen, an accomplished musician in West Valley who teaches Vietnam’s folk music to the young people in her community, is an essential link to that rising generation’s oldest traditions.

At a glance

If you go

“Come Together,” a blend of Eastern and Western musical styles featuring Lan Nguyen and Clive Romney, is from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 3600 S. Constitution Blvd., West Valley City. Admission is free.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Nguyen moved from Vietnam in 1990 with her husband and two daughters after years of trying to flee her homeland. After the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the end of the Vietnam War, her husband was detained as a political prisoner for one 10-year stint, and then again for an additional five years.

While she longed to escape her nation’s government, her love for Vietnam’s traditions never wavered. Since she was 7, Nguyen had been driven to play the Vietnamese string instrument known as a dan tranh, even though her mother disapproved of her daughter pursuing what she called a "low-level" profession. So she practiced when no one else was home.

"I put the instrument under my bed," Nguyen said. "She didn’t know."

Her passion carried her to the Saigon National Music School, where she studied during her high-school years. After graduating in 1970, she eventually became the Saigon Opera’s lead dan tranh player and was a pioneer in transcribing traditional Vietnamese folk songs on Western sheet music, enabling more people to learn and preserve the country’s musical heritage.

When her husband was finally released, her family was able to secure refugee status from the U.S. government and moved to Utah based on the recommendation of a family friend.

Once a renowned performer in her native country, Nguyen settled into a new role as an anonymous factory worker who taught music in her spare time. Eventually, her profile in West Valley’s Vietnamese community grew as she taught a growing number of immigrants to play the folk instruments of their home.

In 2004, she formed the Lac Viet Band with some of her students, and they began playing to receptive audiences at the Living Traditions Festival, the Asian Festival and the Pioneer Days Youth Parade.

Many of Nguyen’s young students don’t speak Vietnamese as well as their immigrant parents. But they know the music and the instruments that bind them to their home.

story continues below
story continues below

"That’s my dream come true," she said.

But the music Nguyen loves has the ability to transcend cultures, and her new mission is to bring it to a larger community. In 2011, Nguyen brought some of Vietnam’s most renowned musicians to West Valley for a concert at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. Michael Christensen, the center’s folklorist and cultural specialist, said Nguyen reached out to him and asked if the center would be interested. Christensen was glad he said yes.

"The concert was amazing," he said.

This Saturday, Nguyen is bringing back the Vietnamese artists and teaming up with her next-door neighbor, Clive Romney, a Utah musician who plays Western and pioneer folk songs.

Nguyen said the two became interested in one another’s music when Romney heard her playing the dan tranh while passing by her house and asked if he could come in and listen. Soon, he brought over his guitar, and they began to play together. It was a good match, she said.

Nguyen’s latest performance at UCCC, part of the center’s ongoing "Seeing and Hearing Vietnam" exhibit, will blend the two styles of music, with its centerpiece being a reinterpreted version of the Beatles’ "Come Together." It’s a fitting song because Nguyen hopes that despite the differences in cultures, the music they share will inspire people to do just that.

"You can hear music, and you can know people," she said.


Twitter: @KimballBennion

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.