After an unbelievable year of performing, composing, and collaborating in Vietnam, I have finally returned to my hometown of Teaneck, NJ. It’s bittersweet because I really did have an amazing experience abroad, but I’m also excited to be back and teaching my students, playing gigs, and composing more music.
I had so many performances in Vietnam that I’ll never forget. I played cello in a running stream of water while people danced and frolicked around me as my wife led a Dance/Movement Therapy workshop. Was I the only one wearing rain boots instead of being barefoot because I’m a curmudgeon? Of course I was. I had to take the cello on a rickety canoe across a river and then walk through the jungle to get there, too.
I collaborated numerous times with the superbly talented, Duyệt Thị Trang. Our cello and đàn tranh improvisational duo took us everywhere: the U.S. Embassy, a packed to the gills show at Heritage Space, and even the jungles of Vietnam.
I had the real pleasure and fortune to collaborate with Phan Y Ly and Eliott Malderez as well. We created the group, Mandala, which combined cello with đàn tranh, sào meo, and percussion. They became my really good friends and we’d often hang out and just improvise for hours. There were so many improvisations that I am super proud of. They came over on my birthday and surprised me (I was taking a nap and wasn’t exactly Mr. Friendly when I opened the door). I remember we improvised one song that really brought me to that next level, following which they made me eat a Vietnamese specialty called, Chân Gà Đông Tảo, which is a chicken foot that looks like it came from a chicken that was a professional bodybuilder.
I had some really beautiful solo performances in Vietnam as well. I played to packed houses at Vincom Center for Contemporary Arts and The Hanoi Social Club, where I got to debut some new compositions that I had written since being in Vietnam. After going to Trang An and taking a canoe around the staggeringly beautiful rock formations in the water, I was inspired to write a piece about it. There was something really mysterious about these geological structures that resonated with me.
I had the great fortune to be selected for two music residencies in collaboration with Lune Production and Phu Sa Lab. I met musicians from across Vietnam and got to make music with instruments I had never even seen or heard of before. A lot of them were custom made, one-of-a-kind instruments. These residences were really intensive, no days off, but the opportunity to create, explore, and make connections with these superb players was invaluable. I certainly will collaborate in the future with a lot of these musicians in some capacity.
I collaborated with my wife a bunch for her Dance/Movement Therapy workshops. I played for her workshops across the country, but the most powerful one for me was working with the Vietnamese soldiers from the American War. It was a small group, but the connection that we had was extremely powerful and made me quite thankful for the opportunity. I hope that my wife and I can expand upon this premise of working with soldiers (hopefully from both Vietnam and the USA) in order to help them heal from the war.
What I’m most excited about taking back the USA and expanding upon is my studies and compositions with the đàn bầu. I still have a lot to learn, but I feel like it’s going to become an integral part of my writing and hopefully performing as well. I busted out a small đàn bầu solo for the first time at a gig that my fellow residents and I played at this beachside restaurant in An Bang. As I grow more confident on the đàn bầu, I’ll definitely be working it into my live performances more. There’s a world of possibility with this instrument, especially the combination with cello.
Well it was truly an eye opening year in Vietnam and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I’m back now at the Bryan Wilson Cello Studio in Teaneck, NJ and I’m getting ready to teach a bunch of new students, to record cello for artists across the globe, and to write some new pieces for cello and đàn bầu.