Perhaps what defined my music taste in the first place were the cassette and video tapes that my parents always played when I was a little boy. My mother loves the Vietnamese music of the mid 20th century – what I call “Everlasting”. My father is more on the international trend, thanks to which I got the initial exposure to the Bee Gees, The Beatles and more!
But it seems that my parents did not expect me to go into music, although they are active participants of various musical events in town before I was born. I was sent to neither any music classes nor training programs and I received no inspiration to explore the world of music back then. I only know that I can sing and people said I sing well, without knowing how well is “well”.
I concentrated so much in academic pursuit during my teenager years that I could not see the great passion for music inside of me. I loved listening to music and singing along with the singers, but I never thought of recording/performing those favourite songs of mine, or writing my own songs. I was so shy even to speak in front of a small crowd.
I started off loving the voice and music of Teresa Teng so much that until now I can still sing by heart quite a number of songs made famous by this talented late singer, especially those poems that were set to music, such as 独上西楼, 但愿人长久, 在水一方 etc.
After Chinese songs, I was exposed to English songs, with Elton John, Michael Learns To Rock, Bee Gees, The Beatles, Backstreet Boys, Westlife … and later on dipped myself deeply into rock and metal, from the ballad and classic genre of Aerosmith, Scorpions, Queen … to death metal of Norther, Children of Bodom … But eventually, I fell in love with the classical genre, featuring Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo and Josh Groban, and more complex instrumental genre by Yanni, Kitaro etc.
I came in contact with Vietnamese music the latest, although I had had various chances to hear it at a very early stage of life. I was first inspired by the 1088 boyband at the age of 15 because of the attractive songs they sang and the cool appearance they possessed. I subsequently explored and fell in love popular singers of Vietnam such as Lam Trường, Đan Trường.
After that, under the guidance of my mother, I gradually shifted into a more advanced genre of music, the “Everlasting” genre, starting with Văn Cao‘s “Cung Đàn Xưa” (Melodies of the Past), Nguyễn Văn Tý’s “Dư Âm” (Echoes of Memories), Đan Thọ’s “Chiều Tím” (Violet Sunset), Ngô Thụy Miên’s “Paris Có Gì Lạ Không Em?” (Anything New In Paris, My Dear?), Trịnh Công Sơn‘s “Hoa Vàng Mấy Độ” (Bright Yellow Flower), Phạm Đình Chương’s “Xóm Đêm” (Midnight Hamlet), and especially Phạm Duy‘s marvelous music, which has a great impact on my music perception later.
When I was 16, somebody suddenly came across and struck me with a great desire of writing songs as a mean to convey the heart’s messages. And I felt the need to learn music theory. My mother was the person who gave me the basic lessons in music theory. Later on my father provided me with further clarification on musical styles. In July 2003, I came out with the very first song of my own. It was called “Khi Anh Thấy Em” (When I Saw You). Sadly, first efforts are usually a failure and it’s true for my case. I could never use this song no matter how many times I modify it in the following years.
I went on to take guitar lessons with a conservatory graduate – Mr. Anh Kiệt – at his house on a small and peaceful street of Đà Lạt city. His mentorship was so good that after less than 6 months I could do quality improvisation and teach myself further guitar lessons.
I started taking part in some local singing contests. The first one was “Tiếng Hát Phượng Tím” (Purple Flamboyant Singing Contest) in 2004, in which I met and hobnobbed with a couple of interesting people. It was this competition that gave me a sense of striving hard for a standard in order to become a recognizable artist. The first song into which I put the greatest effort was “Tiếng Trống Paranưng” (The Sound of Paranưng), with which I could not make it into the Grand finale of this particular competition.
The next significant competition I participated in was “Tiếng Hát Truyền Hình Lâm Đồng” (Lâm Đồng Province’s TV Singing Contest) in 2005. This contest opened my eyes to a great extent when I witnessed so many talented people with great voice and polished techniques. I sang ”Tiếng Trống Paranưng” (The Sound of Paranưng) again throughout the contest. To my surprise, I made it into the Grand finale after 4 rounds, competing with hundreds of other contestants in the province. I did not get into the top 3 eventually, but it was a great experience after all.
I moved to Hồ Chí Minh city after this competition. In my mind there was a dream of continuing this singing journey. But things did not turned up as easy as I imagined, given the fact that my singing technique was just mediocre then. I took part in “Sao Mai 2005″ (Morning Star), a national singing contest but could not even get through the semi-final round of the Southern area. I started to seek vocal trainings and my voice improved progressively.
After one year, I saw a huge difference in my singing. I entered again into another competition: “Ngôi Sao Tiếng Hát Truyền Hình TPHCM” (HCMC TV Superstar) but did not get through the very first round. This is one of the results that I would never consider fair. The first time was in 2004 in my hometown.
In 2006, a great person appeared in my life: songwriter Giác An – my true mentor, whose tutelage has totally changed my directions. He taught me how to write proper songs, brought me to recording studios and shows, introduced me to other songwriters. I started to performed and recorded for musical events, in which I enjoyed Buddhism music the most.
Within one year I have been involving in a number of projects and getting my skills improved significantly. I was using the alias “Thạch Kì Vỹ” (Giant Stone) at that time, just for branding and attraction purposes.
Another great mentor of mine is musician Đức Luân, husband of singer Bích Phượng and son-in-law of Út Trà Ôn – the great Cải Lương (Reform Theatre) artist. He was the one who taught me basic recording techniques.
In 2007, I came to Singapore to further my education, leaving behind the reputation and network accumulated over a year. Along with the romance I was nurturing, I encounter a big hesitation to proceed with my decision. But in the end, determination won!
Changi airport sent me her first greetings in July 2007. I was “away from home” in its true meaning! Initially I only planned to remain here for 3 years. But after the relationship failure, I found no meaning of going back early. Besides, with the ongoing inspiration from many factors in NUS, I chose to stay on after graduation, with an ambition of doing something greater!
Besides contributing to the Vietnamese community in NUS in music and entertainment, I participated in Gentle Fund Organization (GFO)’s charity concerts, firstly as a performer in “A Dream Comes True” (2007), and later on Music Director in “Living the Dream” (2009) and “The Next Page” (2009). My music arranging skills advanced dramatically after these two shows. I switched back to use my real name Dật Hanh in all events and got rid of the old alias because I saw no reason to hide the name that my grandfather had given to me.
I joined the NUS Choir (2008), NUS A Capella group “Resonance” (2009) and NUS Jazz Band (2010) to explore new music materials, some of which mingled into my music works after that.
I registered for several singing contests, including Stardust 2009 and NUS Sparkz 2010. I made it into the Grand Finale of Stardust 2009 and subsequently won Sparkz 2010 with an Italian song called Omaggio. After this success, I received a number of invitation to perform and started enhancing my reputation. Since then, I use the name Richard Tang in most non-Vietnamese events and use Dật Hanh in all Vietnamese events. So I am having two identities to manage!
My activeness in arts and music earned me a Student Achievement Awards presented by NUS in 2009. This has been a great motivation for me to move on with what I was doing.
The first show I ever did from scratch was Phạm Duy live show in 2010, initiated by me and another senior who is also deeply in love with Phạm Duy’s music. We gathered a couple of folks together and kicked start the project. We spent three months planning, recruiting, fund seeking, programming, rehearsing and finally put up a great show on 17 October, 2010, with the presence of the great songwriter himself.
Recently I had a chance to penetrate into the judging field. I was first invited to judge for VNNTU’s “Project-V” singing competition in 2010. My experience went on with some of VNCNUS’s special projects such as “Supernova” (2010, 2012) and “Sweet Resonance” (2011), and extended with SIMVNC’s “Music Revolution” (2012) and NUS Sparkz (2012).
… And there continues the journey!