The family of Vũ Nhật Tân asked me to deliver the eulogy at his July 25th funeral and have now requested that I publish these memories of my friend in honor of the 100th Day of his passing. I am honored to respond to their request and have taken the liberty to add pertinent photographs to illustrate my intent.
Eulogy for Vũ Nhật Tân, July 25th, 2020
“My dear friend Vũ Nhật Tân, Jan and I are here today with you because our friendship truly shows the world that nothing is impossible.
The most obvious things in life are often easy to miss – but truly nothing is impossible if your Vietnamese family invites American friends to speak and be together with you today. Such is the power and energy of music!
I am not surprised that now the best road into your beloved city of Hà Nội is “The Bridge of Nhật Tân.” Because your whole life was devoted to the positive energy of music building The Human Bridge. Messages have crowded my inbox from around the world as people mourn your passing. The cliché is true: humanity finds its truest communication in the mysterious world of music.
You lived your life embracing a double image, a sonic Yin and Yang. First and foremost you were inside Việt Nam’s deep dragon drum beating or the long resonance of a temple gong. And on the other side, with the ponticello of a violin or the roar of a piano, instruments of my culture.
Governments may speak of “shared strategic interest” and economists of “shared markets.” But us musicians? We live in a world of “shared humanity.”
“Anh Jeff and Chị Jan, this is the real Việt Nam!”
How often you said this! Whether on long and now permanently cherished walks searching for Hà Nội’s best phở bò or bánh đà cua in the Old Quarter, looking for ceramics in Bắc Ninh, stopping at any number of delicious coffee shops for that next “best” coffee, visiting the hoa đào farms and Tết markets for the Lunar New Year of 2018, you succeeded. Jan and I now see your country through and with your smiling eyes (and promise to always study your not so easy language!). We now happily call Hà Nội our “Nhà Thứ Hai” – for we feel your memory on every street and every walk.
And I must thank you for something else: namely, ignoring your many Vietnamese friends who sternly warned you by saying “Do NOT take your American friends for cháo lòng!” You knew better!
That I would love this delicious dish! Of course I did, because you knew my father was a farmer, and my father, like all farmers everywhere, grew up with the same ingredients, just in another land.
As many of you know, the Obama Administration of the United States selected our Los Angeles ensemble, Southwest Chamber Music, to produce Ascending Dragon, the largest cultural exchange in the history of our two countries.
Jan and I want to share with you the answer to a question we asked in 2009 of the State Department of Secretary Hillary Clinton in meetings in Washington, D.C.“Why did you select our new music group from Los Angeles for this project and what do you want us to accomplish?”
They answered: “Our government believes that for at least the next twenty-five years Việt Nam is the most important ally for us in ASEAN and perhaps the entire Pacific region. We want you both to find and encourage the next generation of Vietnamese cultural leadership. A new chapter between our countries is essential. We believe music is a perfect path to advance shared goals between the United States and Việt Nam.”
Out of that work, you my friend started to dream. Returning to my ensemble for another six weeks together in Los Angeles in 2012, you shared your idea to start the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. In 2013, Jan and I returned to Hà Nội to talk more, and by 2015 we began work together.
But that was only one part of your dream! The mark of a true leader!
With Đàm Quang Minh, you also brought the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin/Đồng Kinh Cổ Nhạc into existence. Two groups but with one mind, one energy! Because your dream was of ONE Vietnamese music, the ancient and the new, creating a permanent fusion, a fusion made possible by The Five Elements.
I saw your dream in a natural feng-shui metaphor. Recently, I visited a Trần Dynasty Temple in Tràng An with Jan, Phạm Trường Sơn and Trần Thu Thủy. There was one very dramatic temple complex, with an imposing eagle mountain protecting a viewing pagoda’s flowing water. That landscape makes me think of your dreams!
The Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin/Đồng Kinh Cổ Nhạc is your mountain, protecting and meeting the ever flowing water of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. This water connects you to the world, my friend, but that international water will always always flow back and forth with the eagle mountain of Việt Nam, to your sounds that joined both worlds, as you yourself now join the Ancestors.
We say goodbye to your body today. That is not easy to do for any of us, but indeed you needed to be liberated from the physical, so let us help you on your journey, good friend! Rest in peace knowing your American friends remain here on earth and in Hà Nội for a while longer.
We all have much to do together in the next few months, and then continuing into the years to come, to insure your musical dreams will never die.
So remember our three language motto! Because nothing is impossible!
“We walk together!” “Nous marchons ensemble!” “Chúng tôi đi bộ cùng nhau!“