Program Books/Vân-Ánh Võ and the Blood Moon Orchestra/Vân-Ánh Võ and the Blood Moon Orchestra Program

Notes on the Songs

How About Us*
Composed by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
Arranged by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ and Blood Moon Orchestra

Inspired by Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb” and the idiom “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In addition to Covid-19, we have been living another pernicious pandemic known as racism and bigotry. This pandemic has been spreading like wildfire in our communities and homes in recent years. This song is my plea for us to embrace our differences and to come together as a beloved community. Let our humanity, our creativity, and our passions take us into the future.

• • •

Lullaby
Poem by Atabak Elyasi
Translated by Mahsa Vahdat
Music and vocals by Mahsa Vahdat, based on Bakhtiari Gooshe in Homayoun
Arranged by Blood Moon Orchestra

La la la la
The lonely tulip flower
The flower with sigh and burn
Swallow went to bring the Sun
to plant in our fields of Hope

La la la la
Restless flower of the home
Sing with us, our hearts are filled with pain
The lark went to bring joy
to plant in the our sorrowful fields

• • •

Born to Rise
Composed by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
English lyrics by Kev Choice
Vietnamese lyrics by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
Arranged by Blood Moon Orchestra

Inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird,” Kev Choice and I co-composed “Born To Rise” to celebrate the strength and resilience of people of color in the face of systemic violence and historical oppression. Like our musical collaboration, I believe there is much to be gained in coming together to face our struggles.

I was born to fly
I was born to rise
Even through all this oppression still dignified
expressions of culture I amplify
Like words of our ancestors prophesized
Eyes on the prize as I look to the sky
And know even through tragedies
I can defy laws of gravity
Soar above negative energy, poverty, violence,
Police brutality,
In my community, I am light,
Strength in our spirit
Despite all our plights
Stand up for rights
Demand equality
Extend a hand to uplift our society
They can not lock me down
They can not hold me down
This is a new day and age
You’d be amazed
The beauty, the love, from sounds of a soul of bird, even locked in a cage

No limitations, No hesitations
Living my dreams
My self esteem
Make me feel I have wings
Anything’s possible
Jump over obstacles
Touch constellations
I am part of a flock that has endured generations
Solid as rock my foundation
My inspiration
How I maintain
Nothing to lose
So much to gain
My minds in the clouds
I remove every doubt
and take route with the wind
And forget all my pain
Living on land that’s been occupied
Colonized, genocide, homicide, slavery modernized
They can’t lock me down
They can’t hold me down
This a new day and age
You’d be amazed
The beauty, the love, from the soul of a bird, even locked in a cage

Where is my freedom they never will answer
It can’t be defined by the terms of oppressors
Whose privilege allows them to abuse their power
And leave it to them we will never move forward
But i’m free in these melodies, harmonies, rhythms
And I use em to tear down the system
We come together we prosper
These are my prayers at the altar
Fears I will overcome
Tears from my sorrows
Cleanse the hopes of tomorrow
I will transcend all the clouds that still hover
Nothing can hinder expression connected to presence
From which is our essence
wings get spreaded
They can not lock me down
They can’t hold me down
This is a new day and age you’d be amazed
The beauty, the love from the sound of a bird even locked in a cage

Một con chim bay theo gió nhẹ trong nắng vàng
Sải đôi cánh dài lượn cùng với gió và mây
Ở nơi cuối sông nhúng đôi cánh trong nước nguồn
Thoải mái vẫy vùng dưới bầu trời tự do khát khao và hy vọng!

Ở bên kia sông có chú chim bị giam cầm
Những thanh sắt nhỏ kìm kẹp đôi cánh tìm tự do
Dù đôi cánh kia đã bị chặt và trói buộc
Làm sao dừng được lời hát của sự khát khao và hy vọng!

Tôi sẽ là gió, tôi sẽ là Mây
Bay đi bay đi tới khung trời mơ ước
Tôi sẽ là cánh chim, cánh chim
Bay dưới bầu trời tự do!

Chim trong lồng hót
Chim trong lồng ca
Và vẫn mỏi-í mong,
Ngong-óng trông
Trông về, một ngày tự do.

Tôi sẽ là gió, tôi sẽ là Mây
Bay đi bay di tới khung trời mơ ước
Tôi sẽ là cánh chim, cánh chim
Bay dưới bầu trời tự do!

• • •

The Five Nuances of Emotion
(Luyện Năm Cung)
Northern Vietnamese traditional folk composition (Chèo)
Arranged by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ

• • •

Fire
Poems by Hồ Xuân Hương
Translated by John Balaban
Composed & arranged by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ

During the early months of the pandemic, like many others I felt frozen by sadness, confusion, and uncertainty about the future. Composing this piece for San Jose Jazz gave me the much needed energy to keep on going. When “Fire” was selected for the SJZ New Work Fest, I decided to invite more artists to perform the piece with me. Since creating it filled me with so much joy and optimism, I wanted to share that with others. I hope the fire of creativity and community will light the way for a brighter future.

Vịnh Hang Cắc Cớ
Trời đất sinh ra đá một chòm
Nứt làm hai mảnh hỏm hòm hom
Kẽ hầm rêu mọc trơ toen miệng
Luồng gió thông reo vỗ phậm phòm

Giọt nước hữu tình rơi lòm bõm
Con đường vô ngạn tối om om
Khen ai đẽo đá tài xuyên tạc
Khéo hở hang ra lắm kẻ nhòm

Viewing Cac-Co Caven
Heaven and earth brought forth this rocky mass
Its face cut by a deep crevasse
Crack’s dark mouth shagged with moss
Pines rocking in wind rush
Here sweet water spatters down
And the path into the cleft is dark
Praise whoever sculpted stone
The left it base for all to see

Chế Sư
Chẳng phải Ngô mà chẳng phải ta
Đầu thì trọc lóc áo không tà
Oản dâng trước mặt năm ba phẩm
Vãi nấp sau lưng sáu bẩy bà
Khi cảnh, khi tiu, khi chũm choẹ
Giọng HÌ, giọng HỈ, giọng HI HA
Tu lâu có lẽ lên sư cụ
Ngất nghểu toà sen nọ đó mà.

Mocking A Monk
Not a Chinese, nor really one of us
With his shaved head, robe without flaps
Cakes are placed before him, four or five kind
Behind him, nuns hover, six or seven
Sometimes he strikes a cymbal, sometime a bell or gong
Chanting hee, chanting haw, chanting hee – haw – ho
Perfecting that, maybe he’ll be a Venerable
Perched high up there on the Lotus Seat of Buddhas

• • •

Don’t Leave Me
Poem by Rumi
Translated by Mahsa Vahdat and Erik Hillestad
Music and vocals by Mahsa Vahdat
Arranged by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ

If my vision, wisdom and reason disappear, don’t leave me
I value your presence more than all of them, don’t leave me

Don’t leave! If you do, bring my heart with you
Bring me along when you depart from this gathering, don’t leave me

Your presence turns the world into a rose garden
In the winter, when the blossom decays, don’t leave me

Don’t leave! Your farewell is so stone hearted
You turned the Badakhshan stone into ruby, don’t leave me

The letter of my heart has the length of eternity
From the beginning to the end it spells: “don’t leave me.”

• • •

My Endless Treasure
Poem by Rumi
Music and vocals by Mahsa Vahdat
Arranged by Nguyen Le

You, the life and the world, the rest of Earth is vain!
You, the endless treasure! Who counts loss and gain?
My sustenance, my breath! My wine in times of pain!
Stranded alone, the turn of stars drags me in the bane!
I cut my ties with them all, and I tore up the chain;
In hiding no more; yet unseen I stroll amid the plain…
I desire no mate, your love has earned its reign!
I gave up baits and preys; now All Yours to detain!

Khóm Vi Lau
Poem by Hàn Mặc Tử
Music and vocals by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
Arranged by Nguyen Le

Gió rủ nhau đi chốn cả rồi
Nhỏ to, câu chuyện, ô kìa coi
Trong lau như có điều chi lạ,
Hai bóng lung lay, thấy cọ mài…
Chen chúc, bóng trăng dòm thiệt kĩ:
Hai cành lau siết vì yêu thương
Cái Nàng năm ngoái không quay lại
Ngồi nghỉ bên lau để vấn vương
Âm thầm, gió quyến mùi hương mất
Để khóm vi lau đứng trẻn trơ
Từ trước say sưa tình quấn quýt,
Lạnh lùng không nói tận bao giờ…

“Don’t Leave Me” and “My Endless Treasure” are two of my favorite poems by Rumi, and I could not be more thrilled to collaborate with Mahsa Vahadat on performing these compositions for this Blood Moon Orchestra world premiere. I was highly motivated by the desire to shorten the distance between Iranian and Viet­na­mese cultures, a desire that led me to explore several extended techniques on the đàn tranh (16-string zither) in order to “extend” my ability to learn and appreciate Persian traditional music and culture.

• • •

Gnossienne #3 and Purple Haze Mash-up
Gnossienne No. 3 by Erik Satie
“Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix
Arranged and transposed for monochord by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ

When I first looked at the piano score of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No. 3, I immediately wondered how it would sound on đàn bầu, the Vietnamese monochord. When I started to experiment, I felt energized by the many layers of possibility that this beautiful composition unfolded for me. The first time I listened to “Purple Haze” was in my first year of moving to America (2001). I did not know much about Jimi Hendrix at the time but I felt deeply moved by his brilliant artistry. To mash up an avant-garde minimalist composition against an inventive rock number and place them in conversation through đàn bầu and đàn tranh continues to be one of my favorite creative challenges to date.

• • •

86,400
English lyrics by Kev Choice
Vietnamese lyrics by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
Composed by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
Arranged by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ and Blood Moon Orchestra

Inspired by Dr. AnhLan Nguyen, I collaborated with Kev Choice to write “86,400.” In her talk, Nguyen posed the question: “Imagine if you have $86,400 in your bank account every day. Start of the day, you have all $86,400 to spend, but you have to spend all of it throughout the day because at the end of the day, it will all be gone. You can’t put it in the savings bank account. You can’t invest it. You must spend it all because at the end of the day, you will lose it all! How would you spend this money?” Indeed, each of us wakes up in the morning with that amount of precious commodity at our disposal, which is the 86,400 seconds in each day that we have. This song is Kev’s and my answer to the question.

Cuộc sống rất dễ khi bạn nghe tôi nói
Cuộc sống rất khác khi bạn biết mỉm cười

Buổi sáng lấp lánh mỗi ngày ta thức dậy,
Mỗi ngày trôi qua đều là một món quà!

Ở trước mắt ta
The sound of time (Rồi một ngày bạn sẽ nghe thấy tiếng thời gian sột soạt)
Slips away through your fingers like sand (như những hạt cát khi tràn qua những kẽ ngón tay)
Từng phút giây như hạt mưa rơi trên miếng đất cằn khô.

Tám sáu ngàn bốn trăm giây
Mỗi ngày đã trôi qua
Tám sáu ngàn bốn trăm giây
Thời gian cũng sẽ kéo bạn đi

Giờ trôi chậm – but the days go fast
The sound of time… slipping away …

Tám sáu ngàn bốn trăm. Mỗi ngày đã trôi qua.
Tám sáu ngàn bốn trăm giây. Mỗi ngày đã trôi qua.
Bạn làm gì. Bạn nghĩ gì,
Bạn làm gì. Bạn giúp gì

[86,400 seconds in a day
Can’t let em slip away]

Thời gian đo đếm như đồng đo-lơ, đo-lơ
Thời gian phá hết những tính toán của con ngươi-ười
And TIME destroys spe-cu-la-tion of human (Thời gian phá hủy những tính toán của con người)
But it confirms nature của con người. (Nhưng nó — thời gian — khẳng đỉnh bản tính của con người!)

Hãy nhớ rằng
Đời bướm đo bằng
Bằng khoảng khắc không bằng tháng ngay-ày
Mà bướm đã trưởng thành

Trở thành đôi cánh, bay – đi, bay – đi, đi xa
Rồi tự do bay đi, Bay – đi, bay – đi xa!

Trở thành đôi cánh, bay – đi, bay – đi, đi xa
Rồi tự do bay đi, Bay – đi, bay – đi_____ BAY ĐI XA!

Every Moment is so crucial
I’m thinking what would Huey, what would Martin, what would Malcolm do
I’ m wishing that I had the mental discipline of Coltrane
Practice all day, I’m just out here trying to maintain
They say time is money,
I say time is knowledge and wisdom,
And science, religion, and rhythm not a minute
To waste, as I chase life’s luxuries
trying to keep up with the pace and still find peace
Can’t let it slip away

Set intentions, step relentless, towards the vision
Stay committed, no permission, nothing hindering
goals I’m listed, bold prediction, I’m gon get it,
My whole existence, so persistent, I know I’m limitless
I know my impact infinite
Keep distractions at distances
Tryna build like my ancestors did constructing pyramids
My emotional intelligence, motivation, regulation, self awareness
Can’t let it slip away

Put it all in perspective
It’s all about relationships we all connected
I walk the intersection
Between Struggles and blessings
Learning life’s lessons
You will be uplifted if you listen to the message
Every second, is destined,
no time like the present
The mind full of jewels like treasures
Can’t let them slip away
No ideas, no thoughts, motivate
86,400 seconds in a day
Can’t let em slip away

• • •

On Sharing A Husband (Kiếp Chồng Chung)
Poem by Hồ Xuân Hương
Translated by John Balaban
Composed by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
Arranged by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ and Blood Moon Orchestra

This composition draws its power from a famous poem by the renown feminist Vietna­mese poet Hồ Xuân Hương. This particular poem conveys a woman’s anger toward—and ultimate rejection of—sharing a husband with other wives.

I use ca trù singing style for storytelling. Originated in the 12th century in northern Vietnam, ca trù features many different shades of vocal timbre, which allows for multiple expressive possibilities.

Kiếp Chồng Chung
Chém cha cái kiếp lấy chồng chung,
Kẻ đắp chăn bông kẻ lạnh lùng.
Năm thì mười hoạ chăng hay chớ,
Một tháng đôi lần có cũng không.
Cố đấm ăn xôi, xôi lại hẩm,
Cầm bằng làm mướn, mướn không công.
Thân này ví biết dường này nhỉ,
Thà trước thôi đành ở vậy xong.

On Sharing A Husband
Screw the fate that makes you share a man.
One cuddles under cotton blankets; the other’s cold.
Every now and then, well, maybe or maybe not,
Once or twice a month, oh, it’s like nothing.
You try to stick to it like a fly on rice but the rice is rotten.
You slave like the maid, but without pay.
If I had known how it would go,
I think I would have lived alone.

• • •

The Trouble (Xẩm Lưu Lạc)
Northern Vietnamese Traditional Folk Song (Xẩm)
Translated by Translated by Hùng Nguyễn
Arranged by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ and Blood Moon Orchestra

Inspired by a traditional folk song (xẩm) about the insurmountable injustices women have faced during wartime, each member of the orchestra takes on a solo section based on a given structure and scale to narrate his/her own view toward “the trouble” that we are facing in the contemporary moment. I wish to offer “The Trouble” as not only a social commentary on the entrenched nature of social oppression but also as a site for collective enunciation and renunciation.

Ấy bởi vì đâu, thân lửa bời bời
Tôi đành dắt mẹ. Mà để tới nơi.
Tới nơi lâm tuyền tôi đã gặp những loài ác thú, hổ hoang.
Người đòi khoét mắt. Lòng thành tôi kính dâng vậy cho nên mù mịt mà tối tăm.

Ới ông trời ơi!
Ác thú hổ hoang.
Người đòi khoét mắt. Lòng thành tôi kính dâng vậy cho nên mù mịt mà tối tăm.
Bởi thế cho nên, mù mịt tối tăm.
Học nghề nghề đàn hát. Kiếm ăn qua ngày tôi đã nuôi mẹ chồng.
Cắt thịt mà cắt tay.

Chàng Trương Viên ơi, chàng đâu có biết.
Đến nông nỗi này. Mà sao, thấu cho chăng!

Why, oh why has it come to this, fire raging in my heart
I had to take my mother -in-law to this place
Deep in the forest with savage beasts and wild tigers.
People wanted to gouge my eyes.
Sacrificing my eyes to save my mother’s eyes; now I am blind and in darkness.
Oh heaven!
Sacrificing my eyes to save my mother’s eyes; now I am blind and in darkness.
Playing the strings and singing to survive, and to feed my mother.
Cutting into my flesh, cutting into my fingers
O my husband Truong Vien, did you even know that I have succumbed to this misery?
Could you even feel my agony?

—Program notes by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ