Bui Trieu Yen, Vietnam Idol Season 3’s vocal coach and director of Music at Soul Music and Performing Arts Academy (SMPAA), talks to Lorcan Lovett about her passion to transform the way music is taught to children in Vietnam. Photo by Vinh Dao.

How did you come to join Soul Music and Performing Arts Academy?
I got to know Thanh Bui, SMPAA principal, from Vietnam Idol Season 3 where he was the mentor for the International Music Round and I was the vocal coach for the show. Our mutual passion for music and the performing arts industry of Vietnam has kindled in me the motivation and enthusiasm to collaborate with him on his projects. March 2012 was really the start of my journey with SMPAA.

What is your current goal?
My top concern at the moment is bringing music education to more Vietnamese children. Music has the power to awaken education. I believe in the importance of music education to the development of children. The lifelong impact of musical values, skills and attitudes will foster their holistic development, and nurture their confidence, connectivity and communication skills. However, understanding the current situation of music education in Vietnamese schools, I am determined to dedicate my working life to improve it. My wish is that every Vietnamese child can engage with music and learn the fundamental music skills from kindergarten.

What kind of challenges have you faced in breaking into the music industry?
When I studied at The Conservatory of Ho Chi Minh City, the music industry in Vietnam didn’t have a clear orientation. Due to the lack of a standard curriculum framework, I had to study classical music, although my passion was in pop music. Because of that, it became more challenging. I had to work harder to overcome all obstacles to fulfill the subject requirements. Nevertheless, in retrospect, now I feel extremely grateful for the experiences and knowledge acquired at school. 

Why do you believe music plays such an important role in a child’s education?
There’s more to life and people than academic skills. Academic skills are just a relatively small component of the whole system of traits that make up a well-rounded person, including valuable qualities, namely empathy, emotional intelligence, imagination, kindness and curiosity. That is where musical skills come in. I am certain that music helps stimulate children’s fundamental abilities, including cognitive, emotional intelligence and social skills, as well as their self-awareness and self-esteem.

How much is music incorporated into the Vietnamese education system? And does this need to change?
Being born and growing up in the 1970s, I have witnessed all the changes and development of the Vietnam music education industry until today. However, unfortunately, most students are still missing out on the many benefits of music education. The music curriculum in Vietnamese schools is still underrated and out-of-date. Even Vietnamese parents are not aware of the importance of music and arts education for their children’s development. They provide little to no enrichment to their children aside from the core academics. Therefore, although a lot of Vietnamese children are good at scientific and mathematical subjects, many lack emotional expression, self-confidence and other soft skills. If there is more structured investment in the state’s music education system, I believe children will benefit more in developing their cognition and the whole system of traits.

It’s easy to name plenty of famous female musicians, but how empowered do you think women are in the music industry?
I think, when it comes to the record world, it’s still largely dominated by men. Recent international surveys have shown that, while there are plenty of female artists and musicians, the majority of people working in the industry are still males.

This doesn’t mean that women are not empowered in the music industry nowadays. There have been many collaborations between female artists and the feminist movement to promote female empowerment. The role of women in the music industry has become increasingly important as women from all backgrounds who play various genres continue to flourish in this business. They even inspire their male colleagues. More female musicians and artists are accepted, recognized and loved, both by fans and the critics, for the merit of their works alone. These female artists have overcome the challenges and the double standards faced by women in the industry to succeed and inspire other women.

I would love to see the future music industry reflect gender equality better, and that female artists and musicians are empowered more. This will set better examples to the world. Imagine how different the musical landscape will be.

How do you think music can be used to promote gender equality in Vietnam?
Vietnam has achieved certain progress towards gender equality and women empowerment. The promotion of female empowerment and gender equality through the music industry and its media has become essential for contemporary feminism. But that’s not enough. We need to move faster. What we want to do here at SMPAA is not just build artists, but educate children through music so they can build their fundamental values. If a boy listens to fine music and is able to play it himself, he will become disciplined, empathetic, open-minded and emotionally connected. If a girl is put in the same environment, she will develop sensitivity, endurance, confidence, and self-esteem. Also, their emotional intelligence will surely increase. These beautiful traits in turn help build better citizens, and reduce the rate of violence or abuse on girls and women. Through music education, we want to inspire and empower our students, especially female students, to dream bigger. I strongly believe music education can help to advance the awareness, equality, and opportunities for women in the society.