Dang Thai Son

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Dang Thai Son learned the fundamentals of playing the piano in Vietnam and Russia, but he credits life in Canada with bringing out his creative side. A gentle man who deplores violence, Son, 45, was born in Hanoi, and grew up during the most intense combat of the Vietnam war. As the youngest child in an artistic family whose three other siblings all play the piano (his sister is the director of the Hanoi National Conservatory), Son was anxious to begin lessons with his mother, a piano teacher. “The piano was like a toy for me”, he said. His passion for the instrument would be tested by forces far greater than sibling rivalry. In 1965 the family was forced to evacuate their home and move to a rural area to escape American bombings during the Vietnam War. They lived in what he calls “stone age conditions”, having no electricity and running water, eating only what they managed to grow. “once or twice a month we would find a pieace of meat”, he said. Despite the hardships, they managed to bring a piano – hauled by water buffalo - to creat a local music school. Because of the deamand, Son was able to play the piano for only 20 minutes a day. The rest of the time he was forced to practise fingering on a soundless paper keyboard.

The family returned to Hanoi in 1973, but even then, recalls Son, they could only have electricity once a week. “It looked like a holy day. Everything was lit up”, he said. “we could listen to music again”. At the time, there were few routes to professional fame and fortune for teenage Vietnamese pianists. The only way was to win a gorvernment scholarship to study in Russia. But talent wasn’t the only requirement. “They sent only someone with a “clean” family background”, said Son, alluding to the importance of strong communist ties. However his father was a poet, considered a dissident by government officials. Fortunately a Russian pianist discovered him and in 1977 urged the Vietnamese government to let Son study at the Moscow State...
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