Trong Com (Rice Drum) – A Traditional Cylindrical Drum in Vietnam

Rachel Tran
Rachel Tran | Published: December 25, 2019

Normally, the song is usually accompanied by a picture of  boy or girl drummers with axehead-shaped  turbans and long-shaped drums hung loose from the neck down to about the belly. This drum is called Trong Com, which contributes an unique sound – now happy and cheerful, now low, soft and woeful recalling the innermost feelings of one’s native country, one’s homeland…

History of trong com

History of Trong Com

Legend goes that once upon a time, there was a poor Confucian disciple who was  very unlucky in competitions and examinations and had to go begging. Everyday, he went past the mansion of a wealthy family where there was always a girl waiting to give him rice.

One day, so moved by her good deed, the young man came to thank the girl. However, she  said  that she had done just what she had been ordered to do by her young mistress.

On learning that, the man requested to see the mistress, who was a  kind-hearted girl. Seeing the poor scholar bowing with joined hands, the damsel hurriedly bent down to raise him and said: “Never  mind, please! I understand and sympathize with your unlucky lot.

Since you depart now, I would like to give you a small sum as travelling expenses and this golden hair pin in the earnest hope that one day you will succeed in  making a living and come back to the native land, and then…”. The girl left the sentence unfinished, but the scholar had got the message. Fully conscious of his fated misfortune, he decided to turn to music with a determination to achieve success.

As time passed, he became famous. Bearing in mind the old promise, he returned to the native village, hoping to meet again his benefactor. Unfortunately, upon arrival, he learnt that the damsel had just passed away due to illness. In his great lament, the young man brought along his musical instrumentalist guild to pay tributes to the deceased and himself created a small, cylindrical drum with rice stuck against both drumheads in commemoration of the ill-fated girl. The strip from which the drum was hung was made of white cloth symbolizing the mourning band. And as he clapped the drumheads, the doleful sounds echoed his deep pain and the loss of his sweetheart. 

Features of Trong Com

The Trong Com is held at both ends by a strip hanging over the performer’s neck. It thus lies horizontally against the belly of the drummer who uses both hands to clap the drumheads. In the past, people stuck a handful of glutinous rice to each drumhead. The glutinous rice stuck against the drumhead lends its name to the drum (Trong Com in Vietnamese literally means “Rice Drum”). 

The Trong Com gets its name from the practice of placing a pinch of hot steamed rice in the middle of the drum skin to “tune” the instrument. Cylindrical drums are straight-sided. They may have one head, but more often have two heads (one head at each end). One head may have a snare (buzzing string) stretched across it. The body of the drum is made of wood in a tubular shape with the ends slightly tapered. A string is passed through the holes pierced on the edge of each of its faces and strung across it in a zigzag fashion to regulate its tension. The sound obtained from one face is five tones higher than the other. The sound of the trong com is a little dull, somewhat similar to the large-sized dan ho, and it is used to express sadness.

The Trong Com is one of the percussion instruments used in worshipping and various ceremonies, in accompanying Tuong or Cheo drama and in Phuong Bat Am or an octet (a  popular  ensemble  of  eight  instrumental timbres). Its use has also spread to Cai Luong (reformed opera) and other orchestras. The player, when standing, has the Trong Com slung over his stomach. When sitting he rests his instrument on his lap. He strikes the faces of the drum with his fingers with varied style.

Meaningful flow of sound in a rotating cylindricity of Trong Com is so popular in Vietnamese traditional festivals, that always bring about different feelings for the listeners, now happy and cheerful, now low, soft and woeful…

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