With the power of a smile and friendly humour, Mr. Steven Vinh Lac, bilingual MC of CISS Goes Classic, brings the inspiration of classical music to our students.

What is your take on bringing classical music to a young audience?

Mr. Lac: Well, even in the Western world, classical music is fast becoming an acquired taste, let alone in Vietnam. Thank goodness, education, especially geared toward early youth, can always bring it back to future generations. Now, Vietnamese music, even the lighter version of it, like Vietpop, is rather wellbehaved. That’s because it took its character from both the traditional Asian public entertainment and the French chanson culture, both of which stressed elegance, refinement, and a certain amount of decorum, no matter how relaxed. American pop culture, on theother hand, is much more happygo-lucky, not to say devil-maycare. This present Americanized generation of Vietnamese youth, therefore, is fast absorbing that new attitude. Anything less than totally entertaining will not get their five-minute attention span. I’m all for that. So, from my background in the American theatrical scene, where ballets and operas themselves have to keep an eye on entertainment value, I have tried to grab my young audience here through a friendlier approach. If I need to clown it up, then so be it. Let’s make them laugh. Solemnity will suffer somewhat, but at least we can avoid pompousness, especially in classical culture. Then the kids may begin to listen… And then I may be able to take them where I want them to go… It is always a gamble. Children can be very fickle.

To be frank, I have seen some of the children yawning, or falling asleep, during the shows. Didn’t you mind that?

Mr. Lac: Most certainly not! I care, but I don’t mind. Reality is the ultimate answer to all artists, and I prefer reality, in all its unruly glory, to a spruced up and dressed up version of make-believe. Now, I do thank the teachers for keeping the kids in line. That is a very important lesson to learn, and I think our staff does a heroic job lining them up. But, from my perspective on the stage, I welcome all of their childlike, or childish, reactions. Art must speak to children on its own terms, and not just on a basis of appropriate social politeness. And why does everybody have to appreciate art? Art is only one option in life, and I myself do not believe art will automatically enhance anything else in children, besides a new kaleidoscopic pair of eyes, and maybe a pair of mental wings. Not everybody needs to have that, now, does he (she)? There have been some perfectly great humans without any extraordinary imagination or original vision, none whatsoever (Confucius comes to mind). So, by all means, let all the Peter Pans down there doze off into Alice’s Wonderland. Hey, for all we know, they may be just dozing off from a long and hard day, or from some heart-breaking daydreams about some puppy love of their own making, or goodness knows what. Let’s not take anything too personally, shall we? Let the kids doze off or fidget, as long as they make no noise, above a certain level.

What is your fondest memory about performing at CIS?

Mr. Lac: I have had the honour to collaborate with Miss Thuý- Uyển, our director, and with Mr. Mark Bell and Mr. Andrew Lin, perfect gentlemen and artistic souls both. The crew members are absolutely wonderful: Mr. Hung is a joy to work with, and Mr. Tai, his assistant, is a most capable young man. Together they make a fun environment. Thanks also to CIS for providing us with such a lovely venue. About the hall itself, there is room for future improvement, but, I swear I speak the truth, I am most grateful for such a good space! It is good, and it can only get better. Thanks to you all.

As a bilingual person, can you share with us some thoughts about speaking both Vietnamese and English. What does that do to a person?

Mr. Lac: Let us worry more about their Vietnamese than their English, actually. English is so readily available to them now, whereas the media is far from offering enough insight into their own mother language. Vietnamese is a very complex and subtle mental tool, and it has quite deep roots in both SouthEast Asian and Chinese linguistics. The combination of those two very different cultural families gave birth to an extraordinarily rich tongue. Vietnamese kids are not really getting well-trained in formal and academic Vietnamese right now. Vietpop songs, produced at the rate of summer flies, are feeding them a string of magazinelevel vocabulary and limerick-style grammar. The old songs, with subtle poetry for lyrics, are not reaching them at all, and the Kings’ Vietnamese is about as unknown to them as Beowulf to the average English-speaker who walks down the street. I have tutored Vietnamese kids in Shakespeare, kids who cannot even read a line of classical Vietnamese without turning into zombies. We are facing a new wave of Eliza Doolittles to the ball, here, with kids who, classwise, speak Cockney Vietnamese side by side with White House English. That is something about which the Henry Higgins in me loses sleep.

What is your last word for us today?

Mr. Lac: I hope to come back more often. I love CIS!

Thanks for the interview, and good luck with all your dreams and projects, chú Lạc!