BU Today feature: Kinh Vu’s Journey from Vietnam Orphan to BU Music Professor
Kinh Vu was an infant when he was abandoned in front of An Lạc Orphanage in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. Like many of the children who landed there, he was given the surname of the woman who ran it, Madam Vũ Thị Ngải.
“This is the gate where I was left outside the orphanage,” Vu says, showing a snapshot of an empty sidewalk and the closed gate. The mundane image belies its gravity for Vu, a College of Fine Arts assistant professor of music. “I have some of that wall, actually, in my office.”
Soon after he arrived at the orphanage, in April 1975, just ahead of the fall of South Vietnam, he was flown to the United States with other orphans, an airlift so novel that it became the subject of a made-for-TV movie (The Children of An Lac, 1980). He was adopted by a California family, and he’s lived an all-American life. A gifted musician, Vu played euphonium, tuba, and string bass in his high school and college orchestras and marching bands. Later he taught music in public schools for more than a decade before moving to higher education.
In 2014, he came to the CFA School of Music, where he is also dissertation progress coordinator. His passion for music, and for life, is such that as a faculty-in-residence at Kilachand Hall, he’s known to host student gatherings in his apartment and start up a drum circle or pull out his ukelele to bring people together.
The forthcoming anthology My Body Was Left on the Street: Music Education and Displacement (Sense Publishers, 2020), which Vu coedited with André de Quadros, a CFA professor of music and former School of Music director, takes its title from something de Quadros heard him say. The book is but one example of the way Vu’s life experience and love of music have braided together with his scholarship and pedagogy.
This weekend the School of Music hosts the annual Conversation on Music Education, which brings together students, alumni, faculty, and outside collaborators to dig deep into their role in supporting change through music. Vu will host the Forum on Poverty and Displacement, focusing on circumstances where music education can make a prosocial impact, from a choir of people experiencing homelessness in San Diego to an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) project bringing music to a children’s care center in India.
The topic could not be more meaningful, or personal, to Vu. Through the years, his precarious beginnings in Ho Chi Minh City were always there in the background of his life, a soft, steady drumbeat. Eventually he had to go back.