Thai Classical Music
evidence exists of early Thai music. Written records and annals
were often destroyed during times of war. Scant records are
to be found over a period of more than a thousand years. Some
songs of the Sukhothai period are still sung to this day,
however, such as the ‘phleng thep thong’.
the past, Thai musicians received lessons by listening to
their teachers. Learning and practice was conducted entirely
by memory. More recently, Thai music and songs have been transcribed
in the Western system of notation to save them from extinction–a
task made difficult by the different scales and absence of
semi-tones in Thai music.
music has been influenced by the music of neighboring peoples,
particularly the Khmer, Burmese, Chinese and Lao. Nonetheless,
these influences have remained distinct from the mainstream
Thai music and are reflected in the names of the various songs:
‘Lao siang tian’ (the Lao oracle of light), ‘Chine gep dok
mai’ (Chinese picking flowers), ‘Khmer glom look’ (Khmer lullaby),
the popularity of Thai traditional music has faded under the
inevitable attraction of Western pop culture, Thai traditional
music is still played at formal ceremonies. Music plays an
important part in the culture and daily life of the people,
and is actively promoted by the monarch. In the Rattanakosin
period, King Rama II composed many songs; the present monarch,
His Majesty King Rama IX (King Bhumipol Adulyadej) has composed
music that combines both popular and traditional Thai styles;
and Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is
an accomplished performer of several Thai musical instruments.
She has become an active leader in reviving interest in traditional
Thai music among the younger generation.
musical instruments are named according to the sounds they
make, their shape or for some historical reason. They are
classified in four types: plucked string instruments such
as the ‘krajuab pi’ (similar to the guitar); bowed stringed
instruments such as the ‘saw’ (like the violin); percussion
instruments such as the ‘glong’ (drum); and wind instruments
such as the ‘khui’ (like a flute). The function of each instrument
varies. For example, the ‘ching’ (a pair of small cup-shaped
cymbals) controls the rhythm, while ‘ranat ek’, similar to
the xylophone, provides the principal melody.
music is played by groups of between five and 20 musicians,
with three types of band: ‘piphat’, ‘stringed’ and ‘mahori’.
‘Piphat’ was originally formed to accompany performances of
traditional dancing, and royal and religious ceremonies. Stringed
and ‘mahori’ bands played with or without singers, purely
classical music is classified by level (‘chan’), according
to the speed of tempo. It is set to a scale of seven steps,
which are both lilting and steady. The level and scale combine
to create specific feelings, romantic, sad, amusing or exciting.
best way to fully appreciate Thai music is, of course, to
listen to it. Thai music can be heard at classical dance dramas,
Thai boxing matches, and everything in between. Visit one
of these public events to get a feel for the amazingly diverse
and sometimes bizarre sounds of the Thai musicians.
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