April 2015

This month, while some participants continued to learn the complete Chut melody, all continued to refine ensemble skills. Some musicians began to learn new melodies, including Bopha Lokey (Dance of the Flowers) and the first part of the Blessing Dance (The Chut is the last of four melodies that comprise The Blessing Dance).

We especially enjoyed the challenge of playing together with the community musicians, Sovann Khon, Kimhan Meas, and Vith Chorn. All are masters of Cambodian folk instruments, who are also working with Master Musician Song Heng to extend their already considerable skills at the pinpeat instruments.

About our community-based participants: Sovann Khon is a well-known Cambodian master folk musician who leads a popular traditional wedding ensemble based in Lowell. He also teaches the World Music Ensemble at the University of Mass-Lowell.

Participants’ reflections and discoveries throughout April:

Laura: I’m finally at the point where I feel like I know the whole song! It took weeks of class time and preparation (sometimes more mental than physical) but I am much more confident with my playing now. When playing with others, I find that I can tell where I am based on the other musician’s parts. I know when we play together and when we don’t. When the drum is playing, I know how my part gets on and off the beat. When I make a mistake, I can jump back in. Last night, Mr. Heng asked if I wanted to learn a new song. I do, but I’m going to wait until next class. Hopefully by that point I can play the whole song without any mistakes! Wish me luck!

Eric: I FINALLY learned all the parts to the song! I can’t do it in order. I can’t do it without major pauses at each transition. But I can get through at least the first three major parts with other members of the ensemble. My goal is to be able to play flawlessly, yet slowly, through the whole song next week.

Janet:   I was nervous to step back in after two weeks out, but I’m happy to say that the first half stuck with me! Unfortunately, that leaves parts four through six at a “not yet.” BUT, the form is getting into my brain a bit, as Rita explained “first ending, second ending, tao.” I hope to practice more as circumstances allow so that I can play with the group, at least the first half. The counting still surprises me, as my upbeats are mixed up.

Kellianne:   I’m feeling really happy (and a little relieved) that I know the entire song. Now it’s practicing to get rid of any “hiccups” throughout the song. The only part that is becoming frustrating is that it doesn’t seem to be one part that messes me up, it’s something different every time. Hopefully I’ll make it to the end next week without any hiccups. I’m glad that if I do mess up a bit, I am able to get back in with the group.

Janet: Kellianne, I think your group is the A team with this music. I can’t believe how you all have gotten fluent in the melodies and the timings. So great to listen to you play with others, and I love how the steady drum just keeps the momentum going.

Rita:   I’m excited that I know the entire melody, but still have too many hesitations while I’m practicing. These become bigger while we’re playing together, as I can hear my melody in my head when I miss an entrance, but can’t jump in fast enough in the middle and often have to wait until the next entrance to join in again. I’m hearing the first and second endings, but I’m not familiar enough with the other instruments’ parts to know which one you’re starting each time. I think this week I need to spend more time listening to others so I’m really familiar with their melodies and what the beginning of the Tao sounds like in each part.

Amy: I’m impressed that I have learned as much as I have. I can remember how to play the parts, but I am struggling to remember which part comes next. The song is very challenging even though it is repetitive.

Jesse: Our group finally made it through the whole song! I’ve found that our group has functioned really well together when it came to learning this new instrument. We each took turns practicing our parts while the other two would watch; this acted as a refresher when we needed to get warmed up from the previous week and it was immensely helpful to be able to watch someone else practice the parts that I was struggling with. Between the three of us we usually always knew what the right notes were, and our progress only halted a few times from being unsure what the actual notes were. These were times where we consulted the Master, and at the times where we learned a part incorrectly and practiced it that way, he would help us to relearn the notes and rhythm of the part.

Jesse: Laura, you are a Kong Thom machine! I can really see the college instrumental practice ethic in you still!

Laura: I love playing! It’s a blast!!! 😉 It’s also really fun to play with the local Cambodian musicians!

Rita: We all found it helpful to record audio and video clips of the various melodies for reference when Master Heng was not with us.  We still needed Song’s guidance to string the melodic phrases together with the correct rhythms, and to navigate the intricacies of fitting the parts together with the ensemble.  Here is an example of our clips: Laura slowly demonstrated each section (1-6) of the Chut melody, along with the repeating Tao and the ending.