We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that audience members encounter through Center for World Music programs. This instrument profile was contributed by K. S. Resmi and N. Scott Robinson, Ph.D.

Carnatic Singing

The voice in South Indian classical music (also known as Carnatic music) is versatile and expressive. Decades of training are required to meet the demands of the tradition, including the ability to sing at least three octaves (the typical opera singer has about a two-octave range). Professional singers typically learn hundreds of compositions in six languages (Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi) and in a variety of musical forms, including bhajan, slokam, varnam, keerthanam, kriti, padam, javali, ragamalika, ragam-thanum-pallavi, and thillana. Each of these forms has its own musical structure with some requiring improvisation. Whereas Western music employs two main melodic modes (major and minor) on 12 pitch centers, Carnatic vocalists typically learn dozens of ragas (a group of five, six, or seven pitches that go together as a set), which they perform on a single pitch center.

Similar to the way Western classical music singers learn scales using the solfege syllables Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do, South Indian classical vocalists use a system of syllables called sargam: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa. The three-octave range is notated with dots below (lower octave) and dots above (higher octave) as follows:

Carnatic system of syllables

Tanjore Tambura

There is no system of fixed pitches in South Indian music, so each singer chooses his or her own central pitch (Sa), one that will allow their voice to cover three octaves. They typically use this pitch for their entire careers. During a performance, that chosen pitch is sustained as a drone on a tambura (plucked string instrument) or, in the modern era, on a sruti box (a bellows-blown reed instrument, now often electronic). All learning is done traditionally by ear and by memory as repertoire and style are transmitted from guru to disciple. Instruction may involve daily lessons and practice for an intensive period of ten to twenty years before reaching a professional level. Even then, study typically continues over a vocalist’s entire lifetime.

Concert performances in South India can take three to five hours with a vocalist presenting several types of compositions all from memory with little or no rehearsal with the accompanying musicians, who typically include a percussionist and a melodic accompanist who follows and echoes the vocalist’s lead. About three-quarters of the way through a concert, a main piece, lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour, will be performed to showcase the improvisational abilities of the vocalist and accompanying musicians. The vocalist’s improvisation can involve singing many musical pitches on a single syllable, singing in three octaves or more with the sargam syllables, or choosing on the spot a portion of the song’s lyrics and melody and varying those. Carnatic vocalists have a distinctive virtuosity that both marks their musical identity as South Indian and contributes to the great diversity of traditional musical cultures in the world.

See the renowned 20th century artist M.S. Subbulaksmi performing Jagadodharana (“Supporter of the Universe”), a composition by Purandaradasa (16th c.) and Pakkala Nilabadi (“Standing by the Side [of Lord Rama]”), a composition by Tyagaraja (18th–19th c.).


K. S. Resmi is a performer and teacher of Carnatic music. For her full resume, please visit www.ksresmi.com. N. Scott Robinson, Ph.D., percussionist and ethnomusiciogist, is chair of the Music Department at San Diego Mesa College.

Image of Violin

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that audience members encounter through Center for World Music programs. This instrument profile was contributed by Jorge Andres Herrera of Hermanos Herrera. 

The Huastecan Violin

Violin performance techniques and style found in son huasteco, a traditional musical style originating in Northeastern Mexico (also known as huapango), are unlike any that exists. The Huastecan violin differs only in style and technique from the ever-popular classical violin. However, paired with a huapanguera, eight-string bass guitar-like instrument, and jarana huasteca, a small five-string rhythm guitar, the violin found in the son huasteco tradition is arguably one of the most interesting and unique styles of violin performance.

The son huasteco is a form of traditional Mexican music that takes its name from the Huaxtec/Huastec indigenous group that inhabits the northeastern area of present-day Mexico. The word “son” in son huasteco, is used to describe the amalgamation of Spanish, indigenous Mexican, African, and other music styles and influences that evolved after the arrival of the Spanish in 1519, and during the colonial period of Mexico from 1521-1810.

instruments

Left to Right: jarana, violin, huapanguera (8-string)

What makes the son huasteco violin different from other Mexican son styles? It is an interesting question that involves a complicated answer. To put it simply, however, style, including note emphasis, and timing are what set apart this violin performance style from any other. Most sones (songs) from the huastecan region are in 6/8 meter (best described as repetitive counting from 1-6, similar to West African styles of music which highly influence eastern Mexican music genres). What makes the huastecan violin style of performance different from most others is the ability of the violinist to play with the timing during the improvisation of musical interludes. In other words, a violinist will drag the timing and drag the notes, and also rush the timing and the notes as they weave in and out of the rhythm set by the huapanguera and jarana huasteca in a sort of musical game that might throw some listeners off.

The question is often asked, who is the greatest huastecan violinist of all time? Although I have my favorites, it is truly an unfair question due to the fact that what makes a son huasteco trio great is not the solo violin, or the abilities of the jarana and huapanguera; rather it is the entirety of the trio and how well they blend together and anticipate each other’s improvisatory flairs. Some of the all-time great trios include Camperos de Valles, Cantores de Pánuco, Trio Camalote, Hermanos Calderón, and Trio Armonía Huasteca, to name a few. Each of these trios comes from a different part of the northeastern region of Mexico. They all have unique styles based on their surroundings and the previous musicians whom they learned from.

The huastecan violin floats above the fixed pulsating rhythm provided by the jarana and huapanguera in a distinctive unpredictable flight pattern that will surely capture the attention of any listener.

Below are two examples of son huasteco performed by trio Eliodoro Copado of Camperos de Valles, and Juan Coronel of Cantores de la Huasteca.

Camperos de Valles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzPTVdOBfQc

Cantores de la Huasteca: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnhUbtzgEHc

 

Learn more about the author, Jorge Andres Herrera, and his family band, Hermanos Herrera.

Contact Info:
www.hermanosherrera.com
www.youtube.com/hermanosherrera
Twitter / Instagram: @hermanosherrera

Sonbros Records
sonbros@sbcglobal.net
(805) 794-1800

By Natasha Kozaily

The winter solstice marks the start of the astronomical winter and the day of the year with the fewest hours of sunlight. Following the winter solstice, days get longer and nights shorter as spring approaches. Naturally, fire and light are salient symbols of hope during this time. For thousands of years, our ancestors marked this day with festivities, songs, dances, sacrifices, and meaning-making rituals. It was a time of celebration, of reflection, and most importantly, hope. People looked forward to Spring, the return of light, and the birth of a new sun and earth!

In light of this, no pun intended, I’d like to share with you a story of a Sicilian saint, an ancient headlight, a song, a recipe, and some fabulous photographs.

Girl Serving Santa Lucia Feast

 

Who is Santa Lucia?

Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) is a Catholic saint who was born in Syracuse, Sicily, in 283 AD and became a martyr at the age of 20. Though she lived a considerably short life, she is still celebrated in different parts of the world almost two thousand years later.

Santa Lucia costumes

Few facts are known about Lucia’s life and death, though several stories and legends have evolved over the centuries. Just about all of the stories start the same way: Lucia was born into a wealthy Sicilian family. At a time of Christian persecution, Lucia vowed at a young age to live her life in the service of Christ. Lucia’s mother attempted an arranged marriage for her daughter to a pagan man. When Lucia refused, the angry suitor reported her to Roman authorities, and Lucia subsequently was sentenced to life in a brothel and forced into prostitution. Staunchly loyal to her faith, Lucia benefitted from divine intervention: when it came time for her to be placed in the brothel by Roman guards, she became immovable; it was as if she had turned to stone and the guards could not move her. The soldiers then built piles of wood around her to burn her alive. Lucia was untouched by the flames and survived the inferno. They also attempted to take out her eyes but found them miraculously restored. Finally, Lucia met her death when stabbed through the neck with a sword.

Santa Lucia with sword

The Feast

St. Lucia’s feast day commemorates the day of her martyrdom, December 13th, which also was the shortest day of the year – Winter Solstice under the old Gregorian calendar. Because her name means “light,” many of the Yuletide’s ancient light and fire customs became associated with her day. Today’s Lucia celebrations involve the oldest daughter of the family dressing in a long white robe with a red sash around the waist, along with a crown of fresh greens and lit candles worn upon her head. The young lady rises before the rest of her family and serves them traditional Lussekatter (Lucia buns) and coffee. In many villages and towns across Sweden, Lucia processions, concerts, and celebrations signify the start of the Christmas season.

Image of girl wearing red sach of Santa Lucia

In Sicily, there is a legend of how there was great hunger in Syracuse, Sicily. The town’s people had gathered in the cathedral on Santa Lucia’s feast day, December 13th, to pray. Soon after, two ships loaded with wheat arrived, with her at the helm of one, dressed in white, with a halo of candles on her head. This story explains the cuccia, a kind of sweet porridge made with wheat berries, chocolate, sugar, and milk.

Santa Lucia Feast

The Music

Music plays a large role in the festivities surrounding the Feast of Saint Lucy. This Neapolitan folk song is song across Italy and Scandinavia on December 13th. You can find a recording by Caruso here and the sheet music here.

Musicians for Santa Lucia

 

 

Santa Lucia, thy light is glowing
Through darkest winter night, Comfort bestowing.
Dreams float on dreams tonight
Comes then the morning light,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

 

 

 

If you’re looking for more music to celebrate the “return of light”, please enjoy this playlist filled with songs about light! The perfect soundtrack for a family dance party on this Winter Solstice!


About the Author
Natasha Kozaily is a Center for World Music Teaching Artist and a Member of the Board of Directors. She co-founded Kalabash School of Music and the Arts in La Jolla, California. To learn more about Natasha and her project, please visit her website at http://natashakozaily.com/.

“A Radiant Aesthetic Force”

In celebration of Women’s History Month (March 2020), we recall with respect, awe, and affection the life and artistry of Thanjavur Balasaraswati (1918-1984). Not every organization has its patron saint, but Balasaraswati certainly was and remains such for the Center for World Music. The impact of the art of this great lady, once described by Dr. Narayana Menon as “perhaps the greatest Indian dancer of the past thousand years,” provided the original inspiration for Luise and Samuel Scripps to found and fund the American Society for Eastern Arts (ASEA) in 1963. The ASEA later became the Center for World Music.

Balasaraswati, studio portrait, Madras, 1934

Born in a family of musicians and dancers connected to the royal court of Thanjavur, Bala embodied a matriarchal lineage of artists that the family traced back to the 18th century, at least seven generations. Her grandmother, mother, and brothers were all renowned musicians. She was to play an important pivotal role in the revival of bharata natyam (classical temple dance) and its transformation into a stage art in modern India. Equally important, she became the leading ambassador of South Indian classical dance to the world, being invited during the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s for repeated tours and residencies in the United States, Europe, Japan, and elsewhere.

A great artist, greatest of all living bharata natyam dancers . . . one of the last surviving representatives of the authentic tradition in which dance is a deep-felt spiritual experience. (Indian Express, February 11, 1971)

A radiant aesthetic force . . . (Times of India, March 1972)

Balasaraswati, photo by Jan Steward

With her daughter Lakshmi and her ensemble of musicians, Balasaraswati enthralled professional dancers and musicians, students, and recital audiences during summer workshops organized by the American Society for Eastern Arts. These took place at Mills College in Oakland, California in the summers of 1965, 1966, and 1972, as well as in Bali, Indonesia in 1971. In 1974, Bala and her ensemble—along with K. V. Narayanaswamy and other senior South Indian musicians—figured prominently in the inaugural program of the Center for World Music, a summer session at the Center’s original location in Berkeley, California.

We remember an inspiring artistic giant, a woman that looms large in the history of world dance . . . and the history of the Center for World Music.

For Further Exploration

Knight, Douglas M. 2010. Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life. Wesleyan Univ. Press.

“Bala” (1976), a documentary by Satyajit Ray, the famed Bengali filmmaker.

Documentary by Aniruddha Knight, Balasaraswati’s grandson.

The San Diego Troubadour, October 2018

J. T. Moring wrote a nice piece on our June 2018 Songs and Stories: Refugee Artists in San Diego concert series for The San Diego Troubadour.  Here are some excerpts:

The roots of American folk music stretch deep and wide, and indisputably tap into a myriad of worldwide cultures: bluegrass’ roots in Irish dance tunes, gospel’s in African call-and-response, Tejaño’s in German polkas, and on and on. The Center for World Music (CWM) promotes performing arts from around the world, expanding intercultural awareness and offering insights into our home-grown musical traditions.

 

The newest initiative at CWM is their Songs and Stories: Refugee Artists in San Diego concert series, whose inaugural season kicked off last June. Each of the three themed shows included multiple performers followed by a discussion. The first show highlighted African performers; the second featured Middle Eastern stringed instruments; the third focused on songs, stories, and drumming from Middle Eastern women. These shows gave the performers an opportunity to recreate and reconnect with the culture of the homelands they left behind. They offered local audiences a unique chance to experience unfamiliar music, created organically on the spot by regular folks. The interpersonal bonds forged through those shows have helped weave the immigrant community into the fabric of San Diego life.

 

These shows gave the performers an opportunity to recreate and reconnect with the culture of the homelands they left behind. They offered local audiences a unique chance to experience unfamiliar music, created organically on the spot by regular folks. The interpersonal bonds forged through those shows have helped weave the immigrant community into the fabric of San Diego life

To read more, take a look at the full article here.

For further information, see our Songs and Stories event listing, as well as this KPBS video report. Finally, there’s also a photo album for each performance.

San Diego Troubadour Link

36 String Kantele

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of world music instruments with an article by Merja Soria, CWM teaching artist, and player of the kantele.

Sing the song of Kantele!

The kantele belongs to a large family of string instruments called zithers. Zithers have a resonating body with a variable number of strings, which can be plucked, strummed, struck, or bowed. In the case of the kantele, the strings are plucked or strummed and the smallest kanteles can be held in the player’s lap. The kantele is the national instrument of Finland. Finnish folk poetry recounts that the first kantele was made from the jaw bones of fish and the hair of young maidens. When the first kantele was played, the sound was so beautiful that all living things started to cry. Their tears rolled into the ocean, and when they touched the sea they turned into beautiful blue pearls.

There are kanteles of many sizes: 5-string, 10-string, 11-string, all the way up to the 36-string concert kantele, as seen above.

My favorite instrument is the 5-string kantele. It is a very soulful and humble instrument. It teaches you to quiet your mind and allow the kantele to sing its stories–stories of hard winters and beautiful summer nights, stories of a resilient northern nation who fought hard for its independence.

 

You play the 5-string kantele by plucking the strings to create melodies. You can also strum chords by muting the strings that don’t belong to the chord. The strings of this small kantele are tuned to the first five pitches of the major or minor scale.

Larin Paraske, one of the great rune singers of Finland

Larin Paraske, one of the great rune singers of Finland.

The 5-string kantele is often taught in Finnish schools as the first instrument for young children. It encourages creativity, as it is easy to learn improvisation with this instrument. Children find the kantele fun because they experience the joy of playing together as a group. You do not have to be a Finn to appreciate and learn kantele.

Merja with her daughter and two other children

Merja, with her daughter, and two children.

I am a first-generation Finnish immigrant now living in the US, and for me, the kantele and Finnish music are the bridge that connects the two distant worlds.

2016 Christmas Revels – Northlands

2016 Christmas Revels – Northlands

When I close my eyes and let my fingers move across the strings of the kantele, I remember—I remember the Finnish spirit that is in me. The spirit that says keep going and never give up. All the while, singing the song of life through all the difficulties. Sing the song of the kantele!

Learn more about Merja at merjasoria.com. View a “vintage video” of Merja performing on a 10-string kantele soon after her arrival in the United States.

Merja Soria is a performer and teacher of Finnish folk music and a Center for World Music teaching artist.

Bodhran

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of world music instruments with an article by Máirtín de Cógáin, CWM teaching artist and player of the bodhrán, or Irish frame drum.


When I was a young lad in Cork, Ireland the bodhrán (pronounced bow-rawn, like cow brawn) was commonly considered as the “ancient sound of Irish percussion.”  Indeed, we are told that the bodhrán was used to summon the fairies from their magic fort on full-moon nights. Many novice players could not understand why this profound sound of the past was not widely featured in traditional Irish music sessions across the world. After all, they would say, isn’t this “the Irish drum”? Little did we know that the opposite was the case. While teaching bodhrán in upstate New York at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, I sat in on an eye-opening lecture by Fintan Vallely entitled “Hunting for Borr-án: Shaking a Stick at the Origin Myths Concerning the Irish Drum.” My world as a bodhrán player was completely dismantled.


Through long research, Fintan had found that the bodhrán has been a part of Irish music for only the last 200 years, if that. Its use was not widespread and was generally reserved for only the wildest of parties. As Fintan puts it in his notes on the talk:

“. . . what is the history of the bodhrán? What we know so far is driven by myth and wishful thinking. . . . the famous Irish drum has no ancient artistic past: at the best it was only ever just a tambourine. The Irish device, from which the word ‘bodhrán’ comes, most likely originally meant an agricultural and domestic tray or container — even a sieve. Yet the bodhrán IS around, and being brilliantly played, as solid an art and presence as the harp or the pipes. We borrowed the device from [minstrel shows] or the Salvation Army, the rhythms from dancers’ feet, and we synthesised the modern playing style from the sounds of Ulster Lambeggers, Indian tabla tippers and Scottish pipe-band snare drummers.”

Today the bodhrán is a rapidly-developing Irish drum, in both its design and its playing style. It was brought from its humble origins in rural celebrations to public attention in concert halls and theaters by Seán Ó Riada and Peadar Mercier in the 1960s, and featured prominently in the ensembles Ceoltóirí Chualann and the Chieftains. From there it has exploded across the globe and become a mainstay at many Irish music sessions and home fireplaces. Johnny “Ringo” McDonogh is noted as the first player to damp the sound with one hand on the back of the instrument, and many others have further developed this style of two-hand playing. In addition, tunable bodhráns have improved the tone more concretely, and turned the humble farm utensil into a sophisticated musical instrument.

At the age of 19, I stumbled into the Douglas, County Cork branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and promote Irish traditional performing arts. It was there that a tiny 6-inch bodhrán with a hole in it was thrust into my hands, and I was steered into a bodhrán class with teacher Eric Cunningham. The rest is history. Today, I play a 14-inch Metloef bodhrán, although many instruments of old were 18 to 20 inches in diameter. According to Fintan’s research, those larger sizes were prevalent because old spinning wheels were used as the rim of the instrument. Personally, I find the larger diameters too cumbersome, although other players still prefer them. Two pieces of wood in the shape of a cross, placed within the back-side frame are common in the larger drums, but I feel that they are a hindrance to playing the smaller instruments that I prefer.

In the past, the performer’s bare hand was most commonly used to beat the drum, as demonstrated by the great Rónán Ó Snodaigh. Nowadays, however, a stick called a cípín is typically used. Ideally, the cípín matches the length of the player’s hand, from outstretched thumb to outstretched baby finger, as this is about as much weight as any one’s wrist can withstand for extended playing. When both ends of the cípín are used, this is known as the “Kerry” style of bodhrán playing. A different style, known as “top end,” uses only one end of the stick and is characterized by a heavy emphasis on upstrokes of the cípín. 

Videos of the bodhrán:
The Gallant Fusiliers by Máirtín de Cógáin
Bodhran jigs – Karl Nesbitt & Tommie Cunniffe
www.MairtinMusic.com

Máirtín de Cógáin is an actor, singer, percussionist, storyteller, playwright, dancer, and teaching artist for the Center for World Music.

Didgeridoo

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of world music instruments with an article by Randin Graves about the Australian Didjeridu.

The didjeridu (or didgeridoo) is a deceptively simple instrument in construction. Nevertheless, it can produce extremely complex music in the hands of an expert player. It is simply a tube with no reed, finger holes or moving parts of any kind. The player creates rhythm and shifts of timbre and pitch with movement of the breath, lips, tongue, cheeks, throat, vocal cords, and stomach muscles. “Circular breathing” is employed to produce continuous sound, whether a simple drone or an intricate rhythm.

A rough map of the origins of the didjeridu.

Aboriginal people of northern Australia invented the instrument and still use it in ceremony and daily life today. Didjeridu is not in fact an Aboriginal term, but an onomatopoeic word created by European settlers describing the sound produced by traditional players. There are many words for the instrument in Aboriginal languages. The best known around the world are yidaki from northeast Arnhem Land and mago from west Arnhem Land. In both regions, it is also common to hear the word bambu used. Bamboo was occasionally in use at the time of European contact, but has now fallen out of favor with Aboriginal players.

Djalu Gurruwiwi begins chopping down a stringybark tree (Eucalyptus tetradonta) to craft a didjeridu.

These days, people around the world make didjeridus out of a wide variety of materials. Traditionally, however, instruments are made from trunks of eucalyptus trees that have been hollowed out by termites commonly known as “white ants.” A craftsman scans a forest for likely instruments, then taps a tree up and down to evaluate the hollow inside. If it sounds good, the tree is felled, cut to length, stripped of its bark and carved down to match the interior hollow.

If the natural hollow of the wood at the top is too big or irregularly shaped, a material found in bee nests called “sugarbag” is formed into a mouthpiece. Sugarbag is a black, gummy substance native Australian bees make by mixing their wax with eucalyptus tree resin, not the yellow wax of European bees that is often seen on instruments made for the tourist market. Instruments made for sale or special ceremonies may be elaborately decorated with clan designs related to the artist, but most didgeridoos in everyday use in northern Australia are unpainted or wrapped top to bottom in duct or electrical tape to hold them together through inevitable cracking as the wood dries.

Milkay Mununggurr accompanies ceremonial song with a didjeridu completely wrapped in tape.

Traditional Aboriginal players continue to use age-old tonguing techniques that stem from their language and are foreign to most outsiders. As the instrument has spread globally, many more styles have developed around the world, from new age drones to beatboxing, in both solo and ensemble settings.

Witiyana Marika and Milkayngu Mununggurr of Yothu Yindi perform a
traditional Yolngu song with didjeridu

Randin Graves plays contemporary didjeridu music with guitar

— Randin Graves is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and one of the world’s leading non-Aboriginal exponents of the Australian didjeridu.

For more information on the didjeridu at its origin, visit YidakiStory.com, which Randin created in collaboration with many Yolngu Aboriginal people as part of his Fulbright Fellowship and Master’s Degree project.

Thai Jakhee

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of world music instruments with an article by Suppeena Insee Adler about the jakhee, an instrument used in Thai and Khmer music.

The jakhee (จะเข้) is a plucked string instrument with three strings and eleven wooden frets, found in Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia. The name is derived from the Thai word for crocodile, jaurakhee, because the body of the instrument is shaped like a crocodile, and it is sometimes elaborately carved to represent one. The body is made from wood, often from the jackfruit tree, carved out of one piece and covered with a flat lid on the bottom which has sound holes and five short legs.

Crocodile Jakhee

To play the jakhee, the player tightly ties a large pick to their right index finger. The right hand rests against the body of the instrument and the hand rocks back-and-forth over the strings in an arc-shaped motion, plucking strings individually or strumming across all three. The pick is often made from hardwood, bone, ivory or ceramic. The instrument itself can be decorated in elaborate patterns with gold paint, mother-of-pearl, lighter colored wood trim, bone, white resin or ivory. It has two silk or nylon strings, tuned to Do and Sol, and one metal string tuned to Do an octave lower, and they are strung over a curved bridge that gives the instruments a buzzing timbre, similar the javari bridge on Indian instruments such as the sitar.

jakhee-supeena

Supeena Insee Adler playing jakhee

Traditionally, a player sits with legs folded back to one side on the floor behind the instrument, but today it is common for the instrument to be elevated so the player may sit on a chair. The jakhee is often played as a solo instrument, but it is also found in classical ensembles, including the khrueang sai (stringed instruments) and mohoorii ensembles.

The stringed ensemble consists of one jakhee, one sau duang (two-stringed hardwood fiddle with python skin), one sau uu (two stringed fiddle with coconut shell body covered with cow skin), one khlui (wooden vertical flute), thoon-rammanna (a set of two drums), and ching (cymbals). It originated in the royal palace and is often used in entertainment settings, at schools, universities, communities, and temple festivals, and funerals.

The khrueangsai pii chawaa ensemble

The khrueangsai pii chawaa ensemble

Another, much rarer, kind of ensemble combines the small stringed instrument ensemble with quadruple-reed oboe and a pair of drums (klaung khaek). It is called khrueangsai pii chawaa, or stringed instrument ensemble with Javanese oboe. This ensemble is closely associated with royalty and plays both entertainment and ritual music, and was the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of California Riverside, entitled Music for the Few: Nationalism and Thai Royal Authority.

Want to see videos?

Supeena Insee Adler demonstrating the jakhee at UCLA. View here

Chin Kim Yai performed by Saharat Chanchalerm and orchestra at the Thai Cultural Center in Bangkok, Thailand. View here.

Thirty-five jakhee players perform at the funeral of their music teacher, khruu Thaungdii  Sujaritkul. View here

A khrueangsai pii chawaa ensemble performing at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. View here.

Supeena Insee Adler, Ph.D., is adjunct assistant professor at UCLA, ethnomusicologist, and performer. She also teaches Thai music at the Thai Buddhist Temple in Escondido, California.

Irish Music at The Ould Sod

In this second in a series of reports on the fascinating variety of traditional music that can be found around the world, Mike De Smidt tells us about Irish music sessions in San Diego, California, USA.

Many people became familiar with Irish traditional music in the 1990s with the emergence of the stage phenomenon Riverdance. Some may also be aware of something that has existed far longer and continues to be a vibrant affair for musicians and spectators alike: the session, best described as a group of musicians playing a spontaneous selection of dance music. Irish music has a very long history, dating back thousands of years, but the music that is heard today developed primarily in the past two hundred or so years.

george-rubsamen-sm

Photograph by Michael Eskin

One important aspect of Irish traditional music that makes it distinct from many other European musical traditions is that it has a contiguous history, unbroken by shifts in the political climate or changes in cultural taste. Sessions are a great venue for the transmission of this tradition from one generation of musicians to the next. The purpose is thus not only musical, but also social. Friendships are forged and reinforced through the sharing of tunes from the participants’ repertoires. Sessions, moreover, play a very important role in building a sense of community.

The session at The Ould Sod on Adams Avenue in San Diego has engendered a fantastic musical climate for over a decade and a half and serves as an anchor for the local community of Irish musicians. Every Tuesday night, between five and ten musicians gather in an alcove by the front door and play a variety of tunes—jigs, reels, hornpipes, slides, and the occasional song—for themselves and for anyone else who wishes to listen. This is an important thing to note about Irish sessions: the musicians, while certainly happy if other pub patrons enjoy the music, are primarily playing for their own enjoyment. That being said, it is a fairly inclusive affair as well. New musicians—of varying experience—are welcomed into the group, learning the shared repertoire and often adding to it with music they bring to the gathering on their own. While it is a regular weekly event at The Ould Sod, the session still maintains an air of informality that adds to its charm and sense of inclusion. There is no amplification, the instruments are acoustic, and you will find a wide variety of them at that! You’ll find the fiddles, flutes, banjos, and guitars that most people are familiar with, but also  more unusual instruments such as the uilleann pipes and the concertina.

kevin-kane-bob-schoultz-at-the-ould-sod-sm

Photograph by Michael Eskin

A session is an occasion to celebrate, enjoy a musical culture, and have a great night out with your friends. Tuesdays at The Ould Sod are certainly no exception.

— Mike De Smidt is a musician, ethnomusicologist, and instrument builder living near Santa Cruz, California.

See a short video of a typical Irish session, from Joe McHugh’s Pub in the village of Liscannor on the west coast of Ireland.