Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

Problems with Traditional Music and Its Current Appeal in Central Thailand

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

Problems with Traditional Music and Its Current Appeal in Central Thailand

Article excerpt


Traditional music is a rich part of local culture that reveals much about everyday life in Central Thai society. This qualitative research examines traditional music in five central provinces of Thailand. By using survey, interview, observation and focus group discussion, the investigation assesses the problems with traditional music and the reason for its appeal in local communities. The results show that traditional music in Central Thailand is in decline thanks to the influence of Western culture that is altering audience preferences. Additionally, there are few young people interested in continuing the art and there is a lack of government support in maintaining the traditions. The traditional music retains appeal in its link to the everyday lifestyle of Central Thai society, yet requires modernization in order to survive in the face of global challenges.

Keywords: globalization, inheritance, local society, Thailand, traditional music

1. Introduction

The traditional music of central Thailand is an important part of Thai cultural heritage that reveals the lifestyle of people living in the plains to the North of Bangkok. The area is Thailand's metaphorical rice bowl or land of plenty, given its suitability for agriculture. As in all agricultural societies, central Thai people must compete with the seasons and surrounding environment to earn a living. Inheritance of culture and entertainment from generation to generation is one method of maintaining spirit during times of hard work or hardship. Following the tough planting season and after harvesting has been completed, the people will rest and create ways to relax. So rice harvest music (pleng kiao kao), the kam ram kiew dance, the Thai circle dance (ram tone or ram wong), the ram teud teung dance and the klong yao dance have all been developed. These dances are all performed wearing local cultural costumes and to music played by instruments made from local materials. The traditional musical instruments include the klong yao (a long drum), klong thon (a goblet drum), ching (small thick cymbals), chab (flat cymbals), krab (a clapper) and mong (a hanging gong).

Traditional music is the tunes and melodies of local people. Traditional singing uses plain and simple language and often involves an exchange between males and females. It is usually sung during festivals and celebrations or incorporated into local working practices. A variety of Thai names have been assigned to its different forms, such as pleng chao ban, pleng peun ban, pleng peun mueang, pleng patipak and dontri peun ban. However, these terms all fall under the English language category of 'folk songs'. The traditional music of central Thailand has been inherited by process of mook-pa-ta. Mook-pa-ta is word of mouth transmission and memorization, with no written record. The key characteristics are the charming expressions, deep meanings and witty ripostes, despite the simplicity of the language. Folk songs are thus a part of cultural heritage that has been accumulated over many generations from the past to the present (Loh-ngeun, 2009, p.3). The songs are a form of social entertainment and some songs are even designed to unite and strengthen the social group. These songs are distinctive for their chorus singing parts and the circular arrangement of the singers. The songs that represent a gender exchange have developed as songs for stage performance and entertainment but were originally sung in general society, especially during the New Year and Songkran festivals. The singers require special abilities in memory, quickness of mind, verbal skill, creative thinking and harmony. Given these requirements, not all members of society were able to sing the songs, leading to a separation between performers and audience. The best singers became popular among the other villagers and people from other neighbourhoods. If people did not have a talent for singing, they would enroll with a teacher to develop their ability. …

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