This morning I attempted to get a decent recording of myself and Sarath, a vocalist and chapey player. A student of his also contributed some vocals. Unfortunately, my handheld digital recorder didn’t do such a great job in what was a very cavernous and echo-filled room. The problems are especially apparent in the saxophone sound. We are hoping to get a better recording at Arn’s studio while I’m still in Cambodia. Nonetheless, this is what we have for now! Feel free to have a listen at this link. Soon, Sarath will be joining me for some street performances, and with a little luck we’ll get some video!
In the afternoon, I went by the Music Arts School here in Phnom Penh. They are very kindly allowing me to use a practice room in their school, as I don’t want my travels to interfere with practicing. (Like many jazz musicians, I’m quite obsessive about practicing.) In return for the school’s kindness, I’ve been doing a bunch of sax and clarinet demonstrations for the curious students. They just walk right into the room and sit down and listen!
Today was quite amazing. Early in the morning, I met Ny, my interpreter, and we went to a poor housing complex called Bouding for a morning street performance. The audience was very appreciative. One of my fans was a young boy, who is half-German, but the father is out of the picture, and the son is living in poverty (an all-too-common predicament here in Cambodia.) I was a little alarmed (but also a little amused) to learn from Ny that the boy had called me “Dad.”
After the street performance at Bouding, I had a truly memorable experience in the afternoon. My colleague Arn Chorn-Pond, who among other things, tirelessly seeks and promotes rare Cambodian traditional music, made a truly stunning find recently. While it was thought that there were no more Khan players in Cambodia, he located an ensemble that uses Khan near the border with the Laos, and they came to Phnom Penh for the first time this week. (It was the first time they’d ever been to a city, at all!) The khan works a lot like a harmonica. It uses multiple internal reeds and produces tones with both both inhalation and exhalation, but it sounds quite different and looks nothing like a harmonica. Check out this video I took of a khan player with singers and dancers. You don’t want to miss it!
It was my first time seeing a khan, and it was also their first time seeing a saxophone. Unfortunately, I only have a short snippet of the khan and sax collaboration, because the photographer was a little confused about the camera being in video mode. It’s still pretty nice, though!
Arn had already arranged for a khan player to come from Thailand for the upcoming Our Village Concert, but there’s a chance these guys might make it too…
Today, was a school visitation today. I performed and spoke at two branches of the Worldwide International School. This school mainly serves young adults, who might not afford university but are still interested in taking classes in languages, accounting, computers, and more. It was fascinating to meet them. I am very surprised by how shy some Cambodian students are. There was one young man who stood up to ask a question, but then got so nervous he couldn’t remember what it was.
This morning I had a wonderful time giving a masterclass at the Royal University of Fine Arts, where the Dean of Music Faculty Yos Chandara gathered a roomful of a young music students. I gave them brief history of the Parade of One project, from my birthday in 2009 to Rwanda, Vietnam, and Cambodia, then I demonstrated saxophone and clarinet for them, explaining the role of improvisation in jazz, the cultural history of klezmer music, and much more.
I concluded the masterclass by inviting a special guest to the stage. I’d brought along Sarath the chapey player (long-necked guitar,) and we showed the students some of the collaborative music we’re working on. They were extremely interested in this music and quite surprised that a chapey/saxophone combination worked so well. They asked us a lot of questions about what it was like to play together and if there were any difficulties. Sarath and I were both open about these difficulties. Sarath was at first a little confused when I played, and it disturbed his ability to remember and improvise lyrics a little bit, though after a couple times playing he figured it out. As for myself, I was at first a little confused by the intonation and harmonies he plays on the chapey, but I also found my place in the music after a couple meetings. One student asked a very basic, nonetheless particularly interesting question; he wanted to know why I wanted to mix the sax and clarinet with traditional Cambodian instruments. I told him that combining music from different cultural contexts is one potential path to innovation.
Today, I had the pleasure of attending and performing at a group recital of beginner piano students at the Simphony School (intentionally misspelled,) a new community music school in Phnom Penh. It’s been a long time since I attended a recital of beginner musicians, and it was rather cute. There was one seven year old who had a marvelous sense of dynamics, and you could feel the excitement and anxiety of the young people being on stage for the first time. There were a lot of proud parents in the room too. At the end, I was invited to the stage as a special guest to play sax and clarinet, and explain the instruments and the types of music I play. It went well, and there was actually a request for the theme from the Pink Panther. I am rather embarrassed to say that it’s been so long since I’ve played or even heard the song, that I couldn’t even remember parts of the melody in my head (however catchy it is.) Luckily, someone appeared with a score of the tune, and it saved the day. Those kids really, really love the Pink Panther song!
The Simphony School recently acquired a saxophone, and they intend to start teaching it soon. I consulted with them briefly about instrument maintenance, what type of reeds and mouthpieces to buy, and some other basics. Not surprisingly, their new saxophone arrived in the mail with some leaks. It will certainly be a challenge to keep a saxophone program going without a local repair technician or even a place to buy reeds and other equipment. Maybe, as the sax grows there, those things will come.
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