My Last Days in Cambodia (I will be back!)

May 30, 2011

Today, I played at a little slum near the Sovana supermarket. It is generally quite a high-income area, but there is a little strip of small homes (maybe “huts” which can be a loaded term) hidden away in the middle of the urban development. Soluy had found this place one time, while she was wandering around. The audience there was massively appreciative. There was one crazy dancing guy, as tends to happen in low-income, high-drinking areas. I was compelled to learn how to play sax with one hand while dancing with the other hand.

Learning to dance and play at the same time...

There, were also people drinking coffee and eating dinner in their houses, and since there were no walls, they could signal for me stop by their house and play for them a little.

There are people having a drink in that house.

Finally, there were loads of kids.

May 31, 2011

In the morning, I had another meeting with people from Cambodian Living Arts. This time I played with a Pin Peath ensemble, composed of wooden xylophones, gongs, and percussion. The leader of this group is an old Cambodian master, who’d performed in the Royal Palace before the Khmer Rouge. A staunch traditionalist, and nice as she was, she was not interested in ways that sax and clarinet could interact with the group, but her younger counterparts were. One of them is Nisa, a nineteen year old rising star in Cambodian classical music. She speaks English quite well and has even been to Brooklyn. Later that day, she joined me for a street performance at Bouding. It was quite fun.

Pin Peath ensemble (possible spelling problem here.)

Nisa and I at Bouding

Another one of Nisa and me

June 2,3,4,5 2011

Finally, in the week before I leave, I took a trip to Siem Reap, partially to see the temples at Angkor (including Angkor Wat.) It’s the thing you are supposed to “not leave Cambodia” without doing. The temples are quite impressive. My favorite is called Ta Prom, where the forest is actually growing straight through ruins of the temple, with the roots of the tree intertwined around the rocks, and growing from both sides of some of the walls.

I also visited a small village outside of Siem Reap, called Kompong Phluk. The houses there are built on stilts, very high off the ground, because in the rainy season, the entire village would otherwise be deep underwater. The people are very poor, and their way of life is completely controlled by the seasons and the waters. I played a little bit for students at the school there. This classroom will be underwater by next month, as the rains increase.

This classroom is soon to be underwater


This is what Kampong Phluk looks like.

There is also a branch of Cambodian Living Arts in Siem Reap, and Sambor, the local manager, took me to do a little intercultural exchange with some music groups. First, we went to a village where there is a group of young children learning to play traditional funeral music. (As with most of the traditional music, it was almost wiped out by the Khmer Rouge.) The funeral music is very slow, and for lack of a more original term “mournful.” There are only two ensembles in Cambodia now playing proper, traditional funeral music. More commonly, there is the wrong kind of music at funerals, or they use a tape. I am particularly interested in a “double-reed” instrument they use.

The funeral band

Next, Sambor took me to another village where I was introduced to a wedding band. This music was very lively, but probably not in the same way we would expect for weddings in the West. There was another deeper double-reed instrument, in which the musician uses circular breathing, so I showed them some circular breathing on saxophone. Most people in Cambodia, even the musicians, have never seen a saxophone before, other than on television.

Wedding Music

More Wedding Music

June 6, 2011

Today was my last full day in Cambodia. I met Arn Chorn-Pond for lunch to continue discussing plans for the future. Right now, we are seriously floating around the idea of producing a small series of concerts, with international performers, on the Thai border, where there are many former Khmer Rouge and still a little violence. I hope we can pull it off!

Later, I paid another visit to Cambodian Living Arts. I met with Sarath the chapey (two string long neck guitar) player again, and we recorded a few songs. I’m hoping to put some music on my website soon, featuring Parade of One collaborators.

In the evening, it was my time to shine at Nerd Night. You may remember that Nerd Night happens every two weeks here in Phnom Penh, and I was invited to give a presentation at this evening’s event. I gave my usual edutainment presentation about the Parade of One project, but there was one catch. Every presenter at Nerd Night is required to use the Pecha Kucha format, meaning that I had to use 20 slides for 20 seconds each. It was the first time I ever gave this presentation in such a short amount of time (about seven minutes.) Ordinarily, it lasts 20 minutes to an hour. I think the Pecha Kucha format added some humor, but I’m sure the audience (mostly nerds) were left with lots questions!

June 7, 2011

Today I had a quick appointment at Cambodian Living Arts to meet an instrument maker who specializes in woodwinds. I bought a couple unique reed instruments.

Later, I had my final presentation at the Seametry School. You may remember that this school shares a building with my hotel, and the relationship between the two is very close. I was surprised that the kids still remembered terms like Hutu and Tutsi! I played some more music for them, we discussed the differences between Cambodia and Rwanda, and Muoy, the principal, even showed them a google search of my name, and they read an article about my original birthday parade (which is really how the Parade of One project started: They are a very impressive group of kids with impressive instructors. I would definitely recommend staying at the You Khin house, should you ever travel to Cambodia. (It helps support the school.)

Shortly, I’ll be on my way to the airport. Time to go back to New York City, but I’ll be back!