Endangered Thai Music Culture : The Current Situation of the khrueang sai pi chawa Ensemble

Supeena Insee Adler




The khrueang sai pi chawa (KSPC, “Thai stringed instruments with Javanese oboe”) ensemble in Central Thai society is a unique ensemble for its repertoire, its tuning, and its contemporary cultural context. In 2012, only one institution maintains a complete professional ensemble, performing only for special occasions. In my ongoing fieldwork research in Thailand, I have found that this special ensemble has a long history and complicated circumstances involving both the royal literature Inao and the politics of authority in its transmission. Khrueang sai pi chawa is very highly regarded, but rarely performed among Thai musicians. I consider it to be an endangered musical form, in part because of the very strict custom that the only musicians able to perform are those who have had direct contact and studied with teachers who played in khrueang sai pi chawa, and they must receive special permission to perform. This permission can only come from those who have played KSPC in the past, and very few continue to perform actively. Another factor is that few Thai musicians appreciate or fully understand the function of this unique ensemble. From my extensive interviews, I found that knowledge of KSPC is limited at present to only a few musicians who assert the authority to perform and teach KSPC to the next generation, and this authority emanates from their position within the Music Division of the Fine Arts Department of the Thai government in Bangkok.


(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 6/2013, Page 203-226)


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