News from The Nation
Newspaper Feb 7, 2002
Thai music has found its way into Norwegian classrooms
they are many thousands of kilometres apart, but distance is no obstacle to
a warm relationship that has lasted for the best part of a century. King Rama
V visited the Land of the Midnight Sun on July 12, 1907, two years after
Norway became an independent kingdom. Thailand was one of the first countries
to formalise diplomatic relations with the new Norway, and the two Kingdoms
have maintained close ties ever since.
The Royal Thai Embassy in Oslo estimates that there are some 6,000 Thais
living in Norway, while Norwegian visitors to Thailand in 2000 totalled 65,000
not bad, considering the population of the Nordic Kingdom is a mere 4.56 million. Today Thailand and Norway are strengthening
the bonds by building a new friendship bridge with the help of two musicologists.
Skyllstad of the University of Oslo and Asst Prof Bussakorn Sumrongthong of Chulalongkorn
University, Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, Music department first met at
the Asian Multi Cultural Music Festival in Columbo, Sri Lanka and they hit
it off from the start. It is not a story of two lovers. but a story of two
music lovers, says
Thai ambassador to Norway, Takoon Panich. Norwegians and the Thais living
here, would have no opportunity to learn about Thai classical music, were
it not for these two great musicians.
Not longer after her return from Sri Lanka, Dr.Bussakorn received an invitation
from Prof Skyllstad to come Oslo to give a lecture, which she happily accepted.
But, as luck would have it, she only learned about the scholarship scheme
for university lecturers to work abroad for three months when she arrived
back from the Norwegian capital. As the only criterion set was a letter of
recommendation from the country concerned, she decided to apply, only to notice
in dismay that the closing date was the following day.
Fortunately, Skyllstad offered a helping hand and supported her application.
He also extended the period from three to nine months to allow her sufficient
time to set up her project to promote and teach Thai classical music.
Bussakorn's plans panned out and on March
1 last year, the Royal Thai
Embassy in Oslo presented 43 Thai classical instruments to the Music Institute
of Norway. The project has adopted the workshop approach and targets mainly
students from Trondheim University and the University of Oslo. One-year
certificate courses are also available at the music institute and at the
international department for childrens art. Thais wishing to attend are exempt
from fees.Norwegians are very interested in Thai classical music. This is
because we do not teach them to read notes as is common in the West, but
rather to memorise the notes. They find it very challenging. The students
are also given instruction in Thai beliefs and are encouraged to exchange
ideas, thoughts and lifestyles.
Bussakorn smiles as she recounts the chaos in the childrens class.The kids
were running around and jumping over the instruments. I was horrified. But
rather than shout, I explained that the instruments provided us with knowledge
and that in Thailand objects are respected in different ways. We show respect
for our homes by keeping them clean. The instruments give us the gift of sound
and that it why we should always respect them. I think it helped them understand
the traditional homage made to the teacher before a class begins.
We never say " Ñdon' t do that, it's bad".
We explain the Thai way of doing things. Almost all the teaching is based
on Buddhist culture. Only if humans learn to respect the cultures of others
can peace become a reality. Music is an important tool in teaching understanding.
Culture, lifestyle, views and practices say a great deal about the nation.
Bussakorn is also hoping that Thai classical music will be adopted as a course
at all levels of instruction and not just as an elective subject at university.
Right now, we are waiting for a response to Prof Kjell Skyllstad proposal
to the Ministry of Culture that Thai classical music courses that will also
include cultural exchanges be offered at primary schools.
The Norwegian children we have taught loved the music, especially the Angklung (instrument made of bamboo tubes). They would
all reach for them the moment they heard the rhythm. In another class, we
taught the youngsters to sing and
dance to 'Khmer Lai Kwai'(Khmer Buffalo Chasing Song). We divided them
into two groups, with one lot playing the Khmer and the others the buffaloes.
They loved it.
Norway was not Bussakorn's first experience in promoting cultural exchanges
through music. In 1993, while working for her Doctorate at the University
of York, she travelled down to London at weekends to facilitate workshops
for students attending Kingston University, Winchester University, the School
Oriental and African Studies, plus pupils from three or four secondary
She was thrilled when HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented a complete
set of instruments to the Thai Classical Music Club in London. When Bussakorn
performed during a Buddhist exhibition in the Netherlands, she met a professor
from the University of Amsterdam who expressed his interest in Thai classical
music. They kept in contact by e-mail and Bussakorn suggested that he approach
the Royal Thai Embassy about possible sponsorship for buying and transporting
musical instruments. Once again, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn came
to the rescue and gave the traditional Thai instruments to the university.
Yet, she insists that her friendship bridge is not finished and hopes
that HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will be able to accept the invitation
from the Royal Thai Embassy to perform in Oslo next year.In the meantime,
she intends continuing her mission of promoting Thai music around the world.
She has already developed her first Thai classical music website:
, which has proved as popular with foreign music students as with her own
and will shortly launch http://intermusicenter.com
to meet the growing demand for information about Arts in Southeast Asia.
" My intention is to construct cultural bridges of friendship
worldwide" says the Assistant professor.