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Thai Classical Music Culture
Thai Classical Music Culture (1)
     As the product of a distinctive national culture, Thai classical music has preserved its unique identity stemming from ancient roots. This music is grounded in a folk wisdom accumulated on the basis of a long tradition handed down through generations of Thai artists and musicologists and collected and preserved for succeeding generations. This beautiful art form has been created on the bedrock on a Thai consciousness imbued with song, dance, and music celebrating a vision of life based on living together for centuries.

     Regardless of the culture, musical instruments are divided into three basic categories with four fundamental types of instruments: percussion, wind, and string divided into plucking and strumming instruments. Percussion instruments are considered the oldest (Panya Rungrueang, p. 1). Next, in descending order, are wind, plucking and strumming instruments. In Thai classical music, we find all four types of instruments. These instruments are used in different types of orchestras: Pi Phat Mai Khaeng, Pi Phat Mai Nuam, Krueang Sai Thai, mixed Krueang Sai, Krueang Sai Pi Chawa, and Mahori. At present, Thai classical music combined with international music can be heard as well as pure Thai classical music.

     In view of a paucity of historical evidence, a detailed account of the background and historical evolution of Thai classical music is beyond the reach of historically-oriented musicologists. This may well be because written records were not kept in ancient times. In lieu of writing, continuity was maintained through rote memorization of oral presentations. There is ample evidence that this technique of cultural preservation was used throughout the world. Thus, it was for centuries that the Thai people could have more meaningful lives through having a heritage passed down that would at once instruct and entertain them while preserving historical and cultural continuity.

     According to Montri Tramot (1995, p. 20), the early history of Thai classical music illustrates human happiness in oral and physical forms through the clapping of hands in unison and through shouting at different volumes and pitches. From such primitive beginnings, music became more complex in tandem with greater social and political complexity. However, there is no evidence that can be used to give us concrete and visual ideas of the appearance of the earliest Thai musical instruments. For it is only with the Sukhothai period that we have definite evidence concerning the appearance of earlier Thai musical instruments.

The Sukhothai Period
     Evidence from the King Ramkhamhaeng the Great Stele No. 1 suggests that in the Sukhothai Era, local people entertained themselves by playing music and happily singing.

The Ayutthaya Period
     In the Ayutthaya period, there was constant warfare. This state of affairs hampered the growth of music. Nonetheless, in this period, a new type of orchestra was developed called the Mahori orchestra with the other type of orchestra at this period being the Pi Phat Krueang Ha orchestra.

The Thonburi Period
     No changes were made in the music inherited from the Ayutthaya period during the Thonburi period.

The Rattanakosin Period
  • In the reign of King Rama I, two timpani instruments were added to the Pi Phat Krueang Ha orchestra, while the soprano bamboo xylophone instrument was added to the Mahori orchestra.
  • In the reign of King Rama II, Pi Phat was performed together with sepha. A gong circle was added to the Mahori orchestra.
  • In the reign of King Rama III, alto bamboo xylophone and a small gong circle were added, as was flute. The orchestra was then called Pi Phat Krueang Ku.
  • In the reign of King Rama IV, soprano mettalophone and alto bamboo xylophone were added and the orchestra was called Pi Phat Krueang Yai.
  • In the reign of King Rama V, Pi Phat Duek Dum Bun was developed by Somdej Phra Chao Borom Wong Theo Krom Phraya Narisara Nuwatiwong.
  • In the reign of King Rama VI, Thai classical music grew tremendously. The Department of Entertainment was established. The Department of the Royal Mask Dance Drama, the Department of the Royal Pinphat, and the Division of Royal Foreign Stringed Instruments were additionally established. The Department of Craftsmen was also established for the purposes of developing and maintaining traditional arts and crafts.
  • In the reign of King Rama VII, the king was deeply engrossed in Thai classical music. He composed three songs: Ratri Pradap Dao, Khamer La Or Ong, and the Kluen Krathop Fang Overture.

     After the change in the form of government in 1932, Thai classical music deteriorated up until after the Second World War. Since then it has revived and gradually grown. In the current reign, the king is very talented in foreign music. He has composed many songs. However, His Majesty is also very much interested in Thai classical music. His Majesty donated funds for the publishing of Thai songs with international notes which have been put on sale and have become very popular. Thai classical music is usually performed for His Majesty’s private entertainment or for visitors.
ภาพเครื่องดนตรี
ระนาดเอก soprano bamboo xylophone
ระนาดทุ้ม alto bamboo xylophone
ฆ้องวงใหญ่ large gong circle
ฆ้องวงเล็ก small gong circle
จะเข้ zither
ซอด้วง three-stringed fiddle
ซออู้ soprano fiddle
ขิม dulcimer
ขลุ่ย flute
ฉิ่ง small cymbals
ฉาบใหญ่ large cymbals
กรับพวง noise maker composed of a set of wooden slats
กรับไม้ wood blocks for the Sepha Chant
กลองสองหน้า two-sided drum
กลองแขก Indian drum
ตะโพน two-sided drum with stand
กลองทัด timpani
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