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Free with Admission to Museum ($10)

Cambodian traditional music, heard often in Khmer Buddhist ceremonies across the country, is steeped in sacred and religious significance. At different ceremonial events throughout the year, special musical arrangements are set to accompany chants and prayers marking important moments and transitions in the lives of millions of Cambodian Buddhists in Cambodia and across the world.

To commemorate the official Opening Ceremonies for Season of Cambodia, an historic city-wide celebration of Cambodian arts and humanities initiated by Cambodian Living Arts, the Rubin Museum will host a special performance of traditional Cambodian music by an ensemble of musicians from Cambodia. The festivities will coincide with the advent of Cambodian New Year, one of the most important celebrations of the year for Cambodians.

The musical program at the Rubin Museum will feature traditional instrumental arrangements such as Mahori and Pin Peat, along with Smot chanting. Curated by world-renowned Cambodian ethnomusicologist and former MacArthur Fellow, Dr. Sam-Ang Sam, the music will be accompanied by a presentation of the Cambodian Dhamma, offered by Khmer Buddhist monks from Cambodia residing United States.

Leadership support for the Opening Ceremonies of Season of Cambodia is provided by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. Season of Cambodia is co-chaired by Anne H. Bass, John Burt, and Darren Walker. Additional lead support comes from the Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Fresh Sound Foundation, The Kaplen Foundation, Asian Cultural Council, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh, and Henry Luce Foundation.


Dhamma for New Year (Courtesy of Ven. Kandaal)


The Rubin Museum and Season of Cambodia Present

Cambodian Traditional Music – A Sacred Offering

Additional information on the program:

The musical forms: 

Smaut (Intonal Recitation)
Musical terminology can be better understood within its contextual traditions.  Only recently, was vocabulary created to describe terms such as scale, modulation, cadence etc.  Similarly, Smaut does not have an English musical equivalent as it encompasses elements of recitation, narration and singing.  Essentially it is of a rubato nature devoid of rhythmic pulse and accompanies a variety of sacred and traditional forms of Cambodian music, dance and theater.

Arakk (Worship of the Spirit / Shamanism)
Arakk is considered the oldest of the Cambodian music ensembles.  It consists of a plucked monochord, three-stringed fiddle, long-necked lute, double-reed pipe, goblet drums, small finger cymbals, and vocals.  This highly spiritual and religious form, is often performed, among other circumstances, to incite a medium to enter into a state of trance in order to identify the cause of illness.

Kar (Wedding)
Cambodian weddings often take place in April which is considered an auspicious time of year so the music and activities are often associated to the New Year celebrations.  Cambodian weddings are rooted in timeless tradition.  Although today’s Cambodia is experiencing far more emancipation, some communities continue to adhere to prearranged marriages steeped in strict ceremony and prolonged negotiation.  Even the most modern weddings in which the decision to marry is made by the couple, the ceremony itself remains faithful to sacred traditions in which music plays a vital role.

Pin Peat Ensemble
Vung phleng pinn peat or court ensemble of Cambodia consists of wind and percussion instruments: sralai tauch (high-pitched quadruple-reed shawm), sralai thomm (low-pitched quadruple-reed shawm), roneat aek (high-pitched xylophone), roneat thung (low-pitched xylophone), roneat daek (high-pitched metallophone), korng tauch (high-pitched circular frame gongs), korng thomm (low-pitched circular frame gongs), chhing (small finger cymbals), sampho (small double-headed barrel drum), skor thomm (large double-headed barrel drums), and chamrieng (vocals). It has its main function in the accompaniment of court dance, masked play, shadow play, and religious ceremonies.

The pinn peat is one of the oldest Khmer music ensembles. Instruments and instrumentation in its present form, although larger and more elaborate than its prototype, were carved on the walls of the Angkor Vatt temple thus giving its age to over a thousand years old. This ensemble, of shawms (oboes), xylophones, gongs, and drums, is the strongest in sonority among all Khmer music ensembles. This attribute is needed to support the dynamics and nuances of the Reamker (Ramayana) story, for instance, which evolves around its principal theme of conflict and antagonism between good and evil represented by the army of Preah Ream (Rama) and that of Reap (Ravana) respectively.


About the artists:

Sam-Ang Sam (Program Artistic Director and musician) is a Khmer born ethnomusicologist and musician, was educated in Cambodia at Royal University of Fine Arts, in the Philippines at College of Music, University of the Philippines, and in the United States at Connecticut College and at Wesleyan University, where he received his B.A.’s, M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s degrees in Music Composition and Ethnomusicology respectively.  Dr. Sam has taught in universities in the US, Canada, Australia and throughout Asia.   Presently, Dr. Sam is an Advisor to Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, and is Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Letters, and Humanities at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, where he also teaches. Dr. Sam is a recording artist and has written and published several articles in internationally refereed dictionaries, encyclopedias, and journals, and 13 books on various aspects of Khmer culture, including his new book on Music in the Lives of the Indigenous Ethnic Groups in Northeast Cambodia published by the PUC University Press (2010).   Dr. Sam has received numerous grants, awards, and honors, including the US National Heritage Fellowships (1998), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowships (1994), the Achievement Award by the City of Los Angeles (1992), Award for Outstanding Contribution and Service to Refugee Communities throughout the US by the Councilman 13th District Michael K. Woo, City of Los Angeles, CA (1992), Congressional Record (102nd Congress) by Congressman Glenn M. Anderson, California (1992), Public Affairs Award by the City of Long Beach (1992), and Recognition for Contribution to the Southeast Asian Refugee Community by Mayor Richard Ceccia of the City of Signal Hill, CA (1992).

Keo Dorivan started learning music from his father in 1979; an established Khmer music master. He started his formal music training at the Secondary School of Fine Arts in 1980 and finished in 1989, specializing in traditional wind instruments and percussion.  Dorivan has devoted much time to researching and reviving various forms of Cambodian music including a year in Laos to study the Ken wind instrument.  He completed his BA in Ethnomusicology from the Faculty of Music, Royal University of Fine Arts in 1999 and continues to work as a lecturer. Dorivan has performed extensively in both traditional repertory and contemporary works both locally and internationally.  Dorivan was a featured musician in Where Elephants Weep the first Khmer rock opera which was presented in the USA and Cambodia.

Keo Sonankavei studied music at the Secondary School of Fine Arts from 1980 to 1989 and soon after became a music instructor at the school. He received his BA in music in 2010. Sonankavei is well-versed in all Khmer percussion and string instruments.   He is also one of Cambodia’s few manufacturers of traditional musical instruments.   In 2006 he produced the (chromatic) twin gong which was featured in the Khmer rock opera Where Elephants Weep and in 2012, he revived the lost ancient instruments, Pin (harp) and Kong Peat (percussion). He has performed throughout Cambodia and internationally. He was a featured musician in Where Elephants Weep, the first Khmer rock opera which was presented in the USA and Cambodia.  Sonankavei is also the drummer of a Cambodian jazz ensemble.

Keo Sophy was trained as a Khmer traditional percussionist at the Secondary School of Fine Arts from 1980 to 1985. He received his BA in Composition from the Royal University of Fine Arts in 2006. He has composed numerous works of pop music as well as for movies. He has also composed music which fuses western and Khmer traditions.  Sophy was one of the creative team for the development of the twin xylophone and chromatic gongs in 2006. Sophy teaches composition, Khmer music theory, and percussion at the Faculty of Music. He was a featured musician in Where Elephants Weep, the first Khmer rock opera which performed in the US and Cambodia. He has also toured to Mongolia, Japan, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Say Tola is the son of the distinguished traditional music master, Say Sareth. He began his music training in 1990 and entered the Secondary School of Fine Arts in 1993. He obtained his BA in Khmer Traditional String Instruments in 2004 from the Faculty of Music, Royal University of Fine Arts where he has been a faculty member. Tola also performs and teaches pop music. He was a featured musician in Where Elephants Weep the first Khmer rock opera which performed in the US and Cambodia. He has toured to the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

Yun Khean, known as Yun Theara, is a master of Cambodian traditional music. He started performing music at the age of 8 and began his formal training at the University of Fine Arts in 1973. Immediately following the fall of the Khmer Rouge, he joined other faculty members to teach music at the newly restored School of Music. He pursued his studies to receive his BA in Ethnomusicology in 1995. He continued teaching and was the Associate Dean in charge of academic affairs from 1996 to 2009. Theara is one of Cambodia’s most prominent music educators, advisors, and scholars and has made significant contributions to the revival and preservation of Cambodia’s traditional music heritage. He has performed and given workshops and presentations in Cambodia and around the world in universities, theaters and festivals. Currently, he is the Deputy Director General of Cultural Affairs at the Royal Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

Phoeun Sreypoeu is a smot (chanting) singer. She began her training in 2004 when she was 12 in a smot class funded by Cambodian Living Arts in Kompong Speu, Cambodia. She received an Arn Chorn Pond scholarship to continue her smot training with a master and also studied Mohori songs with renowned Cambodian master, Yan Borin. She has performed smot at numerous events in Cambodia and since 2009 been teaching smot classes at the Cambodia Volunteer Community of Development. Internationally, she has performed smot in India, Nepal, and the United States including a Khmer chanting event at Houston Grand Opera.      

Yin Yean began studying smot (chanting) at the age of 15 when he was living at Sok Sen temple in Kampong Cham. During his three year monkhood, he continued to study ritualistic smot. In 1974, he joined a Lakhaon Bassac (Cambodian folk opera) troupe in Kandal. During the Khmer Rouge, he was a performer in an arts community in work camp. In 1982, he furthered his study of smot at the Royal Palace and then became a teacher at the Secondary School of Fine Arts. He participated in a series of workshops with Peking opera master, Wu Hsing-guo, of the Contemporary Legend Theater in Taipei, sponsored by the Asian Cultural Council. He is currently an instructor at the facultry of Lakhaon Bassac.

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