Weekly Local Biography

  Tianchai Sooktiang

The managing director of the Voice Studio in Chiang Mai is a Thai, Tianchai Sooktiang. He is a Chiang Mai lad, having been born here to a farming couple who were rice planters, so there was no silver spoon for young Tianchai and his younger sister. They had to work too. During his education, Tianchai was no stranger at the tobacco leaf dryers, who were always looking for unskilled labourers.

His schooling was through the government institutions, finishing at Yuparaj School, and he had in his mind that he would like to go to university and study music. “I had loved to sing since I was young, and I felt I should study music,” he said. However, his parents did not agree, feeling that a science degree would be a much better stepping stone to financial security, as one could understand from their rural background.

Like any good young Thai, he acceded to his parents’ wishes and entered the Faculty of Science at Chiang Mai University, majoring in Physics. During these undergraduate years he added to his income by singing at night in pubs and clubs. This helped him survive, but it also extended his four year course into five. “It took me five years because I was singing too much,” he said by way of explanation.

Having done as his parents wished, he then looked at what he really wanted. “I decided to make my own choice and went to study classical music at Payap University as a singer.” This included opera and other classical music art forms. To keep himself financially afloat he continued the nocturnal singing in the pubs. He also had a dabble in a fashion boutique. “I opened a boutique business. I thought I’d like it, but I was wrong.” All that this interlude did was to extend his classical music course from three years to four!

No longer an undergraduate, Tianchai returned to Payap as a part-time teacher, melding his degrees in physics and music, by teaching the physics of musical sound and acoustics, hearing and sound production. The rest of the time, he sang professionally.

Unfortunately he found that classical music was not all that popular in Thailand, only the pub style, so he began singing pop numbers, winning an important contest in Thailand 21 years ago, which also gave his career a boost.

From there, his entrepreneurial flair came out again and he opened a restaurant serving European food and Broadway music. At night the restaurant had live music - Tianchai himself! The restaurant as his vocal venue lasted five years, finally becoming a victim of the main roads department which took so long building a new road outside while his customers were effectively blocked from getting in.

I asked Tianchai if he had ever wanted to follow a career in pop music? “It doesn’t interest me. Maybe I’m not good looking like “Bird” McIntyre. That’s what they (the fans) want.” He considers that he has done something much greater than being a pop star. “I am very proud of the fact that I have had a chance to sing for the Royal Family. I have sung for the Queen and the Crown Prince, and I still sing for the Crown Prince at his parties.”

Not going to pop music, finally he decided it was time to combine his experience in teaching and his experience in music, and opened his own music school. That was five years ago and has been very successful for Tianchai. The original school in the CM building now being added to with another in the Wangkam building in Nimmanhaemin Road. “Everybody can sing if they can hear and have vocal chords,” said Tianchai. “Everyone has the ability to sing. It’s not a gift. It is something you want to do.”

He has found that parents these days want their children to study singing. “When I was young music was a second class career, but that has totally changed. The vision of Thai people has changed a lot. The living standards are so much better and they are now looking at the pleasures involved in living.”

The rationale behind the schools is not to turn everyone into a “Tata” Young or “Bird” but is much more all-encompassing than that. “I don’t want everyone to be a singer, but to be brave and confident to perform on stage. This will support them in their careers in the future.”

For Tianchai, there is also much personal satisfaction in the schools. “I can see the students progress. I can see the satisfaction of the parents. I can see the love between the parents and their kids. It is really touching and makes me feel so happy.”

Brave and confident his students may become, but some have also gone on to professional singing careers. He has two students about to release their own albums and others who have been contracted to major record companies. There is another singer whom Tianchai intends to record himself - his father! Tianchai has found that his father does have an excellent singing voice, so even though his parents were not initially supportive of their son’s direction in life, one can see where he inherited the talent! “My parents now accept me and are very happy with me,” said Tianchai modestly.

Running two schools is time consuming, so Tianchai does not have all that much time left for hobbies, after his normal 60 hour week. However, he still has something in his mind regarding clothes design and designs many of his own outfits. But his major non-music interest is cooking, enjoying preparation of gourmet meals in all types of cuisine.

As far as the future is concerned, it is here in Chiang Mai. “I really enjoy what I am doing now, and I will hang onto that.” I would have to concur, as Tianchai made it very obvious all through the interview, in body language alone, just how much singing really means to this young man.