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The Show Must Go On - “An Evening of American Music”

Burmese Art at the Writer’s Club

The Show Must Go On - “An Evening of American Music”

Dr.Supattra Suttilagsana
Photos by Thongchai Mahachai and Supawan Prommetjit

Even though the devastating flood that hit Chiang Mai on August 14-15 closed Payap University’s music school, the show went on several nights later as two American musicians performed “An Evening of American Music” with a student choir at the University’s Luce Chapel on August 18.

Ira Spaulding leads in the singing of the highlight song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” while conducting the Payap choir in the second half for excerpts from Gershwin’s folk opera “Porgy and Bess.”

Pianist John Ferguson and baritone/choral conductor Ira Spaulding arrived in Chiang Mai on Monday, August 15, planning to begin training the Payap University choir that evening for the performance on Thursday. Sponsored by the U.S. Consulate General through the American Voices Foundation, the concert covered American traditional and Broadway music and excerpts from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”. Payap’s choir accompanied the two guest musicians for the second half of the performance. With the music school still under water on Monday, however, the first rehearsal had to be abandoned, reducing by one-third the practice time available for the choir.

As Payap University President Dr. Boonthong Pucharoen and Consul General Beatrice Camp noted in their opening remarks, this was the third musical performance in as many months jointly organized by the US Consulate General and Payap University. CG Camp explained that this American Voices concert took the cooperation to an even deeper level by providing an educational component as well as performance. The enthusiasm of the students for their visiting teachers came through in the clapping, stamping, and whistles that greeted the entrance of John Ferguson and Ira Spaulding. Despite the truncated rehearsal schedule, the American visitors had clearly had an electrifying effect on the 70 students they trained and performed with.

American Voices musicians, John Ferguson and Ira Spaulding, U.S. CG Camp, Payap President Dr. Boonthong, Ajarn Ayu Namthep, and Payap Choir - as many members as a picture frame can hold.

During the second half of the concert the Payap choir joined John Ferguson and Ira Spaulding onstage for gospel songs and excerpts from “Porgy and Bess”. In the highlight song “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, Ira Spaulding sang, shouted, whispered, strutted and mugged at the front of the stage while simultaneously conducting the choir. The Payap singers followed suit, grinning at their own antics as they shook their hands in gospel gestures and imitated the gerontological movements of Methuselah. At the concert’s end they led the standing ovation before gathering around the two guest musicians for farewell photos and thanks.

After the concert, Ajarn Bringkop, the head of Payap’s music department shook his head in disbelief at his choir’s outstanding performance. Pointing out that some of the singers are still first semester freshman, he called the event “an incredibly powerful synchronization” between the American artists and Thai music students. President Boonthong beamed with pride over the Payap performance, while the students themselves pleaded for more such opportunities in the future.

During a week in which most Chiang Mai residents were occupied with the aftermath of a once-in-a-lifetime flood, American musicians John Ferguson and Ira Spalding managed to bring focus and fun to Chiang Mai music teachers and students while introducing them to a type of music and a style of singing well beyond their usual experience.


Burmese Art at the Writer’s Club

Chiangmai Mail Reporters

Burmese art is finding resonance in Chiang Mai, with back-to-back exhibitions of outstanding works at two city venues. Following directly on a successful showing at La Luna Gallery, Burmese artists have now taken over the Writers Club and Wine Bar for a season lasting for the next six months.

That’s what you call mix and mingle. It was guaranteed you were not left alone last Friday at the Writers Club and Wine Bar. The whole expat community seemed to have met there.

Seven Burmese artists are displaying their work in a one-month group exhibition to be followed by six months of solo showings. The season is being organized jointly with Chiang Mai’s Souvannabhumi Art Gallery, which has one of Southeast Asia’s finest collections of Burmese art.

Six of the artists live and work in Burma, the seventh, Harn Lay, lives in Chiang Mai, where he has built up a reputation as an accomplished cartoonist as well as artist and was present for the opening night.

Robert Tilley from the Writers Club and Wine Bar, Souvannabhumi Art Gallery owner Mar Mar, and cartoonist Harn Lay chat about the new exhibition.

Harn Lay’s six fellow artists include three whose work has won international acclaim: Kyee Myinnt Saw, Pe Nyunt Way and Win Pe Myint. A fourth, Zaw Mong, lives on the banks of the Irrawaddy and draws his inspiration from the river environment. Mandalay-born Nya Minn Kyaw studied under Win Pe Myinnt, while the sixth artist, Moe Nyo, is a recent discovery by Souvannabhumi Art Gallery owner Mar Mar.

The painting Cat was banned in Burma (Myanmar) for political reasons.

Some of the artists have difficulty showing much of their work in Burma because the military regime in Rangoon objects to its “moral tone” or political overtones. Did you know that even a sketch of a nude is forbidden and not only that, the painting of the blue cat is banned for political reasons as there are no blue cats, so it obviously must be black…That’s a political logic!

The Writers Club and Wine Bar exhibition is open Sun-Fri from 12 to midnight. It runs until the end of February, 2006.