spell this magic flute can cast
More than gold is worth.
It calms the soul and brings at last
Happiness on earth.”
May I introduce you to Pitijet Vichitporn,
who also uses the western name of Xavier? You may have heard his
recent performance with Nakornping Productions’ “Hats
Off!” Who will ever forget his rendition of the “Colonel
Bogey March” or the hauntingly beautiful “Now Is the
Hour”? But his repertoire is not limited to popular music, no
matter how lovely it may be. Listen and you can hear him play
Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Now listen again. Do you hear
singing? At first the singers were hesitant but now they are
singing four part harmonies. In English as well as Thai. These
are some of his students, and what is remarkable about their
performance is that they are blind. Equally remarkable is that
Ajahn Xavier donates his time and teaching skills to them.
Pitijet Vichitporn is the youngest of three
children. He was born in Chiang Mai, and both he and his large
extended family live in the neighborhood where he grew up and
went to school. From the small classroom where we are talking,
he can nod and say “My aunt lives there, my cousin teaches
there, my mother works over there.”
He has an amazing family. Both of his parents
came from poverty, but both are educated and accomplished. His
mother’s family once survived by camping on the riverbanks,
but she eventually was placed in a convent and received an
education. She’s a graceful lady, a teacher for forty years,
an expert in Thai classical dance. His father was the oldest of
14 children. He left school early to earn money and help the
family, and followed his own musical talent into local
entertainment venues. Eventually that musical talent landed him
a job with the Thai Government Bank’s own band, and then a
career with that same bank followed.
Xavier can’t remember when music wasn’t a
big part of his life. He started out as a child singer, winning
contests and trophies. Then he studied classical dance – more
contests and trophies. Then he took a little sidestep as a young
adolescent and entered the world of rock music and break
dancing. His parents and teachers weren’t exactly happy with
that, but he eventually came back to his roots and studied the
piccolo and then the flute at his school. Then his school band
at Montfort competed in the national band contest in Bangkok –
and won. As a young teenager, he had no idea that the world was
getting ready to open up before his eyes.
The band went to the Netherlands for
international competitions, then toured Japan, Canada,
Switzerland. “Everything,” he says, “changed
completely.” The young musicians returned to Chiang Mai as
local celebrities. They were called “world champions” and it
was heady stuff. He entered Payap University to study flute with
Annette George. He also studied choral conducting, taking his
early church experience in the area with him. He went to as many
concerts as possible, but never limited himself. He still
enjoyed popular music as well as classical, vocal as well as
instrumental. With a little encouragement, he could probably
break dance again. Music simply flows in his bloodstream.
After university graduation, he went to
London to study. He soon found that he had badly underestimated
the cost of living and was working to support himself more than
he was studying. It took two years before he was brave enough to
speak English but he listened to the radio and television and
any conversation that he could eavesdrop on without being rude.
He got a job at the Thai Embassy as a porter, but then was
discovered to be a musician. After that he played the piano at
official state functions.
He went to Holland and stayed with the family
of an old friend. Room and board secured, he was free to study
music again. He landed an audition with the Antwerp
Conservatory. Pieter den Otter was his teacher. Then he went to
the Ghent Conservatory in Belgium, and it was another turning
point. He studied privately under the supervision of musician
Jan van Reeth. He thrived.
In 2000 an old friend asked him to come home
to teach at a new music school. Xavier was delighted to be back
in Chiang Mai. He had learned a lot abroad, but this was home.
The school didn’t make it financially, but he had an offer to
be Music Director at an international school in Kao Yai. He
spent a year there before Chiang Mai called again.
He and Noi have been friends since childhood.
A musician herself, she was working in a job that paid well but
wasn’t the career she wanted. Her family’s large property
offered many opportunities for development, and they talked
about opening a small music school. They would simply see what
opened up to them. So Noi’s family home became Baan Chulasai,
and Xavier opened Xavier Flute Studio there. They also offer
piano lessons, and this is where the students from the School
for the Blind study.
We listened to the students one Sunday
afternoon. It’s difficult for them to go anywhere. A driver
must take them and a teacher must go with them. But they love
the music. “You are not blind to me,” Xavier told them. He
teaches them just as he teaches other students, and demands the
same investment of time and energy. He uses a few special
techniques. He touches each student lightly to get his or her
attention before he speaks.
Xavier does not know what the future will bring, but he is
open to growth and change. His goal is to keep alive musically,
to keep moving, not to stagnate. He practices every day. He
likes to perform several times a year. And he loves to teach.
Music brings out the best in him; and he brings out the best in