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The Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music

The Thai Spirit House…an ancient tradition

New ‘JJ Indy Contest’ for talented youngsters upcoming at JJ Markets

 

The Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music

Jai-Pee
The highly respected and much loved elder sister of our beloved King celebrated her 84th birthday shortly before her death some eighteen months ago. In order to mark the occasion of that birthday, the Ministry of Culture in conjunction with Sil­pakorn University started work on an immense project which is now showing some signs of coming to fruition – the foundation of a Thai Conservatoire, the Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music.

A computer-generated architect’s impression of the stage in the main concert hall of the Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music at present under construction in Bangkok

The main buildings in which this great new Conservatoire are to be housed are currently under construction near to the Pra Rama 8 bridge across the Chao Praya in Bangkok. The site, formerly an old brewery is shared with the Royal Project offices, Chai Pattana, where over 2,000 people are employed to cope with the vast amount of charitable work undertaken by the Royal Family. The Conservatoire. or Institute as it is currently known, is to be at least five storeys high and will include a prestigious new concert hall, teaching rooms, rehearsal rooms, and attractive display areas. A small concert hall for a chamber orchestra will be completed next year through the restoration of an old building and new offices are already in use.
The Board of Directors, under the umbrella of Silpakorn University, is working hard with funding from the Government as well as many private sponsors including the Siam Commercial Bank, (who recently helped sponsor the performance of Mahler’s 4th symphony), the Goethe Institute, (who are sponsoring chamber music), the Four Seasons group of hotels, Fuji Xerox and many others. Even though formal music teaching will not begin until the building work is completed in 4-5 year’s time, many of the potential staff are already issuing DVDs as teaching aids, and small chamber ensembles and larger groups are now beginning to perform around the country as well as in Bangkok under the Institute’s name.
The end result will be an attractive and international centre for the promotion and enjoyment of music, for the teaching of music and for concerts, recitals and other events. Tasana Nagavajara, the distinguished violinist, professor at Silpakorn, and former concert master of the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, is the assistant secretary and is the only practicing musician on the Board. He is very optimistic about the future, and sees this project as establishing Thailand firmly on the international music scene. He told me recently that all instruments will be taught as well as voice, conducting, composition, music history and other areas. There will be outreach facilities to take the music of smaller groups to all parts of Thailand and hopefully educate and inspire young musicians around the country. In fact, the small chamber orchestra from the Conservatoire will be in Chiang Mai University on August 7th and 8th when they will perform a new work by their conductor M.L. Usni Pramoj, entitled Threnody, followed by Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Bellini’s wonderful Trumpet Concerto in E flat and the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings (further details available later).
This major new initiative in the history of musical development in Thailand deserves our wholehearted support, especially as it is in remembrance of a very great person and very worthy musician in her own right, Princess Galyani Vadhana. Let us wish the project every success, hoping that when the economic climate is healthier, funds might extend to the building of a concert hall here in Chiang Mai under the Conservatoire’s name.

 

The Thai Spirit House…an ancient tradition

Elena Edwards
Spirit worship, and the belief that spirits inhabit every corner of our world, is one of the human race’s most ancient traditions. Here in Thailand, animism arrived with the migrating Tai people from southern China and northern Vietnam, long before Theravada Buddhism was brought from India and Sri Lanka and became the prevailing religion. As with the early Christian religion, which adopted many aspects of Mithraism, Buddhism incorporated beliefs from the ancient spirit religion, a number of which have survived to the present day in tandem with modern state Buddhism.

The spirit house at Wat Chedi Luang, which contains Chiang Mai’s protective spirit within the ‘Pillar of the City’.

Perhaps the most important of these ancient customs is the Thai spirit house, seen in front of hotels and business premises, municipal and government buildings, restaurants and bars, Buddhist temples, local markets, and, of course, in the gardens of homes. The purpose of these often beautifully ornamented structures is to provide a resting place for the spirits, who may otherwise cause problems if they are not treated with the respect they deserve. Offering to the local spirits are made if a householder wants to improve his home; if a person wishes to start a business, or develop an existing one, or if any significant change is made to any aspect of life. When a spirit house become old and needs replacing, or a new one is erected, it must be taken to the local temple, where it will be placed carefully in a special storage area after the correct ceremonials.
The exact style of the spirit house is based on, firstly, which spirits will be invited to take up residence, and secondly, the amount of money available for its construction. A specialist spirit house builder must be used, as all the necessary rituals to attract the spirits must be properly performed. As can be seen all around this city, spirit houses can be made in various materials, wood, concrete or brick being the most common. The houses, when finished, are filled with small representations of people, animals, symbols, furniture, and other images; the balcony is used to place candles, offerings, flowers and incense, which is often and placed daily. The spirit or spirits in residence must be kept informed of all developments by means of offerings and prayers. If they are asked for help or protection and a project is successful as a result or a problem solved, further offerings of thanks must be given.
Of all the countless spirits in Thai animism and folklore, the most revered are the 9 Guardians of the Land, each with their own focus of protection. The two most significant, the Guardian of the House, and the Guardian of the Gardens, are the only guardians who have permanent spirit houses built for their occupation, and are regularly consulted and worshipped. The Guardian of the House, as well as protecting the home, also watches over business matters, and the Guardian of the Gardens is responsible for all growing things, with the exception of rice fields, which have a separate spirit of their own. .
The remaining guardians protect gates, stairwells and the doorstep, (which should, therefore, never be trodden on when entering any building); animals, storehouses, forests and mountains, temples, rivers and lakes, and the defence of the country.
A supreme example of a spirit house and its protective deity can be seen at Wat Chedi Luang, where the ‘Pillar of the City’ is enshrined in a large building on the left of the main gate. Women, however, are not allowed to enter…they must view the interior from below the steps. The annual ceremony to honour Chiang Mai’s City Pillar and its protective spirit is famous throughout Thailand, and attended by many thousands of worshippers during the week-long festival.
These beliefs are as old as mankind itself, and common to all races. Many modern western people may be inclined to dismiss them as mere superstition…but, a belief system which has survived for so many thousands of years and is still thriving in the 21st century should perhaps not be so lightly disregarded. After all, what proof do we have that spirits do NOT exist, and who amongst us has never, even once, touched wood for luck?


New ‘JJ Indy Contest’ for talented youngsters upcoming at JJ Markets

First prize -winners of one of the JJ Markets youth talent contest heats, pictured with their scholarship award.

Elena Edwards
JJ Markets’ annual youth talent contest has always featured in this newspaper, along with JJ Market’s belief, shared with DTAC and the FM 96MHZ radio station in their joint ‘ Do good deeds every day’ project, that young people are the future of both Chiang Mai and the kingdom itself. The aim of the talent contest since its inception in 2007 has been to encourage and stimulate the vast amount of young talent in the city, in music, song and fashion design. JJ Markets and their project partners also believe strongly that giving youngsters an outlet for their talent will encourage them to spend their free time constructively in activities and hobbies.
Since 2007, more than 40 teams and individuals from schools and universities here in the north have competed, with the scheme being welcomed by adults and educational institutions alike. Governmental organisations have provided the rewards in the form of scholarships, and the local media has been more than happy to report the events. Partial profits have been donated to the Chaipattana Foundation and other organisations supporting projects initiated by His Majesty the King.
As a result of the success of the initial idea, JJ Markets are organising a further competition, ‘the JJ Indy Contest’, focusing on a variety of different activities, to be held on the 4th Friday of every month. The inaugural event will take place on July 24, beginning at 7 p.m. at JJ’s Zone A Hall with dinner and live performances from several bands. We wish JJ’s all success in this new project!