PAYAP UNIVERSITY CELEBRATES
The 1st Asian Traditional Music Forum 2009
On Sunday evening, August 16, Payap University celebrated 35 years
of existence, with a spectacular concert at the fine E.C. Court auditorium.
Apart from Thailand six other ‘countries’ – in order of appearance – were on
stage: Japan, Indonesia, Karen, the Philippines, Korea and Malaysia.
are the two Karen singers whose performance was the highlight of the Asian
Music Forum held to celebrate Payap University’s 35th anniversary.
It was just three and a half decades ago in 1974 that Payap was ‘created’ as
a union between two organisations, the Thailand Theological Seminary and the
McCormick School of Nursing. Since then some 23,000 students have graduated
and from 1984 the university has been recognized by the Royal Thai
Government and goes from strength to strength.
The many performers at this event made Chiang Mai the culmination of a
countrywide tour through Thailand. After some traditional Thai music
performed during the registration period the evening began formally and
untypically with music that was not traditional, but resolutely modern. The
brilliant pianist, Atsulo Seta, played a work from 1989 by Motohiko Adachi.
Called Jonkhara, it was a one movement work, which sought to expand the
instrument as a percussive instrument (including use of both fore-arms in
the latter sections) and did so with verve. Although there were lyrical
moments and a distinctive Japanese traditional feel to some of the piece it
made a rousing opener.
Inevitably the sweet sounding Indonesian quartet from the Panda Music School
(Jakarta) seemed somewhat docile in comparison but in their later pieces as
the dance rhythms came to prominence, the music was both attractive and
They were followed by the highlight of the evening, two musicians from
Karen. Accompanied by two players from Payap, one on cello the other on wind
instruments, the two singers from Sangkhla Buri, Kanchanaburi in north
Thailand delighted the large audience with songs of great delicacy and
warmth. According to the programme notes Wong Char-phue Char-au is music to
accompany dance and is Karen but influenced from Burma, blending the two
nations as one through culture (there must be a political message there!).
The exquisite singing from the man and woman was haunting and heartfelt,
almost ethereal. They left the audience wanting to hear more.
The same might not be said of the large contingent from the Philippines, who
seemed intent of guiding us through an all-too comprehensive range of music
and dance from various regions of the country. Although much of it was very
charming and some of the courtship dances delicate it was left to one solo
player on a string instrument (difficult to describe but much more sitar
than guitar) playing traditional, resolutely indigenous music to steal the
show. Certainly his unaffected brilliance was the instrumental highlight of
the entire evening. Interestingly he was the least ingratiating of all the
musicians during the concert, barely acknowledging the audience or the
applause, intent only on his brilliant playing.
After a belated interval, Thailand was again on show with some fine playing
from a vast barrage of classical instruments. Their bright sounds gave way
to the Sonagi Group from Korea, who were a feast both to the eyes with their
charming costumes and the ears with their dramatic percussive music. There
was great interplay between the many musicians, with plenty of movement. The
drumming was exceptional and it is considerable complimentary to say that it
evoked memories of the Kodo drummers from Japan, despite the former’s
smaller instruments. The solid cymbal –like instruments were also a
wonderful contrast to the drums and the whole electrifying performance was
greatly enjoyed by the audience.
It was left to Malaysia to round off a very varied evening with their
performers from the Raja Dr Nazin Shah College at the University of Malaya.
They had the largest contingent of both dancers and musicians and brought
the evening to a colourful and vivid close.
This was in many ways a most successful event and thanks are certainly due
to the many sponsors and to the organizers for a chance to enjoy such a wide
range of traditional music played with authenticity and skill. All with free
admission into the bargain. But at the risk of being churlish (and in the
hope that it will be an event that is repeated) a few words of criticism.
Inside this important celebration there was an excellent musical happening
struggling to get out. Thanks to the charm and skill of the performers it
largely succeeded, but at times it sank under a welter of commentary and
conversation. The two hours or so of music from 7.30 p.m was supplemented by
something like another hour plus of interpolation.
Accepting that the opening speeches and the presentations to the groups were
necessary (7-7.30 p.m.), why did the audience need to endure constant
explanations and interruptions (sometimes as long as the shorter musical
offerings) which made the actual concert drag on until well past 10.30 in
the evening? The result was that many audience members left well before the
concert ended. The extreme coldness in the auditorium was possibly an extra
factor in sending people home. So please, next time, and let us hope there
is a next time, please, please set the thermostat level higher and keep the
conversation level down.
Imam Yahya Hendi PhD - religious integration, knowledge and humility
The Pornping Tower Hotel was the venue on August 13 for a seminar
aimed at sharing strategies for the peaceful promotion of religious, ethnic
and cultural diversity within society. The event, ‘Integration of Religious
Teachings for Reconciliation and Peace’, was organised as part of the U.S.
Speaker Programme and hosted by the US Embassy in Bangkok and the US
Consulate in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai deputy governor Chumporn Saengmanee and US Consul-General Michael
Morrow welcomed the eminent speaker and expert in comparative religion Imam
Yahya Hendi PhD, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, USA.. Imam
Hendi is one of the US Muslim community’s leaders who met with President
Clinton and with President Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy and
later, and serves as a member of the Islamic Jurisprudence Committee of
America. His focus is on issues related to world peace, economic and
political justice and interfaith dialogues and issues. He has travelled
worldwide to present a multitude of interfaith programmes.
Hendi, pictured talking with Elena Edwards after the ‘Integration of
Religious Teachings for Reconciliation and Peace’ seminar at the Pornping
Tower Hotel on August 13.
The seminar was held in two parts, with the morning session attended by over
100 representatives from 5 different religious communities; Muslim,
Buddhist, Christian, Sikh and Brahman-Hindu. The afternoon session was for
local young people and students.
During the morning seminar, quotes from the major religions were given;
Buddhism: ‘Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find
hurtful’; Christianity: ‘In everything, do unto others as you would
have them do unto you’; Islam: ‘None of you truly believes until he
wishes for his brother and sister what he wishes for himself’; Hinduism:
‘Do not unto others what would cause pain if done to you’; Judaism: ‘
What is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbour’; Sikhism: ‘I
am a stranger to no-one and no-one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a
friend to all’; Bahai’: Lay not on any soul a load that you would not
wish to be laid on you’. Following was the request that all should learn
from the spirituality and peace-building resources of other faiths. ‘There
is no way to peace – peace is the way, and humility is the admission that
one does not own the whole truth’.
After the event ended, Imam Hendi kindly agreed to talk with the Chiang Mai
Mail, noting first that all of us must face up to the same challenges;
poverty and economic issues, racism, war, violence, sickness including
HIV/Aids, abuse, trafficking, drugs and religious extremism. Only then will
the true voices of peace in all traditions and religions be heard.
Imam Hendi stressed that ‘our worst enemy is ignorance, and our best friend
is education’, adding that the ability to realise our ignorance is
all-important and that Muslims and Christians, for example, have a long way
to go before they understand the truth of each others’ religious messages.
Describing his own experience, he said that he had studied comparative
religion because he wanted to find the way forward for society, but
eventually realised that the more he studied, the more obvious it became
that he knew nothing! Finally, he realised that to truly learn and truly
‘know’ one had to become very humble.
He believes that all humans have ‘blood on their hands’ and that no-one is
perfect. The ability to acknowledge ignorance begins with education and the
engaging in dialogue of educators, the media and clergymen and women across
all faiths. He stressed that ‘theological differences do not mean that we
are enemies, as theology is what theology does – it gives dignity and
respect’. To begin to deal with issues such as human trafficking, child
abuse, corruption and the impact of HIV/Aids, people must begin at the
beginning – with interaction between friends and neighbours, whatever their
religious beliefs. ‘Do as you would be done by’, he said, is an essential
concept for all religions.
For Thailand itself, the Imam stated he would like to see full integration
of all three regions, the north , the centre and the south, with stability,
wealth, jobs, resources and an end to discrimination for all. As an example
he quoted the movement begun by Martin Luther King, which was soon to
include not just black Americans but people from every race whose forbears
had settled in that great country. People of all colours and creeds came
together to right the wrongs which began with the development of the great
Southern plantations and resulted in the introduction of slavery into a
country founded on the need for freedom of religious and political
‘Liberation’, the Imam said, ‘should become the aim of all’.
To this reporter, Imam Hendi’s most significant statement was, ‘Countries
meet at their borders – religions meet at their hearts. The heart of all
religions is love and compassion’.
After the Chiang Mai seminar and Imam Hendi’s visit to four religious
communities in Chiang Mai, he visited the South for three days to speak at
another seminar held in Pattani, ‘The US and the Muslim World: Implications
for Peace in Southern Thailand’, organised by Chulalongkorn University’s
Institute of Security and International Studies and the American Studies
During his talk he advised local Muslims not to focus on the past and allow
this to fuel separatism, but to focus on demanding government recognition
for their culture, identity and equality, adding that mistrust between the
Buddhist and Muslim communities was perhaps given too much prominence.
The government, he said, must be ruled by policies of justice, community
well-being and equity for all, and urged all ethnic communities in Thailand
to raise their concerns with their representatives in order that the
government may recognise the pluralistic nature of Thai society and
formulate a way forward for integration, understanding and acceptance.