By: Donna Armstrong
Published October 13, 2015

Supeena Insee Adler repairing the khaung wong yai. Photo by Helen Rees, 2015.

The UCLA Thai instrument collection has created quite a stir recently. Purchased in Thailand between 1960 and 1969, the instruments were used in the UCLA Music of Thailand Ensemble from 1962 to 1985. They went silent in 1985 when UCLA professor and Thai music expert David Morton retired, and for nearly thirty years have languished in dust and cobwebs in one of the world music performance rooms in Schoenberg Music Building. When Helen Rees, professor of ethnomusicology and director of UCLA’s World Musical Instrument Collection decided in 2014 that “enough is enough,” she was able to make contact with professional Thai classical musician, scholar and instrument repairer Dr. Supeena Insee Adler from San Diego, and to set in motion a complex repair process. Now, the instruments have “learned to sing again,” in part due to gifts from the Royal Thai Consulate-General of Los Angeles and the Thai Community Arts and Cultural Center. During the last few months, they  have been showcased to local community members, faculty, students, staff, and groups of Thai dignitaries.

 

Supeena Insee Adler repairing the khaung wong yai. Photo by Helen Rees, 2015.

 

Thai Instrument History Timeline

1958 Mantle Hood, composer, UCLA professor of music, and founder, in 1960, of the UCLA Institute of Ethnomusicology, receives a $39,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to purchase instruments from Indonesia, Thailand, and Japan.
1960-69 Thai instruments are purchased in three different sets. The purchase was arranged by Thai musician Prasidh Silapabanleng (1) and David Morton, UCLA professor of music, who earned his Ph.D. in 1964 from UCLA and taught at UCLA from 1962 to 1985.
1962-85 UCLA Music of Thailand Ensemble is directed by David Morton.
1968 The LP and accompanying booklet The Traditional Music of Thailand, by David Morton, is published by UCLA Ethnomusicology Publications.
1975 Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology: Music Cultures of Southeast Asia, Volume II, No 2, edited by David Morton, is published by UCLA Ethnomusicology Publications.
1985 David Morton retires. The UCLA Music of Thailand Ensemble ceases to exist.
2014 At the request of Dr. Helen Rees, UCLA professor of ethnomusicology and director of the World Musical Instrument Collection, the Department of Ethnomusicology earmarks $8,000 for Dr. Supeena Insee Adler to assess and restore most of the Thai instrument collection.
2014, December Supeena Adler flies to Thailand to purchase instruments and materials. She interviews Malinee Sagarik, Secretary-General of the Luang Pradit Phairoh (Sorn Silpabanleng) Music Foundation, who is also a niece of Luang Pradit Phairoh. (2)
2015, Feb/March Supeena Adler spends ninety-five hours on the restoration and tuning of the Thai instruments.
2015, May 23 The Department of Ethnomusicology sponsors an evening of performances and talks on the Thai collection featuring musicians from the Thai community in the United States performing on instruments from the department’s collection. Dr. Jenjit Gasigitamrong, UCLA's teacher of Thai language, also brought several students from her class to participate as singers. The event included talks on the history of Thai music performance at UCLA by Dr. Deborah Wong, Thai music expert and professor of music at UC Riverside, and Dr. Rees, along with a presentation by Dr. Christopher Adler, composer and professor of music at the University of San Diego, on Thai musical elements in modern art music composition. Dr. Supeena Insee Adler gave a report on the restoration process and presented part of the videotaped interview with Malinee Sagarik. In this interview, Mrs. Sagarik thanks the department for restoring the Thai instruments and making them “sing again.” She describes the lineage of some of the instruments and also says that many people in Thailand still remember David Morton from his interactions with Thai musicians of the 1950s and 1960s.
2015, June 30 Multi-media presentation at the Royal Thai Consulate-General, Los Angeles, on the restoration project and the history of the UCLA Thai instruments by Supeena Insee Adler, Christopher Adler, Helen Rees, and Deborah Wong.
2015, Sept 15 Multi-media presentation in the Gamelan Room on the history of the UCLA Thai instruments and the restoration project by Helen Rees to a delegation from Thailand headed by Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul, Secretary-General of the Chaipattana Foundation, and a delegation from the Royal Thai Consulate-General of Los Angeles, led by Consul-General Jesda Katavetin. The UCLA side was headed by Dr. Cindy Fan, Vice-Provost for International Studies and Global Engagement, Dr. Judi Smith, Executive Director of the Herb Alpert School of Music, and Dr. Steven Loza, Chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology. On display were the Thai instruments, documents from the Ethnomusicology Archive relating to the Thai collection, and the two publications from Ethnomusicology Publications masterminded by David Morton. (3)
2015, Sept/Oct The Royal Thai Embassy donates funds to purchase student-quality instruments to support an academic course in Thai music that Dr. Supeena Adler (who received her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology in 2014 from UC Riverside) will teach for the Department of Ethnomusicology in spring 2016; and the Thai Community Arts and Culture Center of Los Angeles donates funds to support a one-quarter Thai music performance course to be taught in academic year 2016-2017.
 

The success of the Thai instrument restoration project has brought welcome publicity to ongoing efforts by the Department of Ethnomusicology to improve the status of and widen access to the entire World Musical Instrument Collection. We are optimistic about future plans, which include the creation of an open-source database, demarcation of climate-controlled storage space, and a re-inventory of the entire collection. Dr. Rees notes that our current initiatives build on those implemented a few years ago by former chair and professor emerita Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje. She also points out that it is a tremendous team effort: several staff and faculty members and a number of enthusiastic students are working together, with strong support from Dr. Judi Smith, Executive Director of the Herb Alpert School of Music, and Dr. Steven Loza, Chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology.


UCLA Music of Thailand Ensemble (1962-1985).
Photo courtesy UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.


Dr. David Morton playing the Thai ranat ek.
Photo courtesy UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.


Supeena Adler stringing the sau uu. Photo by Helen Rees, 2015.


Musicians performing for the Thai music lecture-demonstration, May 23, 2015.
Photo by Aaron M. Bittel.


Instrument set-up for the September 15, 2015 visit by guests from Thailand and the
Royal Thai Consulate-General, Los Angeles. Photo by Aaron M. Bittel.


Members of the delegation from Thailand, the delegation from the Royal Thai
Consulate-General of Los Angeles, and UCLA representatives. September 15, 2015.
Photo by Aaron M. Bittel.


Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul, Secretary-General of the Chaipattana Foundation of Thailand
(right), and Mr. Jesda Katavetin, Royal Thai Consul-General in Los Angeles (left).
Photo by Aaron M. Bittel, 2015.


Dr. Helen Rees presents Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul with copies of publications on Thai
music published by UCLA Ethnomusicology Publications, September 15, 2015.
Photo by Alyssa Mathias.


Mr. Surasit Hakritsuk, member of the Board of the Thai Community Arts and Cultural
Center, hands a check to Dr. Steven Loza, Chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology.
The money will be used to support the teaching of a one-quarter course in Thai music
performance, using department instruments, in fall 2016. Pictured from left to right:
Dr. Supeena Adler, Dr. Helen Rees, Dr. Steven Loza, Mr. Surasit Hakritsuk, and Mr.
Jesda Katavetin. October 13, 2015. Photo by Aaron M. Bittel.

 

Footnotes
(1) Thailand’s most celebrated composer, Prasidh Silapabanleng (1912-1999), son of Luang Pradit Phairoh, is best remembered for forging the crucial link between Thai and Western classical music.

(2) Luang Pradit Phairoh (Sorn Silapabanleng) was a Thai classical palace musician known for his skill on the ranat ek from the late 19th century to the 1940s. He was the subject of a 2004 Thai musical-drama film called The Overture, a fictionalised account based on his life story.

(3) Delegation from Thailand:
Dr. Sumet Tantivejkul, Secretary-General, Chaipattana Foundation; Mr. Russ Jalichandra, Deputy Director-General, Dept. of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mrs. Makawadee Sumitmor, Director, News Division, Dept. of Information, MFA; Mr. Dhisadee Chamlongrasdr, Counsellor, Office of Permanent Secretary, MFA; Mr. Thanes Maneekul, Policy and Planning Analyst, Office of the Royal Development Projects Board, Chaipattana Foundation; Mr. Pongsak Thepruangchai, Second Secretary, News Division, Dept. of Information, MFA; Ms. Saranya Chinaroj, Literary Editor, Sakulthai Weekly Magazine.

Delegation from Royal Thai Consulate- General, Los Angeles:
Mr. Jesda Katavetin, Consul-General, Royal Thai Consulate-General, Los Angeles; Mrs. Parichart Katavetin, wife of Consul-General Katavetin; Mr. Sunh Arunrugstichai, Consul.

UCLA representatives:
Dr. Cindy Fan, Vice Provost for International Studies and Global Engagement; Dr. Judi Smith, interim Executive Director of the Herb Alpert School of Music; Dr. Steven Loza, Chair of the Department of Ethnomusicology; Dr. Helen Rees, Director of the Ethnomusicology Archive and World Musical Instrument Collection; Ms. Maureen Russell, Archivist; Mr. Aaron Bittel, Archivist; Dr. Kathleen Hood, Director of Ethnomusicology Publications; Ms. Ava Sadripour, Executive Director of Development for the Herb Alpert School of Music; Mr. Germán Esparza, Program Manager, International Institute; Ms. Gohar Grigorian, Program Office, International Visitors Bureau; Ms. Alyssa Mathias, graduate student, Department of Ethnomusicology.